Loíza holds a special place in Puerto Rican history because it was settled primarily by Yoruba slaves from Nigeria, who were brought over by the Spanish to work the island’s sugar and coffee plantations. Emancipated slaves were relocated to Loíza, possibly because the east coast lacked much defense and it was hoped they could help repel foreign intruders. The town also served as a haven for escaped slaves who fled here in increasing numbers. Together they assimilated with the local Taíno Indians.
Loíza is a highly individual, tight-knit community rich in African-Caribbean culture where traditional customs and art forms are preserved and cultivated. Unfortunately, Loíza is also severely economically depressed. There’s virtually no industry, and many residents receive some form of public assistance. Not surprisingly, the crime rate is high, with the majority of offenses revolving around the thriving local drug trade.
Loíza’s best option for economic viability may be in developing its tourism, because of its proximity to some of the island’s most wonderfully unique cultural and natural gems. But that would undoubtedly change the nature of the municipality forever. For now, there’s little American influence or tourist industry in Loíza, which makes it the kind of place you should experience sooner rather than later.
Loíza’s big claim to fame is its annual weeklong festival, Fiestas Tradicionales de Santiago Apóstol  (St. James Carnival), a not-to-be-missed celebration for young and old in late July. The festival’s complex history, which dates to the Spanish Inquisition, is feted with parades, music, dance, food, and elaborately costumed street theater.
A big part of St. James Carnival is bomba and plena music, traditional drum-heavy styles of music and dance with African roots that originated in Loíza and thrive there today. Some of bomba and plena’s most celebrated artists are from Loíza.
Among Loíza’s greatest charms is its proximity to Piñones, the site of the most gorgeous pristine pieces of natural beauty on the island, Bosque Estatal de Piñones . This forest reserve features miles of wild coastline thick with palm groves, mangrove forests and canals, lagoons, sand dunes, and stretches of uninhabited beach as far as the eye can see.
Accommodations  are limited to privately owned vacation rentals in Loíza, and dining options  are best found in Piñones, which has a dizzying array of terrific roadside food kiosks and several decent restaurants specializing in seafood. It’s an ideal day trip from San Juan , 19 miles away.