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August 23, 2017
There’s a reason they call Puerto Rico “The Island of Enchantment.” Everything from the natural beauty of the beaches, mountains and rainforest to the spirit of the people will leave you enchanted. We are lucky enough to travel to Puerto Rico at least once a year because my husband Roy grew up there and still has family living on the island. It’s an island I love to visit and my kids love too. I mean what kid wouldn’t love getting to visit a rainforest with waterfalls, fly a kite near Spanish Forts or play on beautiful beaches? And the best news for parents is traveling to Puerto Rico from Tampa is easy, with several direct flights that are less than three hours long.
When we are in Puerto Rico, our favorite area to stay with the kids is Condado. Condado has some fantastic hotels and some are located directly on the beach. The area also has several restaurants to choose from that range from local cuisine to pizza shops in case the kids are picky eaters. If you decide to spend all your time in Condado it will be an entertaining yet relaxing beach vacation. But the island has so much more to discover. Old San Juan is only about 10 minutes away by car or taxi and is designated by the National Parks Service as a National Historic Site. It’s a beautiful old city that captures my heart every visit. Old San Juan has beautiful cobblestone streets lined with colorful painted homes and buildings with restaurants and shopping. It’s also home to the beautiful Spanish Forts Castillo de San Cristobal which is actually the largest Spanish Fort built in the New World and San Felipe del Morro Fortress, known as “El Morro.” These forts overlooking the sea are rich in history and beautiful to tour. “El Morro” has a gorgeous green lawn that is usually filled with children flying kites in the beautiful blue sky with the perfect winds coming from the sea. My children love doing this every visit. Don’t worry about packing a kite, you can buy one there.
And you can’t visit Puerto Rico without a trip to El Yunque National Forest. There are really nice trails that are well marked in the rainforest. The trails will lead you to waterfalls and natural pools to swim in. Our kids really enjoy hiking the trails where they get to see lots of different plants, lizards and cool bugs. It’s definitely a learning experience for kids of all ages. My Mommy tip is make sure everyone wears shoes to hike, brings bathing suits and bug spray. Also, keep in mind it is a rainforest so you may get a little wet while hiking. El Yunque is truly a unique experience the kids will love. Be sure to listen for the tree frogs called “coquis” which makes sounds just like their name. You can also hear them throughout the island at night.
If your family is the adventurous type, I also recommend ziplining in the rainforest. Kids usually have to be older than the age of 6. You can find ziplining in El Yunque as well as other beautiful spots scattered across the island. Other unique adventures include horseback riding on nearby beaches or kayaking in bioluminescent bays. Puerto Rico has 3 bioluminescent bays filled with tiny organisms that light up the water at night. Imagine the water glowing as fish swim by or each time your paddle hits the water. It’s truly a magical experience. The bays are located in Vieques, Fajardo and in La Parguera in the town of Lajas which is on the western side of the island. Make sure to check the calendar to make sure the moon is just right to see it. I also suggest setting it up through a tour group to make sure you have a good experience.
On a recent visit, we decided to do something new and adventurous. We took a small plane to visit the island of Vieques which is just off the coast of Puerto Rico. Vieques has some breathtaking beaches, some that are ranked the best in the world. This is a place to take the family if you really want to unplug because there isn’t much to do other than relax on the beach. Most of the land in Vieques is undeveloped due to the 60-year presence of the U.S. Navy. Today the land is managed by The Fish and Wildlife administration, making Vieques the largest national refuge in the Caribbean. You’ll find crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches. The island is also a place where horses are allowed to roam freely, which is a beautiful sight to experience. There are only two ways to get there. There is a ferry that is usually used by locals while visitors tend to prefer charter planes. The island has several B&B accommodations, but I highly recommend the W Retreat and Spa which is a beautiful property with its own private beach. The staff was so friendly and helpful making sure we had a great stay. If you decide to do a bioluminescent bay tour while in Puerto Rico, the one in Vieques is known as the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world.
This escape can be done with the kids in just three or four days, and because of the direct flights from Tampa, it’s a place you can return to discover even more. I hope your family will leave the island of Puerto Rico feeling enchanted to go back!