If it wasn't for the tremendous cultural bounty of the University of Puerto Rico, there probably wouldn't be a guide to Río Piedras. It's relatively far from the main tourist zones; it's pretty thin in terms of nightlife and dining options, and there aren't any historical monuments worth talking about. So why are you reading about it? Because it has two gems in its botanical gardens and museum of history, anthropology and art, both owned by the University.
Where to Stay
Like Santurce, there is no reason to go out of your way to stay here. In fact, the only people who should consider a hotel in Río Piedras should be those who are visiting the excellent medical center here. For them, the Hotel del Centro, located on the fourth floor of the Caribbean Cardiovascular Center of the Centro Médico complex, will do. It's quite affordable, and right on the highway, and should be far off your radar if you're simply here to enjoy San Juan (787-751-1335).
Where to Eat
There are two restaurants worth mentioning in this part of town:
El Hipopotamo on 880 Muñoz Rivera Avenue is an interesting place. For one, a fat hippo is the logo of this Spanish and Puerto Rican standby. Secondly, it's a deli (with ham hocks lining the wall), liquor store, and tavern-style restaurant rolled into one. Finally, El Hipopotamo attracts an interesting clientele ranging from students to politicians.
Tropical, in Las Vistas Shopping Village, serves up simple and hearty Cuban and Criollo fare like grilled halibut, roast chicken, and succulent ribs with black beans and rice (787-761-1415).
What to See and Do
The University of Puerto Rico campus is itself worth a stroll, with its beautiful clock tower and blends of architecture. But it's also home to The Museum of History, Anthropology & Art. Among the 30,000-strong collection here is one of Puerto Rico's most famous works of art--Francisco Oller’s El Velorio ("The Wake")--and the famous Grito de Lares flag, a historic symbol of Puerto Rican independence.
The University also owns the Botanical Gardens, a 300-acre park with a tremendous diversity of local and exotic flora composed of numerous themed gardens. It's a unique sanctuary that can easily take up your day.
Where to Shop
There's not much here, and what little there is tends to concentrate around the main plaza of Río Piedras, a public square that's seen better days. There's a fun market here every Saturday, though, which draws a good crowd.