10 Things You Absolutely Have to Do in Puerto Rico

It may be a small island, but Puerto Rico is arguably one of the most beautiful and lush destinations in the Caribbean that afford diversity in attractions and activities. You can go hiking in a tropical rainforest one minute and exploring the old forts of a historic coastal city the next, and still have plenty of time to squeeze a little bit of R&R in a private island.

Here are ten of the best activities you absolutely have to do when visiting Puerto Rico.


Explore the Rainforest, Muddy Hiking Trails and All

Waterfalls at El Yunque National Forest | Photo: Michelle Rae
Waterfalls at El Yunque National Forest | Photo: Michelle Rae

El Yunque (http://www.fs.usda.gov/elyunque) is the only tropic rainforest in the United States, and it just so happens to be in Puerto Rico. But don’t let its title intimidate you – it has a plethora of attractions that even the kids will find easily accessible. Start by visiting the roadside La Coca Waterfalls (but do be careful on those slippery rocks) then climb the Yokahu Tower for its sweeping views of the forest and the coast and then take a trail, the muddier the better, to one of the forest’s more hidden attractions.

Tip: Pack a picnic basket, plenty of water and your best hiking shoes.


Stay at El Conquistador Resort, For a Day or Two or However Long You Want

El Conquistador Resort | Photo: Michelle Rae
El Conquistador Resort | Photo: Michelle Rae

Even non resort-loving travelers will LOVE this piece of paradise located only about 15 minutes away from the town of Fajardo. El Conquistador (http://www.elconresort.com/) will capture any traveler’s heart, families with kids especially, what with its stunning location at the top of a cliff, its waterpark that comes with lovely views of both the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea, as well as its private island, Palomino, which comes with its own sandbar that made movie history. Looking to sample the island’s traditional dishes? The resort makes a point of not only integrating the Puerto Rican way of cooking but also adding local dishes on the menus.

Tip: Allocate an entire day on Palomino Island, as there are many things to do there, including snorkeling, kayaking, jet skiing, and horseback riding.


Kayak Through a Mangrove Forest to a Bioluminescent Bay, in Darkness

Kayaks in Las Croabas | Photo: Michelle Rae

You’ll love navigating your tandem kayaks through a mangrove channel, in darkness, to see the dinoflagellates perform one of nature’s miracles. Drive to Las Croabas where kayak tour agency Yokahu Kayak Trips (https://www.facebook.com/YokahuKayak/) will take you on this guided adventure into Laguna Grande, one of Puerto Rico’s three bio bays where you’ll witness firsthand the water light up and sparkle when disturbed. In the bay, stop and listen as your guides tell you about how these fascinating microorganisms work and the efforts being done to preserve their dying ecosystem.

Tip: Go on a moonless summer night for brighter illumination. And don’t be afraid to slosh you hand in the water to see it sparkle.


See Old San Juan, from its Massive Forts to its Adorable Houses

San Cristobal in Old San Juan | Photo: Michelle Uy
San Cristobal in Old San Juan | Photo: Michelle Uy
San Cristobal in Old San Juan | Photo: Michelle Uy
Old San Juan from San Cristobal | Photo: Michelle Rae

With a hint of European flair, a touch of culture, and a dash of history, Old San Juan is an incredible and picturesque city to explore, even with kids in tow. Walk the blue cobblestone streets, taking your time, and discover how the port city was once an important stronghold in the Caribbean. Start at the Capitol and the Plaza de la Barandilla across the street and work your way to Fort San Felipe del Morro and its neighboring cemetery, stopping at Fort San Cristobal along the way. Then head inland to visit Hotel El Convento, Catedral San Juan Bautista, La Fortaleza, and Parque Las Palomas and its old chapel.

Old San Juan | Photo: Michelle Rae
Old San Juan | Photo: Michelle Rae
Old San Juan | Photo: Michelle Rae
La Fortaleza at Christmas Time | Photo: Michelle Rae
Catedral San Juan Bautista | Photo: Michelle Rae

Tips: Bring plenty of water on this walking tour, and do take your time exploring the forts. And remember to bring your camera, as there are plenty of photo opportunities.


