Puerto Rico: Old San Juan, Fajardo and Humacao
Fly in/out: San Juan Airport
Recommended ages: 10 and up
Ball Park Price: $1000/person (airfare not included)
Currency: US Dollar
Time Zone: EST
DAY ONE: Arrive in San Juan Airport, known officially as San Juan Luis Munoz Marin International Airport. (SJU) Pick up rental car from National (right on airport property) and drive to VRBO in Humacao, Palmas Del Mar a gated community. Get provisions at either Ralphs or Walmart Supercenter near Palmas Del Mar.
DAY TWO: Drive ½ mile to Palmas Del Mar Marina to meet up with Captain Matt of Maragata Charters and take a ½ day trip to Vieques Island. Take two snorkel excursions just off the shores of Vieques, walk the beaches and jump off the boat for a great day of snorkeling and swimming. Great value and time for the morning. Drive to Palmas Del Mar Beach Resort for relaxing long lunch. Spend afternoon at the pool at the VRBO.
DAY THREE: Drive to El Yunque Rainforest and hike the trails, and hike to La Mina falls and Observatory Tower. Take a short drive along the northern coast and go to Luquillo beach. Watch the surfers from the shore. Try the TripAdvisor top rated restaurant in the area El Rincon.
DAY FOUR: Take a four hour morning Monkey Island Snorkeling Tour with Captain Matt of Maragata Charters. Rest midday. In the early evening, drive to Fajardo beach area for an early dinner at Diyukas and drive 2 miles to Eco Action Tour company for a night kayak adventure in the glowing Bioluminescent Bay.
DAY FIVE: Take a full day El Salto River Adventure Tour through Rocaliza Tours. Enjoy this truly adventurous day in Carite rainforest, with a day that includes hiking, rock climbing, waterfall repelling and ziplining, followed by a lunch served by a Puerto Rican family on their farm.
DAY SIX: Enjoy the day at Fajardo Beach called the Seven Seas beach and late afternoon in Old San Juan with dinner at Cafe La Princessa.
DAY SEVEN: Spend another day exploring Old San Juan if possible before heading out to the airport and head home.
- An easy destination with many direct flights to San Juan, Puerto Rico really offers a lot for families with kids of all ages. With choices of rainforest hiking, waterfall rappelling, snorkeling, kayaking in a bioluminescent bays and beaches all on an island that is easy to get around, this makes a great spring break.
- Our ½ day snorkeling adventure to Vieques Island included a fast 30 minute boat ride and a walk to shore. We were able to see sea turtles, manta sea rays, and schools of fish over a nicely preserved reef. There were calm waters making it really easy for kids to enjoy the snorkeling experience. We enjoyed the hospitality of Captain Matt so much we went on another boat ride over to Monkey Island. Here, you’re not able to get on the island but snorkel off shore and hear the monkeys that were planted there for scientific research over 50 years ago. This was also a nice snorkeling experience with a unique blend of snorkeling and looking below water and watching monkeys fight and play above water.
- The beaches we explored in Puerto Rico, namely Loquillo and Fajardo Seven Seas were populated with both tourists and families from Puerto Rico. They were wide open sandy beaches with calm waters for swimming and pretty views. However, we didn’t have with us our usual beach comforts such as beach chairs, sand toys and water toys. The snorkeling areas were a little hard to find, so we found ways to entertain ourselves. We bought a paddle and ball from a vendor at the parking lot (fees are $5 to park, free to enter beach) and our kids ended up playing with a local family from Puerto Rico and they practiced their English and our kids had a chance to practice Spanish and play with a new friend.
- We wished we had more time to explore Old San Juan. A beautifully kept almost pristine quarter of Puerto Rico. While many other locations of Puerto Rico showed some signs of poverty with graffiti on walls, some pollution in the streets and dilapidated barren buildings, Old San Juan was a wonderful surprise. With cobblestone streets, pastel colored buildings, lovely stores, and book ended by two wonderful places to explore, El Morro Castle and Castillo San Cristobal. Both El Morro Castle and Castillo San Cristobal are well-preserved forts run by the National Park Service.
