4 Top Tips for a Puerto Rico Trip With Kids
Puerto Rico is a no-brainer for a family beach getaway. It’s a reasonable flight from the East Coast, you don’t need a passport and you can use American money. The food is yummy, the beaches are roomy and there’s a lot to do and see. Yet parents often overlook it for its various Caribbean neighbors.
We spent a week at *The San Juan Marriott Resort, in a resort area called the Condado, an easy cab ride from Old San Juan, with another family this February (so we had two Tiny Travelers along). Here are our tips for making the most of this island with young kids.
4 Puerto Rico Vacation Tips
Consider your vacation style
Puerto Rico doesn’t have all-inclusive resorts that you find on other islands, but it does have an ample choice of hotels and resorts in all price ranges and for different travel styles. Here are just a few.
The Marriott (read our listing) was teeming with families attracted by the wide beach and kid friendly pools (above, left). The Condado area around it was perfect for a vacation that mixes resort relaxation with a little culture and local dining. But it’s one of the older resort areas and harks back to a time when visiting PR meant lounging by the pool all day, then dressing up for dinner and a trip to the casino. A foosball table, some board games and free poolside cookies are what passed for kids’ activities.
Our kids were happy enough building sand castles, swimming and borrowing Sorry and Candy Land from the towel cabana (and eating free cookies). But if you’re looking for a full-on resort experience with a kids club, lots of water sports, onsite activities and meals, look to bigger hotels like the *Bahia Beach Resort, (read our overview), *Gran Melia or the *Wyndham Rio Mar resorts in the Rio Grande area, about 30 minutes east of the airport.
For a very laidback vacation, the island of Vieques still offers small inns and sparsely populated beaches on the Caribbean Sea. Much of the island is a wildlife refuge. This is the spot for families who will be happy hiking, snorkeling, kayaking in the bioluminescent bay and eating in local fish shacks.
Leave the Resort
There are a lot of fun things to do in Puerto Rico. Regardless of where you stay on the main island, get away from your resort to soak in some local culture and scenery.
We spent a day exploring El Yunque, the giant rain forest 45 minutes southeast of San Juan. We were rewarded for a hilly, 30-minute with a picturesque waterfall with wading pools for swimming. We opted for a shorter walk, mostly uphill back out again. It followed the river and smaller falls that led to the big waterfall and was even prettier than the walk in.
Tip: In spite of our 5-year-old doing this hike, it’s a long walk on slippery rain forest trails with steep inclines. We saw people in flip-flops, but we were happy to have sneakers on. I recommend at least wearing sport sandals on these trails.
We also spent a morning exploring Old San Juan, which entertained two five year old girls far more than we expected it to. They ran along the narrow streets (top), pointing out the bright colored buildings, especially the pink ones! And climbed and danced in the squares. Plaza De Armas was a favorite for its fountain and statues. We ran around, tumbled and flew kites on
the lawn leading up to El Morro (above). Then we spent a good amount of time exploring the Fort, too.
There is an outdoor food and produce market nearby on Saturdays, which we didn’t get to, but really wish we had. We did come across a small crafts market in Plaza de Colón. To the kids’ delight a ceramics maker let them try shaping small cups on his wheel. His necklaces and bright butterfly wall hangings (below) made for affordable souvenirs.
The island has several big water parks. Our girls weren’t interested. But if your kids crave giant water slides and lazy rivers consider spending a day at Coqui, a good size water park next door to the *Waldorf Astoria El Conquistador.
(Here are 5 More Things To Do In Puerto Rico.)
Plan on Leisurely Dinners
We had excellent Argentine, Spanish and Cuban food and surprisingly food burgers for dinner. But except for the Cuban place (where they needed our table), restaurant service was very, very leisurely. Even burgers take two or three times longer than they would at your local 5 Guys. They always brought the kids’ meals quickly, so we didn’t have hungry, cranky kids. But we did have to keep them busy for quite some time while we ate. They eventually got tired or talking to us, playing Go Fish! and coloring. Twice we broke our no-electronics-at-the-table rule and let them play games on a tablet.
Eat Local — At Least A Little
Puerto Rican restaurants tended to be more casual and inexpensive relative to some of the other resort area options. The food has a made-from-scratch yumminess and many dishes are fairly kid friendly.
Almost daily our girls gobbled up chicharrones de Pollo, chicken fingers made with cracker crumbs, that are super crisp on the outside and moist and chickeny on the inside. Ham or chicken croquettes, which are soft inside and lightly crisped outside, are good finger food for toddlers. You can find empanadas filled with meat, cheese or veggies in local delis and restaurants for $1 to $3 a piece. We found fresh shrimp and fish on some kids menus. Had we given TT a chance to try our pernil, (juicy, fatty roast pork) I’m fairly certain she would have devoured it on us.
Tip: If you’re walking by a panaderia and the baked goods call to you, by all means, answer them. In Old San Juan we stopped into one bakery twice in one day. TT devoured an excellent cream horn before lunch and a pink-frosted donut after. We brought a slice of fresh coconut cake back to the hotel.
They were a sweet and, like many things about this trip, a very likeable surprise.