For those in Puerto Rico the holidays mean indulging in the traditional meal of lechon asado or roasted pig. But travelers don’t have to wait for a holiday to enjoy lechon and celebrate with family and friends. Just head to Guavate, a town dedicated to all things pork. It’s a destination where culture, tradition, and great food come together.
Whenever I get a chance to spend some time in Puerto Rico, lechon is one of the foods I crave and Guavate is where I go. It’s a bit off the beaten path but well worth the trip.
How to get to Guavate
The barrio of Guavate, in the east-central hills of Puerto Rico and getting to Guavate is part of the adventure. Route 184 goes through the verdant Sierra De Cayey Mountains.
The snake-like hills and pencil-thin roads are oftentimes barely wide enough for two cars. The lush jungle opens just enough to reveal teasing glimpses of lush valleys below and verdant mountain peaks above. A few horses lazily graze close to the byway and on occasion, a lone house pops up around a hairpin turn.
What you will find in Guavate
Better known as Pork Highway, the GPS wasn’t needed to tell us when we reached our destination. Pounding music, the smoky smell of roasting pigs, and lechoneras, one after another, line the road proudly displaying lechon in their front windows.
Abundant signs for pina coladas and cervesas beckon all who pass for something cool to drink. Children pull at the sleeves of their parents in hopes of getting them to buy souvenirs and trinkets at the myriad of shops. There’s traffic, yes traffic. It comes to a stop as everyone searches for a place to park and we were directed to park in a lot for a $5 fee.
Lechon in Guavate
We wondered which establishment had the tastiest, most succulent lechon and made our decision quickly. A long line of hungry customers caught our eye at an open-air eatery with a tin roof. They waiting their turn to be served at Lechonera Los Pinos.
We joined in the line to wait, mesmerized by the carver swinging down his machete in quick succession, chop, chop, chop, as he cut up the lechon. Did I forget to mention, they roast whole seasoned pigs on a spit over an open fire?
With no menu, we selected an assortment of delectable dishes all on display in steam trays behind the glass counter; Arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), yucca, tostones de platanos (fried green plantains), morcilla (blood sausage), longaniza (pork sausage), and morcilla (blood sausage). It’s all served on picnic fare, paper plates and plastic utensils, at approximately $8-$10 a plate.
The lechon, with its crispy skin was well-seasoned and brown and the meat, smoky, moist, and juicy. Is your mouth watering yet? The side dishes were the best I had anywhere on the island.
Tradition is alive and well in Guavate. A live band started playing salsa music and a dozen couples jumped up to dance. Guavate isn’t just a place to eat, it’s a place where locals and visitors experience authentic Puerto Rican culture together.
When to Visit Guavate
Go on a Saturday or Sunday to get the full experience and get there before noon to avoid massive crowds. If you don’t have a car check out these tours that will take you to Guavate.
Lechonera Los Pinos
Carrer 184, Puerto Rico
(About 1 hour from Old San Juan)
Be sure to join me on my next adventure to Old San Juan.
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