Zip Line at ToroVerde, Even if You’re Afraid of Heights

Zip line at ToroVerde | Photo: Michelle Rae
Zip line at ToroVerde | Photo: Michelle Rae

Those who suffer from mild to moderate acrophobia need not worry. Zip lining on one of the world’s longest single run line (4.745 feet) may be a little unnerving at first, but when you’re on it zipping over the beautiful valley below belly down like a bird, it’s the best feeling in the world. At ToroVerde (http://www.toroverdepr.com/) ecological park, you’ll be walking and soaring over trees, streams and rivers like there’s no tomorrow. And you’re gonna want to do it all over again. Young kids (8 and over) can participate too, thanks to the park’s kid-friendly Bull Maze rope course, which features suspension bridges, monkey bars and rope nets.

Tip: Allot an entire day for this excursion.


Feast on the Local Cuisine, Devil (and Diet) May Care 

Local food | Photo: Michelle Rae
Local food | Photo: Michelle Rae

Sampling the local dishes is perhaps one of the best ways to truly experience a destination, and Puerto Rico has plenty of those. Dishes that even the pickiest eaters will enjoy are served at most restaurants on the island, even in the new area of San Juan, so they’re not hard to find. Some of the dishes the whole family must try are arroz mamposteao or arroz con gandules, mofongo, brandade and pasteles. The island is also known for its roast pork as well as its Latino-style grilled steak served with chimichurri. Must try restaurants include Café Puerto Rico and The Parrot Club in Old San Juan, the French-inspired Cocina Abierta (http://www.cocinaabierta.com/home), which serves one of the best mofongos (Duck Confit Stuffed Mofongo) in San Juan, and Chops Steakhouse at El Conquistador Resort.

Tip: For those who don’t eat meat, many restaurants serve delicious seafood and vegetarian options.


Explore New San Juan, Especially the Street Art Scene

Street art in San Juan | Photo: Michelle Rae
Street art in San Juan | Photo: Michelle Rae
Street art in San Juan | Photo: Michelle Rae

Surprisingly, Puerto Rico has some of the best urban and street art scenes in the Americas, if not the world; and a visit in San Juan is not completely without exploring Santurce, home to city’s vibrant and thriving street art movement. Spend an hour or two discovering the district’s murals and sculptures on walls, under bridges and on the streets. Start on Fernandez Juncos Avenue near Hospital Pavia Santure.

Tip: Go in the morning or early afternoon.


Visit the Children’s Museum in Carolina, and Go on a Boat Ride

Boat at Museo del Nino Carolina | Photo: Michelle Rae

The Museo del Nino de Carolina (http://www.museodelninocarolina.com/), whose aim is to encourage kids to discover and pursue their passion (or passions) as early as possible, isn’t like any other children’s museum. Besides its interactive, kid-friendly exhibits on math, science, arts & crafts, theater and more, it also boasts a mini zoo, where kids can witness firsthand the hatching of duck and chicken eggs if they’re lucky, a go kart track, a boating tour of the nearby mangrove channel where they can see wild iguanas, birds and alligators relaxing on tree branches, and a real commercial plane that visitors can board and explore.

Tip: While ducks and chicken roam free, teach the kids not to chase them or attempt to disturb their nests. Wear long pants and apply bug spray generously before going on the boat ride.


Drive to the Smaller Towns, or Just Drive

Local restaurant in Piñones | Photo: Michelle Rae
Beach in Piñones | Photo: Michelle Rae
Beach in Piñones | Photo: Michelle Rae

Beautiful small towns that mostly slip under the tourist radar are an easy drive away from Puerto Rico’s cities and resort areas, so rent a car, round up the gang and make that drive. Just less than an hour from San Juan and you’ll already find yourselves in small towns that draw surfers, foodies and locals. Keep an eye out of quiet, kid-friendly beaches, idyllic scenes worthy of a stop, local restaurants and maybe a small town fiesta.

Tip: Many roads and towns – even parts of the El Yunque rainforest – in Puerto Rico have good cellphone reception so it’s impossible to get lost.


