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Trip Report: How to Visit Puerto Rico with Kids

Luquillo Beach Puerto Rico

Trip Report: How to Visit Puerto Rico with Kids

 How to Visit Puerto Rico with Kids

We haven’t done many beach vacations since having kids. Too much stuff to schlep, too much sunscreen to apply, and not nearly enough time with a good book and a cold drink. But when we started planning a spring break trip with our good friends and their baby (who live on the East Coast), Puerto Rico with kids was an easy choice. At the time, our son was 2.5yo and I was pregnant with our daughter so we wanted a low-key, relaxing vacation that still offered interesting activities beyond the beach. Puerto Rico checked all our boxes and exceeded our expectations! If you’re looking for a first “big trip”, you won’t regret a family trip to Puerto Rico.

In this post you’ll find:

Many thanks to our friend Alicia for sharing some of her pictures! On top of being a great friend, she’s a talented photographer – check her on Instagram.

Why you should visit Puerto Rico with kids

  • The logistics are easy. No passport and no currency conversion. Flights from the mainland to Puerto Rico are not too long, easy to come by and reasonably priced. Driving in Puerto Rico is the same as the mainland US.
  • Limited language barrier in Puerto Rico, but still a unique cultural opportunity. Almost everyone we encountered spoke at least some English, but it’s very different from the mainland US – the food, the social norms, the history.
  • Great mix of activities in a compact area. During our week on the island, we didn’t drive more than an hour (though we only stayed on the eastern half of the island) but we enjoyed pristine beaches, mountainous rain forest, luxurious time out on the water, interesting history, and a vibrant city scene.

Thanks to all of these features, I’d rank Puerto Rico as one of the best places for your first vacation with kids. Even for seasoned travelers, it’s a top destination for family travel.

Where to stay in Puerto Rico with Kids

Where is the best place to stay in Puerto Rico? After months of research, we decided that Luquillo Beach was the best place to stay in Puerto Rico with kids. Luquillo Beach truly has everything we could have wanted:

  • Beautiful beach with easy amenities (umbrellas and chairs are plentiful and cheap, plus you can buy ice cream and alcoholic drinks while the kids play in the soft sand)
  • Quiet life compared with the bustle of San Juan
  • Central location allows easy access to city, rainforest, nature preserve and water activities
  • Great dining options at all price points

We snagged a great 2 bedroom apartment for our party of six. We love staying in Airbnb apartments when we travel with kids because it allows us to have adult time long after the kids go to sleep. Renting apartments saves us money and stress because we have a kitchen to prepare breakfast and lunch and laundry facilities to minimize our packing. We also considered staying in nearby Fajardo, adjacent to the marina, where there are many luxury high-rise buildings; however, we preferred the lower cost and more central location of Luquillo Beach.

Save $40 on your first Airbnb reservation!

 Luquillo Beach Puerto Rico with kids

Family-friendly Activities near Luquillo Beach and San Juan

There are some many things to do near Luquillo Beach! Here are some of our favorite activities near Luquillo Beach with kids:

Luquillo Beach – Monserrate Balneario

How can you beat this view? As I mentioned above, the beach is pristine and there are nice amenities (even a locker room and changing rooms!). Mature palm trees provide opportunities for shade, and we had no trouble getting a prime spot during our March trip. Entry into the water is quite shallow, making this beach a great place to dip those tiny toes. We bought some inexpensive sand toys at the grocery store on our first night and left them in our Airbnb for the next family to enjoy. You do pay a nominal fee to park at Luquillo Beach, which funds the routine cleaning and maintenance that keeps the beach so lovely.

 

El Yunque Rainforest

You only have to drive 15 minutes from Luquillo and you’ll arrive in the middle of El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the US National Forest system. Why should you visit El Yunque? Just take a look! The scenery is so different than anything else in the United States, a real taste of the tropical ecosystem. Start your day at the Visitor’s Center, which offers informational signs and even a movie to get your oriented. You can also use the restroom and get the kids situated here before venturing out into the rest of the forest.

