November 29, 2010

Playing in Puerto Rico

I always knew we would take a family vacation to Puerto Rico, I just didn’t know when (so many places, so little time!). After a more “urban” vacation last year, to Walt Disney World and New York City, we were ready for something a bit more natural. So it was a an easy decision, as I knew this was a destination that offered our favorite things: lots of outdoor activities like hiking, snorkeling, and kayaking, interesting historical sites, and beautiful Caribbean beaches.

Here are some highlights of our trip:

El Yunque Rainforest – The only tropical forest in the US, it feels a world away from the beaches and city, like stepping back in time. An easy hike led to a beautiful waterfall, but the real fun was in the journey along the way. The park is not only a scenic wonder, it is of great scientific importance, too. It contains over 240 species of trees and plants, and rare wildlife including the Puerto Rican Parrot, which is one of the ten most endangered species of birds in the world.

Culebra Island – A visit to Culebra takes a little bit of planning, but is well worth the effort. If I had any qualms about my family’s seaworthiness, the test was passed on the 90 min ferry ride through choppy waters (flights are available, too). But the bumpy ride was well worth the trip, not only to see Flamenco Beach (shown above), one of the most beautiful in all of the Caribbean, but also to kayak & snorkel in an amazing, but off the beaten path, preserve. Our tour company, Kayaking Puerto Rico, was not only professional and knowledgeable, but they catered to the kids in our group that ranged from 6 to 13 yrs of age. And they took photos during the whole trip using a high quality waterproof digital camera which we were welcome to download from their Facebook page.

Old San Juan – The city itself is gorgeous with narrow cobblestone streets and brightly colored buildings. But the 200+ year old forts, El Morro and San Cristobal, were the highlight, with 18 ft high thick stone walls, cannons, and sentry boxes dramatically suspended over the corners offering panoramic views of the ocean. While my kids, like many, can only tolerate so much history in one day, they were happy to spend hours just exploring the labyrinth of tunnels, spiral staircases, and dungeons.

Bioluminescent Bay - Though it was the most touristy of our outings, it was also one of the most memorable. After a relatively short and easy paddle through a mangrove forest at sunset, we reached the center of a large lake. It was nearly pitch black as we sat lined up in our kayaks, bobbing quietly. Then the guide gave the signal to swish our hands in the water. The silence was broken by the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as the water mysteriously lit up with thousands, if not millions, of tiny glowing particles which cast an eerie glow in water’s wake. We had fun splashing each other with our paddles to watch the bright speckles run down our legs and backs like little sparks. This was truly a wonderful and amazing natural phenomenon, and we would not hesitate to experience it again.

Many Southern Caribbean cruises depart out of San Juan, so it's easy to visit these sights before or after a cruise. Most of them are a 45 - 60 min drive away from the port, so I'd suggest at least 2-3 nights at one of the beach resorts along the coast for a great pre- or post-cruise trip.

I am going to post a review soon about our hotel, Las Casitas Village at El Conquistador Resort. It is great for families, and would be perfect for a destination wedding or family reunion.

For more information about planning your family's next adventure, contact Suzette at suzette@family-treks.com.


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