Founded in 1714 and incorporated into San Juan in 1951, RÍO PIEDRAS is a low-rise residential barrio 12km south of Old San Juan, home to the main campus of the Universidad de Puerto Rico (wwww.uprrp.edu) and the city’s largest market.
The university is worth a visit for the illuminating Museo de Historia Antropología y Arte (free; t787/763-3939), just inside the main entrance on Avenida Ponce de León (buses stop outside the gate). Though it’s small, the galleries here contain a number of very significant artefacts, including some enigmatic Taíno finds from around the island. Exhibits from the permanent collection tend to rotate, but highlights include the mystifying stone collars, ritual objects thought to be connected to the ancient ball game and the tiny carved seats known as duho. The museum also has an extensive collection of art, including Francisco Oller’s masterpiece, El Velorio (1893), a richly imagined depiction of a wake in rural nineteenth-century Puerto Rico. Jumping continents, you’ll find a rather gruesome pair of Egyptian mummies (with mummified cat) incongruously displayed in the reception area. Before moving on, check out the striking Torre Franklin D. Roosevelt, clearly visible above the main university buildings, a clock tower constructed in 1937 in Spanish Revival style with an ornate facade and intricately patterned ceiling.
It’s a short walk southeast of the university to the Plaza del Mercado, an indoor market on the edge of the busy commercial centre of Río Piedras. Though it’s primarily a collection of fruit and vegetable stalls, you’ll come across fascinating botánicas selling all sorts of herbal remedies, as well as a collection of cheap cigars at Tabaco Don Bienve ($1.25 petite, $3.75 Churchills). The real highlight, however, is the food court at the back, where almost every Puerto Rican dish is served up at bargain prices: try Mrs Batida for batidas and jugos and Doña Alice for chicken and stews.