|Family Travel Files Ezine Family Vacations Resource
|Puerto Rico: San Juan, Family Vacation Fun - Beaches, Arecibo Observatory, and El Yunque National Forest.
Family friendly, historic, tropical and naturally beautiful, the island offers oodles of ways to have fun. Sun, sand and soft ocean breezes make it easy to chill out if only for a day.
The island itself is tempting, from cobblestone streets linking small shops and quaint cafes to rain forest pathways, energizing waterfalls and pounding surf, vacation discoveries await. San Juan offers shoppers plenty of rewards; Ponce provides tropical elegance and artistic charm; Mayaguez embraces the local culture and cuisine within a few minutes of Cabo Rojo and awesome surf.
Our discovery list is only the beginning. Don’t be afraid to practice Spanish, the island is family friendly – es la verdad.
Walk in the rain, in the forest.
El Yunque means the anvil in Taino language. This 28,000-acre Caribbean National Forest is the only tropical rain forest maintained by the U.S. National Forest Service. It offers close encounters of the natural kind, from picnics surrounded by flowers and lush green leaves, to invigorating walks along breathtaking trails. The visitor center has a nice presentation of hands-on activities for children. Within the park there are four distinct forest types and more than 3550 species of tropical trees, flowers and wildlife. Bonus points:
The center provides "Forest Adventures Tours" that offer the opportunity for families to take a guided tour with a forest ranger. These one-hour excursions are designed to inform and educate about the history, geology, climate, bio-diversity and forest management. Discovery:
Sylvester Parrot’s Perch is an excellent information page for young children that presents learning about the environment in a fun and visual manner. (El Yunque National Forest Ranger District, Palmer. (787) 888-1880 or www.fs.fed.us/r8/caribbean
Listen to the frogs.
There are plenty of tiny tree frogs called Coquis
(kow/key); the sound that they make gave them their name. Hiking trails within the park provide hours of discoveries. Some trails are very steep and many can be muddy. It is best to go during a weekday so there are less people on the trails and in the wayside markets. Need to know.
This is not a place to hurry through. Plan to get wet and pack spare clothing if wet troubles any one in your family. This rain forest is the perfect spot to practice Joseph Cornell’s techniques. He has published several excellent books on sharing nature with children. One of my favorites is Sharing Nature with Children (I & II) by Dawn Publication. Bonus points:
There are two to towers to climb and the waterfalls are really cold. It will rain for sure and then the air will be thick with new smells. It is the best thing to sit in one of the shelters and feel the rain and listen to the sounds. The leaves of the Trumpet Tree make perfect umbrellas. Just stand under one and catch the raindrops in their mouth. (Caribbean National Forest General Information. (787) 888-1810 or www.southernregion.fs.fed.us/caribbean
The Rio Camuy Cave system is as fascinating as the guidebooks indicate. Near the town of Lares, the Rio Camuy goes underground. For hundreds of thousands of years the rushing waters have carved passage. For kids it is great because it involves a tram ride, a cave walk, a roaring river and a boardwalk trail. From the visitor center a segmented trolley takes visitors between vine covered walls to the cave entrance. From there the scenery changes to what looks like a set for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The guides take advantage of the mystic atmosphere as they relay countless stories about the caverns. No matter how many times we’ve visited, it remains an exciting experience. Need to know:
This place is cool and there are bats. (From Arecibo, on the north shore, go southwest along Route 129 to reach Rio Camuy Cave Park. (787) 898-3100, (787) 763-0568 or www.topuertorico.org/city/camuy.shtml
Listen to a galaxy.
Near the center of the island is the Arecibo Observatory. It is the location of the world’s largest radar-radio telescope, equal in size to 13 football fields. Scientists from Cornell University and the National Science Foundation study the planets and distant galaxies by gathering radio waves from space. When the facility is not closed for research it is possible to visit the observatory and the exhibits. Need to know:
It is not easy to find because the roads wind along often unmarked. The effort is worth it because the exhibits are impressive to lay eyes. The listening dish is immense. Do this if you love space things because it is an easy way to nurture without overwhelming. Skip it if you have young children (under the age of nine). The gift shop has great stuff for young scientists. Bonus points: It was the one of the on-location spots for the film Contact, starring Jodie Foster. (HC03 Box 53995, Arecibo. (787) 878-2612 or www.naic.edu
Tromp among old stones.
Just outside of Ponce is the oldest known Indian burial ground in the Antilles at the Tibes Indian Ceremonial Center. Ancient Igneri and pre-Taino Indian plazas dating to 700 A.D. have been unearthed, as well as Indian skeletons from 200 A.D. Two dance grounds and seven ceremonial ball courts have been uncovered. Guides lead visitors through the park relating the folklore as well as the facts discovered about these early island dwellers. The museum at the entrance is small but well done. It gives children just enough information to relate to the ceremonial grounds and the /images/ezine still visible. On display are ceremonial objects, pottery and jewelry of the island’s earliest inhabitants. For the kids the best part was the thatched reed replica of a Taino village. Some weekends this complex is filled with artisans but it was not so when we were there. Need to know.