Swim, Of Course

Palomino Island | Photo: Michelle Rae
Beach on Palomino Island | Photo: Michelle Rae

Warm waters, lovely stretches of beach and lots of natural barriers that break the massive waves far from shore make Puerto Rico’s beaches some of the best places in the Caribbean to swim in. Go to a beach near San Juan or at the resort you’re staying or to an off-the-beaten path one in a small town, slather on some sunscreen and just spend an entire day there. You’ll regret it, if you don’t. And on the northern part of the island, the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic so you’ll even have an opportunity to enjoy both.

Tip: El Conquistador’s Palomino Island has an islet called Palominito where a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was filmed. It’s a lovely spot, especially if you’re looking for quiet and isolated.



Caribe Hilton. 1 San Geronimo, San Juan | 787 721 0303 | www.caribehilton.com

El Conquistador Resort. 1000 El Conquistador Ave, Fajardo | 787 863 1000 | www.elconresort.com


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Hotel Review: Club Med Punta Cana

Why Go: While many have several preconceived ideas of how a Club Med resort should be – opulent and luxurious, for example – the brand’s 4 Trident family-friendly resort, situated on the Atlantic shores of the Dominican Republic, slightly deviates from such ideas to match the island’s laid-back but active lifestyle. And it’s perfection.

Not to say that it falls short of being luxurious, of course. After all, it boasts a beautiful 5 Trident space, fittingly christened Tiara, which features a private infinity pool with sweeping views of the ocean, a dedicated concierge service, nightly turndown service, and beautiful, beachside family suites that offer ample deluxe living space for a family of four. Club Med Punta Cana, however, is more than just indulging in expensive accommodations and amenities.

With an ideal location – right next to the famed shallow reefs of Punta Cana and minutes from the Punta Cana International Airport, Club Med Punta Cana (the resort that introduced Punta Cana to the world) goes beyond the usual all-inclusive escape that mostly involve taking dips in the pool, sunning on the beach and indulging at the buffet table. With the help of its Gentil Organisateurs (GOs), the resort encourages an active and fun tropical vacation where guests partake in the many activity offerings, immerse in the local culture, make lasting friendships, and at times, push past their comfort zone, no matter their age and predilection.

Getting There: A mere 10-minute (or less) drive from the Punta Cana International Airport, which receives inbound flights from many major cities in the US and in Europe daily, Club Med Punta Cana is one of the most easily accessible resorts in the Caribbean. Grab a cab at the airport, which will only set you back $30 (up to 4 people), or arrange for private transportation.

Getting Oriented: Sitting on the shores of DomRep’s longest natural reef in southern Punta Cana, the lush Caribbean resort is one of the biggest Club Med properties in the Americas. Yet, a relaxing walk around the property and about half a day there will quickly get you oriented with where most of the important spots are, like the restaurants, the main pool, the beach, the sports areas, and the new CREACTIVE play space.

Tiara, the 5 Trident space at Club Med Punta CanaTiara, the 5 Trident space at Club Med Punta Cana (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Room Options: Club Med Punta Cana has a total of 553 rooms divided into 3 types (Deluxe, Club, and 5 Trident Space Suites) of beach house-style bungalows with unassuming yet colorful exteriors. All rooms have the usual resort features and family-friendly amenities that include air-conditioning, an espresso machine, hair-dryer, safe, iron and ironing board, and flat screen cable TVs.

Deluxe rooms vary in size, as do Club rooms, and offer different options for couples as well as families – including a 2-bedroom with a living area. The 5 Trident Suites, on the other hand, are all 2-bedroom oceanfront suites with a full bathroom and a ¾ bath, a receiving area, a living area connected to the main bedroom, a balcony that opens up to the sea, and convenient water access. If you are looking for a more luxurious option, a 5 Trident Space Suite is definitely the way to go.

In December of 2015, the resort is set to open their adult-only Zen Oasis zone to provide a perfect hideaway for couples and, of course, parents who deserve a much-needed break. Zen Oasis rooms will feature modern accents, spa-like bathrooms with rainfall showers, a terrace or balcony, outdoor daybeds, and classy L’Occitane spa toiletries, not to mention access to a lagoon pool, a wellness bar, and an adult-only beach.

