Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island with an interesting mix of culture, history, and beautiful landscapes. Though it is a commonwealth of the United States, it is still very much part of Latin America. Because of this, I encourage first-time travelers from the United States to give Puerto Rico a try. You get the feel of going to Latin America with still a few comforts from home. And you don’t have to deal with the hassles of customs or even own a passport.
Three days is really not enough time to explore Puerto Rico. But if you only have a short amount of time on the island, here are some must-do experiences that the kids will love.
Explore Old San Juan
If traveling to Puerto Rico, do not miss an opportunity to visit San Juan’s old town. The Spanish-style architecture and cobblestone streets give the area a historic feel and the history of the area is worth learning about. Plenty of restaurants/bars are tailored to many different taste preferences.
Make sure to take time to visit at least one of the old forts that border the coast. We chose to see Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a fort that dates back to the 16th century to protect the city of San Juan from sea attacks. Admission is $5 per person for entrance to both El Morro and San Cristobal. Children under 15 get in free. Plan to spend about an hour here at least. For busy children, the grassy field outside the fort is a great place to let them work out their wiggles. We spent at least an extra hour chasing each other around on the grass.
El Yunque National Forest
El Yunque National Forest is another must-see when visiting Puerto Rico. Protected by the US National Forest Service, this tropical rainforest is located in Puerto Rico’s Sierra de Luquillo mountain range and is named for its second-tallest peak. Stop by the visitors center for more information about El Yunque, or go right to the numerous hiking trails in the rainforest. We started at the Big Tree Trailhead and hiked almost a mile down to La Coca Falls and back. For adults, this is an easy hike down a marked trail; moderate for children. For your reference, Ladybug, who is almost four, hiked the whole way down and back but she was huffing and puffing towards the end. There are harder trails for more experienced hikers. Make sure to check the website for more information, or stop by the visitor's center for maps.
Once you’ve had your fill of hiking, stop by the Yokahu Observation Tower. Climb the steps to the top and take a few minutes to take in the incredible view. On a clear day, Yokahu Tower gives visitors a view for miles of the east coast. But even on cloudy or rainy days, the view of the surrounding rainforest is worth the trek up the stairs.
Due to its rainforest climate, El Yunque is constantly damp and rain occurs frequently. Make sure to bring a poncho to stay dry while also keeping your arms free for balance.
Take a day trip to one of the smaller islands
Along with its main island, Puerto Rico has two smaller islands that are also inhabited. Culebra, the smaller of the two, is about an hour and a half ferry ride from the big island, while Vieques is about an hour and 15 minutes away. If amazing beaches are what you’re after, I’ve heard that Culebra is the better of the two islands. However, ferry tickets are harder to get. Never fear, the beaches in Vieques are gorgeous, as well. (More information on navigating the ferry is coming in a future post.)
Vieques does have at least one advantage over Culebra. If you stay overnight, you have the opportunity to visit one of three bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico. The bay in Vieques is the brightest in Puerto Rico. We were only able to stay for the day as we were flying home the next day so we didn’t get to see it. But the next time we visit we plan to stay for a few days on Vieques alone.
Where to Eat and Stay in Puerto Rico
We stayed with some friends of D in Juncos, about an hour outside of San Juan. However, Puerto Rico offers many lodging options for all price ranges. Check the booking site of your choice for options.
We also didn’t have much opportunity to eat out since most of our meals were home-cooked. However, I can highly recommend Cafe Del Mar across from Playa Esperanza in Vieques. I had the Cuban sandwich and it was one of the best restaurant sandwiches I’ve had.
I can’t talk about Puerto Rico without mentioning the troubles it has been having and its effects on tourism. While we were there, Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy. As a result, protests broke out at numerous places around the big island. We never saw anywhere we went but because we were staying with locals, we heard about them on the news. In my opinion, I still encourage anyone who is thinking about going to still go. Despite its faults, Puerto Rico is a beautiful place with friendly people and is absolutely worth the visit.