How To Make A Piña Colada So Good You'll Think You're On Vacation

Blend one up, and slip away to the tropics.

Southern Living Pina Colada drinks in glasses

Emily Laurae

Active Time:
8 mins
Total Time:
5 mins

The Piña Colada gets a bad rap as an umbrella drink that you order only on vacation. It’s also true that in the 70s and 80s, asking for a piña colada—a sugary, premade blender mix at the time—was as fashionable as big hair and even bigger earrings. After all, who can forget the 1979 Rupert Holmes song "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)?"

But Puerto Ricans have always been proud of this cocktail—as they should be. And the more people try a real piña colada, the more they fall back in love with what the drink was always intended to be.

Who Created the Piña Colada?

It’s not completely settled history where and when the piña colada was invented, other than on the island so well known for its rum. But most agree that a group of bartenders, headed by Ramón "Monchito" Marrero Perez, created it at the Caribe Hilton in Old San Juan in 1954.

Then, Ricardo Garcia added strained pineapple juice and named the drink, which literally translates to "strained pineapple." Hotelier Conrad N. Hilton made it famous by serving it as the welcome cocktail—in a coconut, no less—to guests as soon as they stepped out of their taxis at the Caribe Hilton, his first international resort.

The Barrachina, also in Old San Juan, disagrees with this history. A plaque on the building argues that their bartender, Ramon Portas Mingot, had the honors of creating the first piña colada in 1963. But it appears that the collaboration at the Caribe Hilton might have more to go on than the claim at the Barrachina. 

Regardless, the Piña Colada entered the pantheon of tropical drinks sometime in the mid-20th century using Puerto Rican white rum. And it has been Puerto Rico’s national drink since 1978.

The Modern Piña Colada

Around the same time, the piña colada started to become well-known to Tiki cocktail fans—and panned for its one-note profile. As Jeff Berry writes in Beachbum Berries Potions of the Caribbean, the drink "has no sour component. It’s all 'sweet' and 'weak.'"

But in recent years, mixologists from the island have been re-introducing the Piña Colada to customers as a shaken drink rather than frozen, as well as incorporating bitters and lime juice. We use these tricks in this classic recipe to add depth. While you can shake and pour this cocktail out over the rocks, we admit that we like it better frozen, especially during those hot summer months in the South.

Tips for Making the Best Piña Colada

Blending tips: Getting the right consistency at home while using ice from your freezer is sometimes a little tricky. It helps to crush your ice first in your blender, then add the ingredients and blend again. Or you can use a bullet-style blender that you use for smoothies, if you have one, to get the drink super creamy.

Ingredient search: For the most part, the ingredients for a piña colada are easy to find in supermarkets and liquor stores. But in some parts of the South, you might have a hard time locating cream of coconut; we found it in the coffee section at Publix.

Coconut smarts: Be aware that cream of coconut and coconut cream are two separate things, even though you will see recipes incorrectly calling for coconut cream. Coconut cream is unsweetened, fattier coconut milk. Cream of coconut is sweetened coconut cream. According to Beachbum Berries Potions of the Carribean, Coco Lôpez invented this very specific product in 1954, which made the piña colada possible.

If you can’t find Coco Lôpez Cream of Coconut, you can substitute an equivalent amount of coconut milk adjusted with simple syrup. You can also use sweetened condensed coconut milk and cut it down by a half-ounce along with some lime juice. Otherwise, you will wind up with a very sweet drink.

Booze news: A typical piña colada only has a standard shot of liquor in it, which is 1.5 ounces. Many people find that to be a low-alcohol drink these days. In this recipe, we add another half-ounce of dark rum for a floater. The aged rum adds vigor to the flavor profile. However, if you prefer the cocktail in its classic proportions, you can leave this out.

Good garnishes: Finally, we include a wedge of lime to spritz on top along with the traditional pineapple wedge and maraschino cherry garnishes. This gives it a fresh tropical scent and flavor. But again, this is optional if you prefer a more standard model piña colada.


  • 6 Tbsp. (3 oz.) pineapple juice

  • 3 Tbsp. (1 1/2 oz.) white rum

  • 3 Tbsp. (1 1/2 oz.) cream of coconut

  • 1-2 drops bitters (such as Angostura) 

  • 1 cup pebbled or crushed ice

  • 1 Tbsp. (1/2 oz.) dark rum (optional)

  • Garnishes: 1 wedge fresh pineapple, 1 maraschino cherry, 1 lime wedge (optional)


  1. Blend ingredients:

    Place the pineapple juice, white rum, cream of coconut, bitters, and crushed ice in a blender. Blend at high speed until desired consistency is reached.

    Southern Living Pina Colada mixture in blender

    Emily Laurae

    Pour into a tall glass and garnish with pineapple wedge, cherry, and lime. Pour the dark rum (if using) on top of the drink and serve immediately.

    Southern Living pina colada drink being poured into glass to serve

    Emily Laurae

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