My first introduction to Puerto Rico was watching “West Side Story” when I was a tween. The Jets vs. the Sharks. Rita Moreno singing on New York City rooftops about the island her family left. Star crossed lovers Tony and Maria who were destined to be together forever until her brother killed his best friend and then he killed her brother! It was the lovesick, heartbreaking tragic love story that my 11 year old self was obsessed with!
Little did I know it would be almost thirty years before I’d actually make a trip to the beautiful island that gave birth to the Sharks.
Every winter, for decades, I yearned to go to Puerto Rico. It’s a close and direct flight for me yet something always got in the way. My dream finally came true when my cousin announced that she and her Puerto Rican husband were christening their baby daughter in San Juan. We had the perfect excuse to pack our bags and take a Caribbean jaunt with our own two pieces of precious cargo.
There is a definite shift in the air when you exit a plane from Washington, D.C. and arrive in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Everything is different from the temperature to the people to the vibe. We made a wise decision in that we split our time between Old San Juan and a beach resort. It was nice to be in the middle of a cobble stoned, authentic, vivacious and pedestrian city but it was also really lovely to unwind and vegetate at a beach resort.
In Old San Juan, we stayed at a friend’s quaint apartment which made it very convenient for sightseeing. We had the flexibility to walk and explore the area but we could also easily come home and let the kids take a nap or find some respite from the heat.
El Morro, a fortress built to protect the city from sea invaders, was our first stop. Fortresses are always awesome places to take kids but this one is full of fun nooks and crannies. There’s everything from a chapel to a piece of bomb still stuck in a wall. Kids of all ages go bananas here! Our Puerto Rican friends that picked us up at the airport came equipped with kites for the kids. We couldn’t figure out why until we went to El Morro. There is a massive yard with permanent breezes that set the stage for perfect kite flying. Don’t have a kite? Don’t worry….tons of stores in Old San Juan sell both kites and string.
We were lucky that baptismal celebrations took place everywhere from Condado to Guaynabo to a beautiful luncheon in Cayey. Located amongst the spectacular mountains, Cayey is a must see! Cayey is also home to the Carite Forest Reserve, over 6,000 acres of magnificent terrain located just outside the city. This is a fun place to hike, explore and disconnect from the world.
Needing a little beach bumming after hiking, sightseeing and partying, we splurged and spent a few nights at what has since become one of my favorite resorts ever, the Caribe Hilton. Not only is this a beautiful property but it is also a parent’s dream come true! There’s everything from mini golf to tennis to a kids’ playground. They even have a bird sanctuary with peacocks and ducks. The shallow beach makes it perfect for kids to wade in, but what I loved most was that the hotel provided ample beach toys for our kids to play with. I didn’t have to worry about schlepping or buying sand buckets, shovels, molds etc. because we had them all right there.
All in all, our time in Puerto Rico with kids was glorious. We can’t wait to go back and explore the rest of the island as there’s so much to see and do! Hasta Pronto Puerto Rico!