CREACTIVE is one of the newest family-friendly attractions in Club Med Punta Cana.CREACTIVE is one of the newest family-friendly attractions in Club Med Punta Cana. (Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana)

For the Whole Family: Perhaps Club Med Punta Cana’s best offering right now is the new Club Med CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil. CREACTIVE is an all-age, family-friendly outdoor play space where guests can seize a rare opportunity to be part of the circus and participate in more than 30 circus pursuits – from the swinging trapeze, tightrope and acrobatic bungee to mask making, make-up and dance. Since its launch in June 2015, it’s become a big hit with kids and adults alike!

From there, the list goes on. Water lovers have access to swimming, kayaking, sailing lessons, water polo, windsurfing lessons, snorkeling (additional cost), and kite surfing (additional cost), to name a few.

Prefer to stay dry? Beach volleyball, basketball, soccer, tennis school, and fitness classes are among the many land-based activities available. Punta Cana is a golfer’s paradise, with two world-class courses featuring 12 seaside holes between them less then 10 minutes away from the resort, so if you have an avid golfer in the family, make sure to sign him or her up for coaching sessions with Happy Golf at the southwestern end of the resort.

End your day with an amazing L’Occitane Spa treatment on the beach at sunset. Is there anything more relaxing than getting a full-body massage while listening to the sounds of the waves?

Kids' pool at the kids' club.Kids’ pool at the kids’ club. (Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana)

Just for Kids: Much like the resort, the kids’ club and childcare at Club Med Punta Cana is centered on keeping kids occupied and entertained while parents enjoy some R&R. Daily schedules are curated to include not just indoor activities, pool time and afternoon snacks, but also stimulating activities such as the trapeze (kids ages 4 and up), archery, acrobatic bungee, kayaking, and sailing (6 and up). There are even special themed days, so there’s never a dull moment.

The club is divided into four categories based on the kids’ ages – Baby (4–23 months), Petite (2-3 years), Mini (4-10), and Passworld (11-17), enlists especially-trained GOs, and has special considerations in place like allergy lists and sign-in bracelets to ensure the kids’ health and safety.

Savor delicious international cuisine with the whole family at the resort.Savor delicious international cuisine with the whole family at the resort. (Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana)

Where to Eat: Delectable options, both buffet and a la carte, are offered at the resort. International cuisine is the theme of its two buffet restaurants – waterside Hispaniola, which offers lovely views of the reef, and Samana, located near the pool and bar Cielo that offers non-alcoholic drinks and snacks to kids – to cater to every taste.

For breakfast, a must-try is the White Chocolate Bread (Pain au Chocolat Blanc), a Club Med exclusive pastry that will keep you and the kids coming back for more.

If you’re staying at one of the 5 Trident Space suites, welcome the day with a terrific basket of mini pastries, a plate of fresh fruit from room service and freshly-prepared hot chocolate made from local cacao, enjoyed on your sea-facing, private balcony. The tropical ripe mangoes are unforgettable!

Grab a quick snack at the Celeste Snack Bar to refuel between activities.

Insider Tips:

  • Club Med Punta Cana now offers paddleboarding tour that takes participants along the reef to a lagoon teeming with wild stingrays. $50 per person.
  • CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil is a perfect multi-generational recreation; so make sure to take the whole family, including grandma and grandpa, to test their acrobatic and creative skills.Included with your stay.
  • Near Samana are some shopping options, especially for families who are not planning on leaving the resort. Make sure to purchase some local goods to enjoy at home or bring back to your friends and family. Coffee drinkers will love Café Santo Domingo, which offers a smooth and mildly sweet blend, and hot chocolate drinkers will truly appreciate Cacao JLC.
  • Make sure to check out some of their nighttime shows, specified on the Daily Activities sheet.
  • The resort usually has an evening dress code. It’s non-mandatory, but a lovely tradition to participate in. Check with the resort before your visit, so you know which outfits to pack!
  • Going in the summertime? Slather on plenty of sunscreen and re-apply as necessary. And don’t forget the bug spray.

(Originally published on MiniTime.)

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