Head out in the car and climb up to the top of Yokahú Tower for sweeping views above the rainforest canopy. Once you’ve had your fill of the view get down where the action is and take the kids to see La Mina Falls. I recommend taking the Big Tree trail to the falls, as is under a mile in each direction and has limited elevation change (though there is a section with steps). There are even informational signs along the trail, which is great for educating your budding naturalists. Jacob did the entire hike himself, and our friend Alicia did the hike while wearing her infant son.

Pro tip: If you (or your kids) plan to splash in the cold water, wear the right shoes! Many people love Keen Newports, and our favorites for Jacob are Geox sandals. Some adventurous visitors wear their swimsuits for the hike and dive into the pool completely!

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Boat Rides from Fajardo

What better way to see the Caribbean than from the water? There are so many options for a boat trip off of Puerto Rico. If you’re traveling with older kids (or without kids!), you can’t beat a full-day trip boat trip to Vieques to Culebra from Fajardo. Culebra offers great snorkeling and kayaking adventures, while Vieques offers those activities and a stunning bioluminescent bay lit by mosquitos. A visit to the bioluminescent bay often arrives back in Fajardo after 10pm, so it would make for a very long day with young children. On our next trip to Puerto Rico, we intend to visit some of the smaller islands.

snorkeling with kids in Puerto Rico

For our crew, we decided it wouldn’t be the best choice. Instead, we found Erin Go Bragh Sailing & Snorkeling Charters and we couldn’t have been happier! Since were were such a large group, the cost of chartering our own yacht for the day was in line with the total we would have paid for spots on an organized tour. Chartering your own boat is the best way to go sailing with kids on vacation (we’ve done it in Vancouver too!). Captain Dan of the Erin Go Bragh and his first mate, Bam Bam, took care of all our needs including drinks, snacks and a delicious lunch. They provided snorkel gear, flotation devices and towels as well. We loved the flexibility of setting our own schedule and itinerary. We visited two lovely snorkel spots, and Jacob even got to steer! My favorite memory from our sail was watching my normally-anxious little guy leap off the back of the boat to meet me for some snorkeling. After a good swim and a filling lunch, he drifted off to sleep while watching a movie thanks to the calming ocean waves. I’ll never complain about more adult time on a trip with kids! If your family is visiting Puerto Rico, I highly recommend a day at sea on the Erin Go Braugh.

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Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve

How can you see a bioluminescent bay without going all the way to Vieques? There’s one right at Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve! That tour initially drew us to visit the Nature Reserve. Before we arrived in Puerto Rico, we booked a night tour for our group – they require booking in advance, as the tour is only offered three nights per week and the staff needs to coordinate the tour language, as it’s available in both English and Spanish. The night tour covers all the highlights of the Nature Reserve by a combination of tram car and foot: the beach, the lighthouse and finally the bioluminescent bay at Laguna Grande. Visitors can see the bioluminescent bay on foot by walking along a boardwalk (it’s dark, so be careful with little ones or use your baby carrier). You can “stir the pot” with a stick and the fish leave a glowing trail behind as they swim along!

A traveler’s most important skill is flexibility. The night tour is only offered three nights per week and we arrived on Saturday in mid-afternoon. We knew we’d be tired, but at least our family had a four hour time zone advantage and our friends had an hour so we figured we would make it work since us grown ups were so excited to see one of Puerto Rico’s bioluminescent bays. Man plans and God laughs, right?

After we had settled into our vacation apartment in Luquillo and gotten the little boys down for naps, the Dads headed out in our rented minivan to buy provisions in nearby Fajardo. When their trip dragged on and on until dangerously close to the starting time of the tour and they hadn’t called, we started texting and calling hoping everything was ok. Eventually we got in touch and found out that they had been the victims of an attempted car-on-car hit-and-run in the parking lot!

