Family Puerto Rico trip on short notice
February 18, 2015 8:39 PM   Subscribe

We (my husband, me, 4 year old kid) are thinking of going to Puerto Rico for a week in early-mid March. We know almost nothing except that we want to not be cold for a few days. Where do we start? Is this a good idea or is the snow affecting our judgement? So many questions.

Like many others, we are DONE with New England snow and cold this season and lit on the idea of a trip to Puerto Rico (the kid doesn't have a passport and this is short notice.) We found some reasonable flights but past that got instantly overwhelmed with details and don't know where to start.

Our goal is to play in the sand, sit in the shade, maybe go for a hike, a bike ride, or an easy kayak, and eat fried plantains until we burst with a minimum of travel time and hassle. Very low-key. Our budget can be somewhat generous, though our vacation tastes run much more to "family-run cabins in the Adirondacks" than "4 star hotel", so whatever the local equivalent to that is, is what we're looking for.

Things we're wondering:
-Is a rental car a must? Driving in unfamiliar urban surroundings is about the worst, and we like buses and trains.
-Is there a town or part of the island that's more family-friendly? Is there an area that's not packed with people but still readily bus/train accessible? Is there an area where the water is better for wading than surfing? Best of all, do you have a specific recommendation for a place to stay that has all of this?
-Is a vegetarian that doesn't mind the occasional meaty garnish or broth going to starve?
-Anything that unprepared first-timers in PR desperately need to know?
posted by tchemgrrl to Travel & Transportation around Puerto Rico (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I loooved Vieques and think it's perfect for what you want (can recommend a great airbnb via memail if you go this route), except it might be a pain to get to - it's either a ferry or a very small airplane. However: beautiful and quiet and worth it, imo.

Having a rental car was helpful/basically necessary both on Vieques and for the days on the main island when we wanted to leave San Juan. There is maaaybe public transit? But I hate driving and didn't think it was so bad in PR overall. In Vieques rent a car ahead, though, because we ended up with a very sketchy last-minute truck (no seatbelts or headlights or power steering; questionable brakes).

I am a vegetarian who does mind meaty garnishes & broths, and I did just fine on Vieques and in San Juan :) Plenty of places had veg options, and our airbnb had a kitchen, so it was easy enough to cook simple food at home.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 8:52 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We (including 6-year-old) went for three days last fall, staying in an AirBnB condo in the Isla Verde neighborhood that was cheap, even given the run-down common areas, given that it was right on the freaking beach. I recommend that neighborhood because there are lots of condos but so much beach that it wasn't crowded (nothing like the Delaware beaches where it's wall-to-wall people). The waves were gentle, a few feet or so, and there were rocks making for sheltered stretches of sand. That area has a bunch of restaurants within an easy walk, as well as grocery, etc.
I'm also a transit guy, but a car really helps. Within Old San Juan you can get around easily on the trolley, but outside that area the buses are few and far between. Cabs are easy to get and not super pr, at least. Puerto Rico driving can be hairy, to be sure. Worse than Hawaii, better than Cancun. Paid tours will pick you up.
You have got to kayak in the bioluminescent bay. There's another one that's supposed to be really good in Vieques. If I were going back I would schedule for the week of the new moon.
The food is relatively plant-based, lots of roots and plantains.
posted by wnissen at 9:35 PM on February 18, 2015

And speaking of Cancun, you can get a passport in 3 weeks door to door. Still enough time to go there. Cancun is good for transit because there is only one road in the hotel zone. There are lots of buses to the ruins at Tulum, too. Pretty urban and no AirBnBs, though.
posted by wnissen at 9:38 PM on February 18, 2015

Best answer: We took our 3yo to PR (mainland and Vieques) and it was lovely for him, very child-welcoming culture.

Bioluminescent bay was stunning and safe even for a little guy (the bigger touring companies have stable medium-sized motorboats; he got to stand on deck and play with buckets of the magic water).

El Yunque, the rainforest on the mainland, is so easily accessible by car and so gorgeous I'd say it's also a must.

Please be careful of sea urchins that cling to underwater rocks/coral; I touched one in the ocean at Vieques and got a few (excruciating) poison spines in my foot. Would not have been an issue if I'd stayed close to shore rather than climbing on the rock formations 20+ feet out from the shore.

Check with your provider, but your U.S. cell phone will likely work with no roaming charges, a BIG advantage. My iPhone got service both on the mainland and on Vieques - no extra charges with Verizon.
posted by kalapierson at 9:52 PM on February 18, 2015

Chikungunya disease (a mosquito-borne illness) has now reached PR. I cancelled a recent trip because the risk wasn't worth it personally.
posted by dcjd at 9:55 PM on February 18, 2015

Best answer: Vieques is lovely, but last I checked the bio-luminescent bay was not luminessing and they didn't know why.

I didn't have a car on Vieques, which was mostly fine -- it's only necessary if you want to checkout all the beaches, but the ones within walking distance of the town on the southern side are all lovely.
posted by garlic at 6:23 AM on February 19, 2015

Best answer: In San Juan, you don't need a car; elsewhere you do. In San Juan, there are lots of mega-resorts. We thought we weren't mega-resort type people, but it's really nice traveling with a kid to have everything in one place. You say you just want to sit on the beach, but you really should visit Old San Juan; the forts should entertain both adults and 4-year olds. If you stay near the western end of the city, you'll be a short bus or cab ride away. We stayed at the Caribe Hilton, which is the closest large hotel to the old city, but anyplace in Condado is convenient, and the water was calm. For more specific questions, you could call the Puerto Rico tourist board at 1-800-866-7827. And also make time for a day trip to El Yunque.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:40 AM on February 19, 2015

Best answer: I just came back from Puerto Rico! We stayed in Old San Juan, which is very walkable. The historic site and hiking in El Yunque were our favorite parts of the visit. If I was gonna go back I would probably follow other folks' recommendations and look for a spot on Vieques.
posted by torridly at 7:57 AM on February 19, 2015

Response by poster: Update now that we're back: we ended up staying at a small hotel about halfway between the airport and Old San Juan, very close to the beach. If we'd had more time we probably would have gone to Vieques, and may just go straight there if we go back. The historic forts and just goofing on the beach were the big winners. El Yunque was lovely but we aborted on two attempts at what turned out to be totally un-kid-friendly hikes and everyone ended up grouchy and a little car sick on the twisty ride back down. Rented a car to go to El Yunque, used the bus and walked the rest of the time, which was not difficult with a little advice from the hotel staff.

Answering my own question for future readers with things I wasn't expecting: Old San Juan is a cruise ship stop, so there are lots of stores but not so many easy/inexpensive restaurants compared to our quieter neighborhood. This was either bad luck or A Thing, but several places we tried to eat at didn't have many of the things listed on their menu. Everyone we met heard two words of our high-school Spanish and flipped to English. Bug spray the heck out of everyone that mosquitoes love. Try the helado.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:17 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Get all updates through end-of-life on fresh...   |   Finding/decorating a festive and warm... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.