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2 Days in Puerto Rico with Kids

If soft sand beaches, sunshine, old city charm, rainforests, and adventurous kayaking to luminescent bays sound appealing, then Puerto Rico just might be your dream destination. Check out this 2 day itinerary for must see adventures in Puerto Rico.

When We Went

Mid-June

Pros - Great swimming weather, days of sunshine

Cons - Very hot and humid

Our First Mystery Trip (learn from our mistakes)

Puerto Rico was a surprise destination for us. That said, this trip had no forethought or destination planning. The kids and I packed our bags with plans to meet up with my nephew and his wife (a fellow airline employee) along the way. We were to meet in Atlanta and choose a destination based on flight availability from there. Topping our list were Brazil, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and Prague with Chile or Argentina as possible runner-ups. 

How We Got There

The only thing predictable about traveling the way we do (as airline employees) is that things always change, and unfortunately, my nephew ended up in Cancun, and after spending one night on an airport floor, the kids and I hopped on a plane last minute to Puerto Rico. 

Beach towels can also double as blankets when sleeping on airport floors

Upon arrival, we made our way to the airport reception with plans to connect to wifi and book a hotel and car rental before heading out. This plan had potential, but in Puerto Rico the typical airport baggage claim exit dumped us outside into the humidity with no wifi access. Mystery Trip Tip #1 - Stop as soon as you exit the plane, connect to wifi, and book your transportation and accommodations.

Mystery Trip Tip #1 - Stop as soon as you exit the plane, connect to wifi, and book your transportation and accommodations.

Where We Stayed

We walked to the car rentals and booked a ride before heading toward the city center. I wanted to stay in Old San Juan but most accomodations did not have room for a car, so I went on my HotelTonight app and booked Hotel Miramar in San Juan. From the photos we thought it had a pool which made the kids happy, and it had a place to park the car.

The rooftop view from Hotel Miramar

This hotel turned out to be impossible to find, and my map app refused to work which left my 11 year old as the sole navigator with a tiny tourist map we grabbed from the car rental location. Mystery Trip Tip #2 - Don’t buy new phones before a trip. If you do be sure to confirm that location settings are set properly to guide you well in your new destination.

By the time we found Hotel Miramar (which they told us upon entry did not have a pool, and had an extra fee for the third person) we entered our room, sat down on the beds, and had a good cry. Turns out exhaustion and lack of planning are not great companions. 

Mystery Trip Tip #3HotelTonight is a good app, however, you may want to follow these recommendations for use. 

  • Only book 1 night because if you don’t like the hotel location, amenities, or room you can move on the next night. 

  • The app gives a warning when booking that if your party has more than 2 people the hotel may charge an additional fee. Most U.S. hotels in my experience allow 4 but if the app gives this warning expect to pay an extra charge per night per additional person. 

  • Read the fine print regarding amenities. This hotel had a rooftop terrace which was lovely, but it did not have a pool. From the photos, and with two children along asking how much longer this would take, I poorly assumed that a pool was included.

With limited time in this new location we couldn’t sit around crying for long. A quick shower and we were off to the hotel restaurant, Herencia Kitchen and Espresso Bar, for dinner. Mystery Trip Tip #4 - Turns out, friendliness and good food are a wonderful cure for the worn out blues.

Mystery Trip Tip #4 - Turns out, friendliness and good food are a wonderful cure for the worn out blues.

We ate several meals at Herencia Kitchen and Espresso Bar, the Hotel Miramar restaurant. The chefs were friendly, and the food was delicious.

After dinner we went back to our room to make plans for the next day's adventures, which I know is why you’re here. So, let’s get going.

What We Did

Day 1 - Old San Juan

The first day we hopped on a bus excited to explore Old San JuanUpon arrival at the bus station, we jumped on the free Old San Juan Trolley and began our tour of the city. 

Our first stop was Castillo San Cristobal or Fort San Cristobal. Built by Spain, this fort was designed to defend San Juan from land based attacks, and with a $5 entry fee for adults (children were free) the price was right. The secret passageways were a kid favorite. And, let’s be honest, mama loved them too. Partly because secret passageways are mysterious and partly because they shielded us from the extreme heat of the day. Remember to bring water if visiting in Summer.Old San Juan - ice cream and souvenir shopping

Our next stop was Castillo San Felipe del Morro: A Unesco world heritage site with impeccable views and centuries of history. The fort has six levels of exploration, all with gorgeous views of the ocean. On a typical day, kites of various sizes and colors will be flying high in front of Del Morro’s facade while the booms of canon demonstrations echo from within.

On a typical day, kites of various sizes and colors will be flying high in front of Del Morro’s facade while the booms of canon demonstrations echo from within.

Lunch at El Jibarito provided shade from the heat of the midday sun, and while the food here wasn’t our favorite, the mojito was one of the best I’ve ever had. 

After lunch, we visited local shops and purchased souvenirs before stopping for an ice cream to satisfy our sweet tooth and cool us down, once again. 

Day 2 - Various beaches, El Yunque National Forest, Bioluminescent Bay kayaking

Balneario de Carolina, the beach with golden powdered sugar sand

We began our second day touring various beaches along our drive to El Yunque National Forest. The beaches of Puerto Rico effortlessly steal your heart and make you want to stay forever. Balneario de Carolina was one of our favorite beaches of the day with endless amounts of powdered sugar sand and very few tourists competing for it. 