A local backed into their car hard and then tried to drive off, only to be stopped by the parking lot guard — apparently these things happen often, which is why the stores pay for guards in the lot. The guard was a nice guy and insisted on calling the police to file a full report, while Ronnie and his friend waited around and picked up small snippets of conversation with their limited Spanish skills. Unfortunately, us Moms couldn’t get anyone to pick up at the Nature Reserve to explain the situation since it was 7pm on a Saturday night. Sadly we weren’t able to see the bioluminescent bay in Fajardo during our trip, but we’re sure that we’ll visit Puerto Rico again.

Pro tip: Our Chase United Explorer credit card provides primary car rental insurance so we didn’t have to worry about any liability. We’ve had to use it a few times over the years and it’s worth its weight in gold! The claims process is smooth and they have never given us a hard time. Apply now to earn up to 65,000 bonus miles in the first year.

Fortunately, we had plenty of time during our trip to Luquillo to return to the Nature Reserve during the day. The daytime tour covered many of the same areas as the night tour, but allowed more time and a very different (and brighter) perspective. Our guide explained the ecological challenges of the region, showed off local flora and fauna, led us to a trove of fossilized coral on the beach (which Jacob still remembers three years later!) and showed us the far-reaching views from atop the light house. On the ground level of the lighthouse there’s even a learning center where you can check out some of those bioluminescent fish – no matter what time of day you visit. While our visit to Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve with kids didn’t proceed exactly as we had planned, we still had a great time, saw new things and learned a lot.

 

San Juan

The centuries-old city of San Juan has so much excitement that it could fill an entire blog post on its own. If your family is more interested in a resort experience, San Juan could be a great place to stay. We prefered to stay in Luquillo for its quieter atmosphere and proximity to outdoor activities, but dedicated a full day to exploring San Juan (an easy 45 minute drive). The city is small enough that you can park your car in one of the underground lots near the fort and forget about it all day. Exploring the city on foot allows you to duck into the colorful side streets, hear music wafting out of doorways and stop for ice cream as often as you the kids want.

Our first stop in San Juan was San Juan National Historic Site, where we visited Fort San Felipe del Morro. The five hundred year old fort is still well-preserved and offers excellent interpretive panels throughout to provide context for the building. In addition, the views from the end of the islet are unbeatable. If you visit on a weekend, there are numerous guided tours available that are led by rangers, but on any day you can visit the fort solo.

San Juan Puerto Rico view

Beyond the fort itself, you’ll find expansive grounds that are freely available for public use. Though we visited the fort in the morning, we returned to the grounds at dusk for a little casual kite flying. Street vendors sell ice cream, kites and other necessities on the sidewalk adjacent to the park, so just bring your camera and a smile.

San Felipe del Morro Puerto Rico

Apart from visiting Fort San Felipe del Morro, we didn’t have a set agenda for our day in San Juan with kids except to soak up the feeling of the city. We strolled through old town, drank from fresh coconuts, watched boats come in by the harbor, and then walked along Paseo de la Princesa to see San Juan Gate and eventually return back to the fort. We arrived at sunset just in time for Jacob to learn how to fly a kite on the beautiful grounds of the fort.

flying kites at San Juan National Historic Site

For a taste of Puerto Rican food, we ducked into El Jibarito in Old San Juan. Is El Jibarito a tourist trap? Perhaps somewhat. When we visited, the wait was long and it was thick with kids on spring break from New York; however, once inside we saw a clientele that included both tourists and locals. The food was good, the drinks were strong and the waiter was gracious and very helpful with translation and keeping our kid happy. I’ve read great recommendations for Cafe Manolin as well; I’ll definitely put it on our list for the next visit, asmany feel that the food and vibe are more authentic, plus the prices are better.

 

Bacardi Factory Tour

Whether you’re staying in San Juan or just don’t mind a little more driving from Luquillo, the Bacardi Rum Distillery historical tour looks like a fun way to learn a different side to local history and industry. We didn’t have time to go on this tour, but always enjoy touring distilleries around the world. The historical tour runs several times every day and is even free for kids!

