Family fun in Puerto Rico

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The Puerto Rican culture cherishes la familia. Which explains why there are so many fun things for families to do in Puerto Rico.

Some activities I recently tried, and would recommend for families:
1. Ziplining in the El Yunque rainforest.

If your kids are still young, and have never ziplined before, then give Rain Forest Zipline Corp. a try. Rather than the 350-foot-high lines on an all-day excursion, you can spend 2-3 hours doing sailing through the trees on lower-but-still fun lines.

To my 6- and 8-year-olds, this was the highlight of their Puerto Rico vacation. The company caters to kids, and when my youngest started crying and saying he was afraid, they gave him extra attention and encouragement. Soon, he was begging to go first and declared zip lining to be “so awesome.” See the video at Family-Friendly Ziplining in Puerto Rico

2. Beaches at the Wyndham Rio Mar Resort.

When you’re on a Caribbean island with kids, you have to factor in some beach time. While guests of the Rio Mar Resort, we found the clean, not-crowded, and solicitor-free Rio Mar beach to be perfect for families. 

The waves were a little rough during our visit, but the kids loved standing in waist-deep water and getting knocked down by big waves. When a big wave would approach, my 6-year-old would scream “tsunami!” and then tumble into the water laughing. Of course, when the waves are really rough, be sure to keep an eye on the kids as there is a strong undercurrent.

3. El Museo del Niño Carolina 

We’ve been to our share of children’s museums, but this brand new one (opened in Dec. 2011) — just a five-minute drive from San Juan airport in the town of Carolina — stands out among our favorite.

Skip the tour of the real American Airlines jet parked on its front lawn (chances are, you were just on one) and instead opt for the spacious and dual-language exhibits on the inside. Some of our favorites were laying on an actual bed of nails, a wind machine that involved scarves, and a timed, race track where you build your own car. The nicest part? English-speaking staff members were stationed at each exhibit.

Finish up outside with a $3 per person ride on their fun new go-kart track.

4. An educational hike to the waterfall in El Yunque Rain Forest.

During our hiking tour with RST, it became obvious why so many American pharmaceutical companies have manufacturing plants in Puerto Rico. El Yunque is filled with plants that have medicinal qualities, which you’ll learn about — and often touch and smell.

If you take the “moderate” difficulty hike — which was no problem for my 6-year-old — you’ll end up at a picture-worthy waterfall. Some visitors were swimming under it, but it didn’t appeal much to us as the rocks were slippery and the water was cold. 

Remember: bring a light rain jacket! It is a rainforest, after all. And if it doesn’t rain, it’ll be misty.

5. Wander around historic Old San Juan.

This is the touristy area of Puerto Rico, but it’s filled with beautiful historic buildings on narrow one-lane streets. Most of the buildings are filled with restaurants and shops — everything from souvenir shops to mall-like stores like Crocs and Cartier.

The area has lots of little nooks where people sit and listen to live music and eat piraguas (snow cones) sold from a pushcart. There are also has two massive forts dating back to Christopher Columbus’ time which you can tour. My kids liked San Cristobal, which had both a dungeon and beautiful views of the island. Near there, there is a large grassy area along the ocean where families fly kites.

6. Try mofongo!

The Puerto Rican specialty dish, made of mashed plantains mixed with butter and garlic, topped with shrimp, meat or chicken. It’s not spicy, so it’s good for kids, and a safe choice for local cuisine.

We liked the mofongo at Don Pepe’s restaurant, which is 5-minute drive from the Rio Mar Resort. It was a simple, friendly restaurant with tasty food and a huge menu so everyone was happy. As an added bonus, we were the only non-locals dining there.

I also recommend their Sorullos de Maiz, a deep-friend corn, butter and cheese stick appetizer. For adults, try a Medalla Light, a Puerto Rican, Miller Lite-like beer.

Finally, here are a few more things to like about Puerto Rico. No passports (and therefore, no immigration lines) required for U.S. citizens. U.S. dollars are used. And just about everyone speaks English.

Whether you prefer large resorts in San Juan or quieter, remote near the El Yunque rainforest, you’ll find endless family fun in Puerto Rico.

Information for this article was gathered on a press trip organized by the Puerto Rico Tourism, but the opinions are all my own.

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