Don’t go if it is a warm day. The park is pleasant but the petroglyphs are small and children are not as impressed as adults are. The ceremonial center is closed on Mondays, but open every other day of the week from 9AM – 4PM. (Ponce. (787) 840-2255 or welcome.topuertorico.org/city/ponce.shtml
Stand guard at a real fort.
In San Juan it is worth the time and effort to take in El Morro. This is the one often seen in TV commercials for the island. It is much bigger than it appears on the television. From the upper walls it is easy to imagine the countless invasions. Park guides have grand tales to tell, some with truth. The meadow outside is perfect for kite flying or just a rest before heading to El Castillo. Most just say "the other fort." El Castillo is the one I like better. For kids the size of either will be impressive. The stories told about the countless battles and of the ghosts that still haunt the battlements would keep them guessing. Need to know:
Although there is a tourist trolley it is far better to walk in San Juan. The streets are narrow and traffic is terrible. Our kids always enjoy going to the end of Christo Street to watch and feed the pigeons in Pigeon Park, because there is ice cream for sale nearby. Keep a tight rein on your children in this city. It is chaos times ten. Although the city is small, it is easy to get lost. Many of the shops have center arcades and more than one entrance. (San Juan National Historic Site. The location includes forts, bastions, powder houses and dramatic ocean views. Dating to the 1630s they are symbols of Spain’s power in the Caribbean. 501 Norzagaray Street, San Juan 00901. (787) 729-6777 www.nps.gov/saju
There is no food stress. It’s all good. Our family favorite is still the bean called negro (black) served over rice with limon (lemon/lime) and peppers. Driving along the back roads it is easy to buy avocados, mangos and often papayas. One of the most famous of island dishes is called mofongo. Look for it on menus and you can’t go wrong. Picky eaters need not stress, there are plenty of panaderias with fresh bread. The bread and pastries from the local panaderias is fabulous and there are plenty of fritters that kids will enjoy eating. Bonus points: One of the special treats of the island is a cake roll made at Brazo Gitano in Aguadilla. We think the best is filled with guava but all are sweet and tasty. At the headquarters shop and restaurant they have every fruit filling imaginable and they ship anywhere. They may also be found in grocery stores all over the island. Need to know: The best snack is a coconut macaroon sandwich cookie, also filled with guava. When you can’t decide, just point to the word flan. It is a custard dessert usually with vanilla but it can be coconut or chino.
Summer on the island? No problem, the wind is always blowing and the nights are clear and dramatic. Yes, it may rain every day at 3 p.m. but tropical rains are refreshing and short lived.
ISLAND FOODS ON THE MENU Part of the charm of the island is the array of tempting foods. We have listed kid-tested items for refeence.
• a la plancha (plahn/cha) means broiled.
• alcapurria (al/kaw/poo/rya) a fritter made from grated taniers and green bananas and filled with ground meat or fish.
• arroz blanco (ah/rose blan/ko) white rice boiled in oil and water.
• arroz con dulce (ah/rose cone duel/say) rice pudding cooked with condensed coconut milk ginger and raisins.
• asopao (ah/saw/pow) a heavy rice-based soup that is often made with chicken or fish.
• arepas (ah/ray/pas) griddle cakes.
• casabe (cah/sah/bay) a flat bread made from yuca.
• Congri (con/gree) black beans and rice mixed.
• empanadillas (em/pah/nah/dee/as) small deep-fried flour turnovers filled with cheddar or Swiss cheese, ground meat or shredded chicken.
• habichuelas (ah/bee/chway/las) say this and you will get beans.
• lechon asado (lehshon ah/sadoe) a roasted pig often associated with celebrations and popular at Christmas time.
• mofongo (moh/fon/goh) a popular side dish, fried green plantains mashed with garlic, salt and pork rinds, then rolled into a ball. Sometimes made with meat or chicken.
• morcilla (more/see/yah) a spicy Puerto Rican sausage.
• piragua (peer/ah/wah) an ice cone flavored with fruit syrup.
• surrullitos (sue/rue/lee/toes) Caribbean corn bread, shaped like a cigar and served with a ketchup-mayonnaise sauce.
• rebozado (ray/bo/za/dow) means breaded.
• tostones (tos/tow/nays) fried green plantains, often served as aside dish with rice.
Content and images provided by FTF staff with comments by Nancy Nelson-Duac. Copyright 2008. Updated 2013.