Seeing Puerto Rico without the kids in tow was simply icing on an already yummy cake. As my husband and I waited for the plane that would take us home from an idyllic five days in Puerto Rico, I looked into his eyes and asked, “Was this trip so special because Puerto Rico is so special? Or was it because we didn’t bring the kids?”
“That’s easy: Because we didn’t bring the kids,” he yelled, turning heads in the San Juan Airport. “We could have gone to Iowa and it would have been special so long as we were traveling without the kids.”
Lest anyone take offense, it is important to note that my husband loves Iowa. He’s always talking about moving there. He would have been very happy spending our 15th wedding anniversary in Iowa. I was the one who insisted upon Puerto Rico, the island I had long wanted to visit.
It had been a wonderful, relaxing five days (the maximum time we have ever traveled sin ninos, who were happily ensconced at home in the care of their favorite neighbor). We initially had planned on returning to Europe, the site of our honeymoon 15 years earlier. The soaring price of the Euro changed our minds.
Instead, we headed to Puerto Rico, which offers a taste of foreign travel for people who really aren’t ready for foreign travel. That’s because there is so little that is foreign about Puerto Rico.
Yes, the official language is Spanish. But it’s never hard to find someone who can tell you what you need to know en ingles. Because it’s a U.S. territory, there’s no need for a passport or to change money or calculate the dollar value of every purchase. Yes, the people are Latin. That means they are warm and welcoming. And, according to a 2005 survey all the Puerto Ricans we met liked to quote, they rank as the happiest people in world. It seems easy to believe.
Life’s a Beach
Our first stop was the beach. We stayed as guests of the Wyndam Rio Mar Beach and Golf Resort, an upscale resort on the Atlantic Ocean about 15 minutes from the wonderful El Yunque (pronounced El June-kay) rain forest.
Our El Yunque tour included a one-mile hike up and down the mountain floor to a beautiful waterfall, complete with a small swimming hole. Even if you don’t want to swim, consider bringing some water shoes for wading into the cool, refreshing water. Hats, sunscreen and water are a must. Skip the bug spray, though. The cute little Coqui frogs keep the entire area bug-free.
The Rio Mar resort has been fully renovated. About 60 percent of the business is convention goers, but the pool, beach and daily iguana feedings keep it family-friendly. We settled in for the Latin Lovers massage for couples, one of the best massages I ever had. After, we sat outside on the secluded balcony in our spa robes, drinking wine, eating apples and feeling the warm ocean breeze.
Old San Juan
We stayed as guests of the Sheraton Old San Juan on the harbor, where our biggest source of amusement was not watching the cruise ships and commuter ferries. Rather, it was watching the drivers maneuver the streets in their uniquely Puerto Rican way. The breeze off the harbor kept us cool while we dined outdoors at the gourmet Italian restaurant on site, Palio, and speculated when we would see the first accident. Remarkably, we never did.
Our best meal came from Café Puerto Rico, just a couple of blocks from the hotel. It was recommended by one of the locals, always a good sign. It wasn’t cheap and the fare would have been lost on the kids, but it’s definitely on the list of places to revisit should we return to Old San Juan.
We spent a day doing what Puerto Ricans do—listening to music, sitting in the park sipping a drink and munching on a sandwich bought from a roadside vendor.
But there’s no need to go native here. There are plenty of tourist sites in Old San Juan, including a handful of museums, virtually all which are closed on Monday. Only the National Park Service sites, the El Morro Castle and the San Cristobal Castle, two 16th-century forts linked by a wall that is 20 feet thick at points, were open and worth a visit. If you only have time for one, choose El Morro. It was the first, there are more things for kids to look at inside and the kite flyers on the grounds—they can number 2,000 on a Sunday—are a spectacle in themselves.
Walking the streets our first evening, we happened upon a street show that had drawn hundreds of local residents. We found a spot on the stairs and sat down to enjoy the ambience. It wasn’t long before the singer made her way to us and asked where we were from. (I can’t imagine how she knew we were tourists—the sunburn? The clothes? The fact that my husband is six-three?) “Chicago,” we responded. “Chee-cog-go,” she related to the crowd, which garnered us a cheer. The next thing we knew, she was giving us presents—a book that relates the history of San Juan, a Puerto Rican flag for my husband and a button for me that reads “Puerto Rico does it better.”
It’s the truth.