Where to eat near Luquillo Beach

In US cities, we have food trucks. In Puerto Rico, they have the Luquillo Beach food shacks. These buildings really do look like shacks, but looks can be deceiving. There are dozens of choices, from local cuisine to drinks to desserts. We ate at different shacks almost every day; many even offer a take-out option for those evenings when you’re traveling with kids.

 

A family trip to Puerto Rico offers something for everyone. Outdoor activities, history, culture and beautiful beaches. So parents, forget the passports and take the kids to Puerto Rico!

 

Links

El Yunque Rainforest
Erin Go Bragh Sailing & Snorkeling Charters
Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve
San Juan National Historic Site
Bacardi Factory Tour

Some links on this site may be affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission at no additional expense to you. Using these links helps support the site and keep our family traveling. Please see the full disclosure for more information.

Thinking about a family trip to Puerto Rico? Top picks for Puerto Rico with kids, including where to stay, what to do and the best hidden restaurants. Best of Luquillo Beach with kids and Fajardo with kids. Thinking about a family trip to Puerto Rico? Top picks for Puerto Rico with kids, including where to stay, what to do and the best hidden restaurants. Best of Luquillo Beach with kids and Fajardo with kids.

Wander Mum
life as our little family

Melissa

34 Comments

  • yummyblogger

    I wish we lived closer to Puerto Rico… sounds amazing! Lovely post, lovely memories 🙂 #citytripping

    April 25, 2017 at 10:37 am
  • Jane the Raincity Librarian

    I spent a day in San Juan as part of a cruise years ago, and it was fascinating, but so hot! This poor Canadian wilted in the heat! 😵

    April 25, 2017 at 10:42 am
  • Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl

    This looks fun, Puerto Rico is on my list!

    April 25, 2017 at 11:06 am
  • Chelsea McKinney

    Haven’t been to Puerto Rico yet! Pinning this one for later!!!

    April 25, 2017 at 1:22 pm
  • Shaun

    Great tips. I hope to get to Puerto Rico someday!

    April 25, 2017 at 8:52 pm
  • Jessica

    Great review! I’m from Puerto Rico and I always recommend Luquillo for travelers with kids! Love that beach!

    April 25, 2017 at 10:24 pm
    • Melissa

      I would love to hear any insider tips you have!

      April 26, 2017 at 5:45 am
  • Momma To Go

    Wow we went to PR when my son was 2 & I was pregnant! Literally all we did was beach and pool you did so much! PR is such an easy vacay for the reasons you mentioned! I can’t wait to return now that my kids are bigger

    April 26, 2017 at 4:08 am
  • snowtoseas

    Really informative post to read! Thanks for sharing! Planning a vacation with kids can be extremely tough, and you’ve convinced me that planning one to Puerto Rico is definitely less tough. 🙂

    April 26, 2017 at 11:00 am
  • Wherejogoes

    Did someone say bacardi factory?!
    I know what you mean about the whole beach/sunscreen schlep! This does look a fantastic place to go with enough non beach activity to keep everyone entertained and happy. I wish it was as easy to get to from the UK! #CityTripping

    April 26, 2017 at 11:50 am
  • Jasmin Charlotte (@jasxcharlotte)

    Looks like you had an awesome time! Must be so helpful having it with the same currency etc. We are actually going to Jersey this weekend which is a UK island and it’s so nice not to have to sort out currency / visas or anything like that!

    April 26, 2017 at 1:44 pm
  • Justine Alonzo | The Iridescent Wings

    Recently, I’ve been seeing more and more people visit Puerto Rico and thanks for this informative guide. Your family is very cute!

    April 26, 2017 at 1:58 pm
  • akaleidoscopeheartblog

    I’ve heard great things about Puerto Rico with kids before, thanks for all your pictures proving it! I may not have kids yet but it’s always good to know people can keep up traveling even once they come along. 🙂

    April 26, 2017 at 1:59 pm
  • Kat

    It sounds amazing! And even though there’d be a bit of a language barrier, I think it’d be fantastic, I love hearing other languages being spoken around me. It makes the trip a little more romantic I think.

