Puerto Rico: A Family Trip to the Isle of Enchantment


I just returned from Puerto Rico and our family had an amazing time. There are so many activities and attractions for all ages. The challenge is how to fit them all in during just one trip! But that’s okay because it’s just a 2 1/2-hour flight from Miami and you don’t need a passport, so you can always plan a return trip.

I was born and raised on the island, but then I moved to California, Colorado, and Florida — where I’ve spent the past 25 years of my life. I guess you can say that Miami is my home, but Puerto Rico has my heart.

Isla de Cabras Puerto Rico: A Family Trip to the Isle of Enchantment Vanessa Santamaria Contributor Miami Moms Blog
View of El Morro in the background

Family Fun

My kids love traveling to my island home. It’s always an adventure for them and they are happy to discover something new during each visit. This time, our focus was on reuniting with my family and spending quality time together. We reconnected with loved ones; bonded with my brother and sisters; visited my aunts, uncles, cousins, and godparents; and met new cousins from as far away as California and New York. The lively culture, mouthwatering delights, contagious laughter and pulsating rhythms you’ll find in Puerto Rico are food for the soul.

We boarded our flight on New Year’s Eve and my girls, ages 5 and 7, were beyond excited. Our first day on the island was spent in Dorado, a picturesque municipality on the north coast. Here we went to the beach, ate some delicious seafood with mofongo (fried mashed plantains with garlic and pork rinds), and ended the day by strolling the town plaza, which was beautifully decorated for the holidays. I’m a big fan of Christmas light displays, so it was wonderful to see many homes, businesses and government buildings decorated with nativity scenes, light displays, homemade accents and more.

El Yunque Puerto Rico: A Family Trip to the Isle of Enchantment Vanessa Santamaria Contributor Miami Moms Blog
Photo stop at El Yunque

Sightseeing Adventures

The next day we hopped on a ferry boat in Cataño (only $.50 each way) that took us to the cruise ship dock in Old San Juan. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the Three Kings and we took some nice photos with them. We did some sightseeing, shopped at a few stores, chatted with locals, and enjoyed a few treats, such as helado de coco (coconut sorbet), which brings back memories of my childhood. Some highlights included a stop at The Poet’s Passage, an art-filled haven where we found the perfect piece to bring back home; the Umbrella Sky art installation on beautiful Calle Fortaleza; dinner at Vaca Brava, where you can experience all the wonderful flavors of Puerto Rico; and a stop at Señor Paleta for yummy artisanal ice cream bars (I ordered pistachio while my kids and hubby opted for chocolate variations).

Umbrella Sky in San Juan Puerto Rico: A Family Trip to the Isle of Enchantment Vanessa Santamaria Contributor Miami Moms Blog
Umbrella Sky installation at Calle Fortaleza in Old San Juan

In San Juan, you can also visit El Morro, a citadel from the 16th-century that contains various levels and tunnels to explore. The most popular historic site on the island, El Morro also offers one of the best Insta-worthy photo ops. Nearby, you’ll find San Cristobal, another fort with breathtaking views.

Our family also visited El Yunque National Forest. While some of the trails remain closed after Hurricane Maria, we still got to do quite a bit and the kids had a blast. We stopped at La Coca Falls and climbed down the rocks to the water, we made it to the top of Yocahú Tower and enjoyed some amazing views, and we visited the beautiful natural pool and hiked a little. The weather was amazing! La Mina Falls is one of the most popular and adventurous hikes in the rainforest, but it was closed. Although I’ve ventured there before with my hubby, I probably wouldn’t take the girls down this path because it’s steep and slippery, so you need to be very careful.

Piraguas in Puerto Rico Puerto Rico: A Family Trip to the Isle of Enchantment Vanessa Santamaria Contributor Miami Moms Blog
Enjoying Piraguas (snow cones) in Old San Juan

Local Favorites

A tradition for most Puerto Ricans is to visit Luquillo Beach when you leave El Yunque. It’s a short drive from the forest and you’ll be rewarded with a calm and inviting palm-lined beach, as well as numerous kiosks serving fresh lobster, conch, crab, fried fritters, refreshing coconuts and more. If you haven’t tried a crab patty (empanadilla de jueyes) or a codfish fritter (bacalaíto), you’ll want to order one before leaving the island.

On this trip, we also ventured to San Sebastian, a municipality in the northwestern region where I once lived. Here we visited Gozalandia, which boasts a series of waterfalls and bathing ponds that were cold but totally worth it. It’s a steep descent on rocky stairs and a bit slippery, but the girls had a blast and they didn’t want to leave. We had a great time swimming to the waterfall and hanging out on the rocks. We will surely be back next time.

My dad’s family is from a municipality in the central mountain region called Barranquitas. Getting there is part of the adventure, as it involves driving through some mountain roads with sharp turns. The weather is always cooler up there and the views are breathtaking. This is where we had our big family reunion and party on Three Kings Day. We sang, danced, played musical instruments and ate delicious homemade food. What an unforgettable day!

Also in the central region, you’ll find Orocovis and Morovis. While La Sombra Restaurant in Orocovis is the most popular destination for Puerto Rican longaniza (sausage), we had one of the best meals at Cafetín Los Amigos in Morovis. After a 45-minute drive, we were rewarded with stunning views and a plate filled with juicy longaniza mixta (sausage made with chicken and ham), rice, red beans and tostones (fried plantains). It was totally worth the drive!

On the southern coast, there’s Ponce, a large city that has lots of to offer. The colorful Parque de Bombas (old fire station) is a big hit with kids. Plaza de las Delicias is the main town square, where you’ll find historic sites and shopping opportunities. There are also some standout museums and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadaloupe offers picture-perfect opportunities.

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Water World

Our kids love the water and there are hundreds of beautiful beaches to choose from in Puerto Rico. Some of our favorite spots include the aforementioned Luquillo Beach (northeast coast), Boquerón Beach in Cabo Rojo (southwest coast), Crash Boat in Aguadilla (northwest coast), Gilligan’s Island in Guánica (south coast), Jobos Beach in Isabela (northwest coast) and Palomino Island, a private island on the east where El Conquistador Resort guests can spend the day enjoying watersports, horseback riding and more. The resort is currently under renovation after Hurricane Maria, so it’s only partially open with limited services available and Palomino Island is closed. Also at El Conquistador is the Coqui Water Park, a family favorite that offers pools, water slide, and a lazy river. I can’t wait to return once they reopen!

If time permits, I suggest you head to Flamenco Beach on nearby Culebra Island. Here you can unplug completely and enjoy true relaxation. You can get there via a scenic ferry ride from Fajardo (east coast), book a flight, or contact a tour operator for a snorkel and beach combination. The water is a vibrant blue and the white-sand beach is silky soft. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever visited.

These are just a few of the many things to see, do and eat in Puerto Rico. It’s definitely not a comprehensive list, but if you’re traveling with kids, these are some of the adventures they will surely enjoy.

If you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you. It’s always fun to share my love for Puerto Rico!