Balneario de Carolina was one of our favorite beaches of the day with endless amounts of powdered sugar sand and very few tourists competing for it. 

El Yunque National Forest

The El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System. Just shy of 29,000 acres, El Yunque provides diverse plant and animal species for your discovery. We only had a few hours to spend here, so after a quick stop in the visitor center we immediately drove to La Coca Falls.

Just shy of 29,000 acres, El Yunque provides diverse plant and animal species for your discovery.

La Coca Falls

La Coca Falls can be viewed on a simple drive through El Yunque National forest. With water that tumbles 85 feet to the rocks below, it provides a stunning photo opportunity with little effort required.

La Coca Falls and sites along La Mina Trail - El Yunque National Forest

Las Cabezas Observation Point

Continuing along the road (PR 191), we happened upon Las Cabezas Observation Point. Las Cabezas is a fantastical tower with stairs to the top providing stunning rainforest views. The tower was an easy climb and the kids loved the resemblance to Rapunzel’s fairytale home.Las Cabezas Observation Point - El Yunque National Forest

La Mina Trail

At just over a half mile in length, La Mina Trail provides a lush experience for visitors. Remember a swimsuit to make a splash in the falls before your return. Shoes with good grips would be helpful here as well since much of the trail was wet. This hike was a family favorite and we highly recommend it.La Mina Trail and Falls - El Yunque National Forest

Whether you have a few days or just a few hours to spend here, El Yunque National Forest should top your list of sites to see during your visit to Puerto Rico.

Whether you have a few days or just a few hours to spend here, El Yunque National Forest should top your list of sites to see during your visit to Puerto Rico.

Bioluminescent Bay Kayaking with Glass Bottom Tours PRDinner and play time in Fajardo while waiting for our kayak tour to begin

Puerto Rico is home to three bioluminescent bays. These bays host tiny living organisms that give off light when disrupted. We joined Glass Bottom PR Tours and kayaked through the dark mangroves following the glow of our leader (they attach glow sticks to each kayak for visibility). The mangroves provided enough of a challenge to keep things interesting, and the darkness gave a slight sense of mystery to the trip. 

The mangroves provided enough of a challenge to keep things interesting, and the darkness gave a slight sense of mystery to the trip.

Our leaders were lighthearted and helped my youngest conquer her fears. Upon arrival to the bay they covered our kayaks with a black tarp and asked us to stir up the water beneath our glass bottoms revealing hundreds of organisms that looked like sparkles in the bay. Do not expect a glow as seen in photos online. Those are edited. It is more like glitter in the water. Realistic expectations always make for a better experience, and we knew this before booking our trip. As such, we had an amazing time and highly recommend this activity during your visit to Puerto Rico. It was so much fun!

Glass Bottom PR Tour through the bioluminescent bays of Fajardo, Puerto Rico

Bonus Hour - Breakfast and Beach

We had to fly home the next morning, but we had an hour to explore before driving to the airport. After a quick breakfast in Hotel Miramar’s restaurant along with one more order of empanadas (they were so delicious), we decided to visit Balneario El Escambrón, a beach near our hotel in San Juan. The beach is popular with good reason. It’s easy to access, provides stunning city views, is protected by a coral reef and has plenty of shady palms to cool the golden sand. We would have loved to stay longer but made the most of our short time here soaking up the sun.

Balneario El Escambron is popular with good reason. It’s easy to access, provides stunning city views, is protected by a coral reef and has plenty of shady palms to cool the golden sand.


Balneario El Escambron

Would We Go Again?

Puerto Rico has beautiful beaches with the softest sand I have ever experienced. The beaches and rainforest really are the draw here. Next time, I would get a hotel on the beach and just head into Old San Juan for a day to explore. I love old cities (the photos of Old San Juan drew me to Puerto Rico in the first place), but Old San Juan was a little disappointing after visiting some of the European cities. Maybe it was just the heat and humidity clouding my perspective (I’m a Montana girl after all), but in my opinion, a day in Old San Juan is plenty. 

Puerto Rico has beautiful beaches with the softest sand I have ever experienced. The beaches and rainforest really are the draw here.

We would have loved more time exploring the rainforest. It was definitely a highlight of our trip. And, of course, the girls would have appreciated more time on the beaches. The bioluminescent bay tour was simply amazing as well. 

Know Before You Go

Puerto Rico is an unincorporated U.S. territory, but it hasn’t received the Keep America Beautiful memo. There were trash bags and trash all along the roads and highways. Unfortunately, this detracted from the local beauty.

Most homes and buildings were surrounded with gates and bars. We didn’t feel endangered on our trip, but the bars were a bit unsettling and unattractive.

We were told that the fruits from the stands along the road are simply amazing. We didn’t get to try any but would if we went again.

Since our visit, two hurricanes have hit Puerto Rico. They are still recovering from these disasters, so research the restoration progress before planning your trip. A visit in 2018 will help them recover (they need your tourist dollars) and you will probably find great deals on hotels and activities. Just be aware that some sites may still be closed for rehabilitation.



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