    April 26, 2017 at 2:19 pm
  • antoniauri

    It looks lovely, as a Spanish speaker and lover of Hispanic culture I would love to go someday but being Scottish it isn’t so easy 🙁

    April 26, 2017 at 2:42 pm
  • ashleemoyo

    Really enjoyed this post! I don’t have a family yet, but its nice to see that places like Puerto Rico are family friendly (:

    Ashlee

    April 26, 2017 at 2:50 pm
  • thewaywardwalrus

    I visited Puerto Rico my spring break senior year of college so this gave me a completely different perspective of traveling to Puerto Rico haha! I’ve been wanting to take my nephews and niece out of the country so I’ll have to send this to my sister 🙂

    April 26, 2017 at 4:43 pm
  • Shannalyn

    Sounds like a great trip. I feel If I had kids I would want them to understand other cultures too.

    April 26, 2017 at 8:57 pm
  • jusztravel

    Ahhh! Puerto Rico looks beautiful! But wait, you don’t need a passport to go there????

    April 26, 2017 at 10:16 pm
  • While I'm Young (@danniellelily)

    I’d never have thought of PR as a good family travel location but you’ve changed my mind!

    April 27, 2017 at 8:18 am
  • Carolina Colborn

    This is the ultimate luxury in the world…to travel with your kids to enjoy the planet. And it is one I wasn’t able to do with mine. I am glad they are doing it with theirs!

    April 27, 2017 at 8:39 am
  • Evelyne CulturEatz

    Sounds like a great destination for the netire family for sure. I love that you can see a beuatiful city and have nature near by. I think taking kids to a rainforest is a treat and something tehy will remeber for a long time.

    April 27, 2017 at 9:16 am
  • OurSweetAdventures

    I would not have guessed there was that much to do in Puerto Rico for families. Being able to take kids on a hike is awesome. We want to do that some day.

    April 27, 2017 at 2:52 pm
  • fifi + hop

    I’ve always wanted to visit Puerto Rico..what a comprehensive guide – pinning, thanks. #citytripping

    April 27, 2017 at 8:15 pm
  • alison abbott

    You’ve certainly made a great argument for a successful trip with kids. Unfortunately mine have flown the next, but I can give this a try when/if/ grandbabbies arrive.

    April 27, 2017 at 9:10 pm
  • Cat

    From snorkeling, hiking, to kite flying, Puerto Rico has so many activities for families to enjoy!

    April 27, 2017 at 9:42 pm
  • Diana Chen

    I would love to visit the Bacardi distillery! Looks like you guys had a fun trip with a good mix of activities for you and the kids. I hope to make it to PR one day!

    April 28, 2017 at 8:49 am
  • nativevagabonds

    My second home! Love having Puerto Rican ancestry, especially seeing posts like this from travelers to la isla! Hope you enjoyed!

    April 28, 2017 at 9:23 am
  • Steph Liao

    I never considered going to Puerto Rico before! But it looks really pretty and sounds like a worthwhile trip!

    April 28, 2017 at 11:12 am
  • WanderMum

    What a great holiday you had! Your son looks like he’s having so much fun in the sea – very cute. I’ve never been to Puerto Rico but would love to one day…now I know what to do when I get there. Thanks for linking to #citytripping

    April 29, 2017 at 1:21 pm
  • Wandermust mummy

    This looks like ana amazing family spot. Putting on our list! #fewrlessfamtrav

    May 1, 2017 at 10:51 pm
  • worldoftravelswithkids

    i had never considered Puerto Rico as a destination for kids. Now I’m sold, sounds awesome and too easy!!! #fearlessfamtrave

    May 2, 2017 at 6:32 am
  • Lisa - FlipFlopGlobetrotters.com

    How cool to have such a great family travel destination so close to where you live! Would love to go there one day… #fearlessfamtrav

    May 3, 2017 at 12:46 pm
  • Kerri-Ann (@kahargreaves)

    Some fantastic tips and what a beautiful part of the world it is. Thank you for sharing your holiday with #MyFamilyAdventures

    May 7, 2017 at 9:38 am
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