- El Yunque Rainforest was another fun ½ day exploring the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. There is only one entrance to El Yunque and it is on the north side. We were expecting a big entrance similar to other national parks, but you turn a corner after the small village of Palmer and the whole scenery opens up and changes in one turn! There is no entrance fee to the park, but there is to the visitor center, so if you like to get your bearings before going to a park, stop there. If not, keep driving up the main road. At mile marker 12.2 is the .7 mile hike to Mina Waterfalls. We thought this would take less than 30 minutes, but round trip with stopping at the falls, it took closer to 90 minutes. The hiking trail and the waterfalls were pretty packed and swimming was a little challenging with slippery rocks. But, there were beautiful views and it was a pretty trail. To learn more about this trail and other scenic spots at El Yunque, visit the El Yunque National Forest Website.
- Our full day experience with Rocaliza Tours in Carlita rainforest was an absolutely incredible day! With the rainforest virtually to ourselves, we climbed and hiked a rocky river bed following the stream that eventually led us to the top of a waterfall. The hike, with partial rock climbing, was rigorous at times but the kids glided through it and were thrilled. Once at the top of the waterfall, we rappelled down the 80 foot straight drop in the waterfall and then turned the corner for three great ziplines through the canopy of the rainforest. After an exhilarating morning, we capped the tour off with a late Puerto Rican lunch served on the farm at the base of the rainforest.
- An absolute unique feature of Puerto Rico are its Bioluminescent Bays. There are three areas that currently have microorganisms that with movement, light up the water and create a glowing effect. We drove to the northern beach just off of Fajardo and met up with Eco Action Tours for a 90 minute evening kayaking experience. After a 10 minute kayaking tutorial, everyone jumped in their kayaks (2 and 3 seaters available for younger kids) and rowed for about 5 minutes until we were under a blanket of mangroves. Within minutes, you could see the agitation of the oars causing the water to light up. It was a surreal feeling. This has become a very popular tourist experience, so there was a challenge in navigating the kayaks with so many other tour groups in the water. We went out to the lagoon area and received an education about the environment of the lagoon. A very memorable experience for adults and kids!
Places to stay
- We chose Palmas Del Mar, Humacao area because of this large sized, family friendly and affordable property (between two families) with a huge back yard and pool. It had a wonderful layout for parents and kids with six bedrooms. It was conveniently located to the marina for our boating excursions and nicely situated near two of the rainforests we explored and enjoyed. We loved the active schedule during the day and the outdoor barbeque and pool experience at night. If there were any glitches with the property, the property manager responded attentively to address any issue.
- For a luxurious five star stay, St Regis Hotel comes highly recommended.
- You’ll quickly learn that Puerto Rican Rum and plantains are a mainstay cuisine in Puerto Rico! While we enjoyed many of our meals in the vacation rental, there were a few recommendations to consider for the family.
- For a perfect dinner stop before the bioluminescent bay adventure try Diyukas restaurant. Offering a mix of seafood and Puerto Rican cuisine, everyone had something to enjoy.
- A TripAdvisor favorite near the Luquillo beach that we decided to try was El Rincon. The owner went out of his way to make us feel welcome and the staff were very kind. There were a few meals that were absolutely one of a kind and delicious. However, the basic ambiance was behind a storefront and the location was a little iffy.
- We enjoy dining experiences many times based on ambiance, so we really enjoyed the outdoor garden area of Cafe La Princesa. The outdoor garden was located next to the El Morro Castle and featured a kids menu.
- Read the Puerto Rican tourism site for a nice overview of the Puerto Rico restaurants and cuisine.
- Bring water toys, sand toys, beach chairs etc for the swimming beaches in Puerto Rico. A quirky thing about the public beaches is that it costs $1-$3 to use restrooms and $5 for parking approximately, so bring cash too! For a complete list of swimming beaches, read the Puerto Rican tourism website.
- Take your time to explore the El Morro Castle and the Castillo San Cristobal in the Old Quarter in San Juan. There’s public parking at the end of the peninsula, and plan to spend a ½ or full day walking around this beautiful area. With a giant pedestrian walk to the El Morro Castle and the City of Old San Juan it’s easy to walk around, take in the sites, the beautiful rocky landscape and enjoy a meal at any one of the restaurants in Old San Juan.
- Pack your trunk with a cooler of drinks, snacks, and beach towels and other necessities for your adventures in Puerto Rico. Although there were snack bars at beaches and El Yunque, they were either closed or crowded. It’s easier to just store your own and bring it with.
- There were occasional unique bug bites, skin rashes or sunburns, so bring your kids medical kit with you like neosporin, ibuprofen, sunscreen, wipes etc. at all times for an ailing child in need of a quick fix.
Before You Go
Because Puerto Rico is a “Commonwealth” of the United States, no passport required for US Citizens.