A Puerto Rico Family Vacation

Genie Davis June 20, 2012 No Comments

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Looking for an island vacation that you and your family will love as much as Hawaii, but want something completely different? Try Puerto Rico.

As a U.S. commonwealth, you won’t need a passport, prices are reasonable, and it’s an easy flight two hours out of Miami.  Best of all along with beautiful beaches and plenty of sunshine, we found an exciting mix of Caribbean culture, Spanish history, and wonderfully isolated back roads to explore.

We Start in San Juan

View from the Fort – San Juan Puerto Rico

View from the Fort – San Juan

We started our trip in San Juan, and while many visitors make this their first and final Puerto Rican vacation destination, it wasn’t ours. Not that San Juan isn’t fascinating in it’s own right, with its cobble stoned roads, beautiful Spanish architecture, and great walks. My kids loved exploring the El Morro Fortress, with its arched main plaza, views of the bay and San Juan’s historic cemetery from its upper level. From the sentry boxes on this level, sweeping views of sea and town are awesome spots for photographs – if you can get your children to stop climbing on the canons set up along the waterfront on the lower levels of the fort. Our favorite part of the fort was The Old Tower, the oldest part of El Morro, it housed cannons as far back as 1539, and you can find the shell fragment from a US bombardment in 1898 still in the wall. The fort is free for children under fifteen.

The Road Less Traveled – inland Puerto Rico

The Road Less Traveled – inland Puerto Rico

We also spent time browsing the art galleries in the heart of old San Juan, stopping for a fruit ice or a pan de mallorca, which makes a wonderful breakfast. We all loved this sweet roll that comes buttered, toasted, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Try a stroll down the tree shaded Paseo de la Princesa, which leads along the old city wall. With plenty of benches to rest on and watch the world go by, it’s a great family walk, when you’re not splashing in the sea and lounging on the beach.

Of course we did a lot of that, staying at La Concha Renaissance. Recently renovated and sporting flat screen televisions and smart modern furnishings, the resort hotel still proudly maintains a restaurant whose roof is shaped like a shell, and a garden feel reminiscent of it’s grand beginnings in 1958. We especially liked the spacious junior suites, which gave us more room than a double queen. The hotel had a gracious feel, the breakfasts were reasonably priced and featured beautiful fresh fruit; the sand was white and fine. Despite an influx of families on spring break, it was peaceful, too.

The Ruta Panorámica

But as easy as it would’ve been to relax by the pool and stroll the white sands, we could’ve had a similar experience in Hawaii. So instead, off we went on the Ruta Panorámica, a road that crosses the center of the island, tying together cool forests, bamboo stands, small villages and more along the twists and turns of its one hundred and sixty five mile route. We didn’t stay on the road it’s entire length, but what we took of it showed us waterfalls and rich green trees, and rivaled Maui’s Highway to Hana on both the hairpin turns and the beautiful scenery – but with substantially less traffic, and two lanes instead of one.

We often felt as if we were the only visitors on the road, at times the thick trees joined together over the roadway forming a tunnel, speckled with sunlight. If your kids have any tendency toward motion sickness, you may want to forego the drive, or take only a short jaunt through the forests. We loved the drive, but didn’t feel the urge to complete the entire stretch. As beautiful and remote as it felt, we knew there was more to see on the island.

Puerto Rico fountain

Downtown San Juan – the kids loved throwing coins in this elegant fountain

If twists and turns aren’t for you, check out Puerto Rico’s second largest city, Ponce, with its colonial mansions and fountain filled plazas. We loved all the music spilling out of child-welcoming cafes at night, and taking a long, twilight walk along the waterfront boardwalk, La Guancha. Great sea views and a rising moon were the backdrop for salsa pulsing out of cafes and street vendors selling fried plantains. The plantains were tasty, and the night air was balmy.

For another change of pace, take a drive to the remote central island Guanica Dry Forest. Suddenly the waterfalls and jungle thick trees of the Ruta Highway seem like a distant memory.  Appearing somewhat out of place on this mostly lush island, the Dry Forest is a desert-like ten thousand acres, that makes an interesting afternoon exploration.

The Bay That Glows

Best of all was the pleasant port city of La Parguera, where you can explore nearby mangrove swamps, or buy a motorboat ride to a bio-luminescent bay. I have memories of walking along the sand in South Carolina kicking up sparks on a teen age July night. But this was a lot more special.

Older kids will love this water experience, where large numbers of tiny algae emit so much light that the water seems to glow. Whether your family takes an evening swim, as we did, or you keep watch from the boat, you’ll see what looks like hundreds of fireflies sparkling in the water. It’s a dramatic memory you’ll cherish when you return to San Juan and your hotel’s beach umbrellas, the sea sparkling once again, but in sunlight.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

Tags: Reviews, Travel Excursions

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