We were looking for an affordable Caribbean vacation for the family. I have to admit, I simply typed into google flights “Caribbean” and San Juan, PR came up as the most affordable rate for May 2018. Travel to San Juan was cheap because they had suffered the wrath of Hurricane Maria in September 2017. While recovery had begun, even while we were preparing to leave on our trip, the electrical system on the island was weak, and the entire island was without power for 2-3 days. Needless to say, we were beginning to wonder if our travel plans were a mistake. While we had done our research, and the San Juan tourism industry was begging for people to come back to visit. Boldly, despite our hesitancy, we took the leap to finally visit this beautiful Caribbean city.
San Juan, PR, as it happens, was a great getaway for the whole family. There was little evidence in the main areas of the devastating hurricane, though there were areas near the beach where we were told entire rows of palm trees were missing. While it wasn’t uncommon to see trees without tops, or damaged roofs on buildings, there had clearly been a lot of clean-up done. Essentially, if we hadn’t known there had been such a huge hurricane just 6 months prior, we might not have noticed. It was clear the region had come a long way since the devastation, and people and businesses were quickly rebuilding their lives. It was very humbling to be there in the aftermath, as a tourist simply looking to visit the many beautiful sights and sounds of the area.
We managed to find some really great spots around San Juan and beyond that were perfect for children and adults alike. Uber had started service on the island just the year before, so we were able to seamlessly get around without a rental car. Our Air BnB, in the Ocean Park area, was just 1 block from the beach, though, as we discovered the first day there, our closest beach was renowned for kite surfing and heavy waves, hence not safe for a 3 year old. We had fun in the sand anyway, and found a couple of great parks where Miss E preferred to play anyway. Part of the fun became trying out different beaches each day. I could write an entire post about beaches in San Juan…stay tuned.
Old San Juan
A visit to Old San Juan is a must while in PR. The buildings are absolutely stunning in their old Spanish style, and the El Morro Fort has an incredible history and some of the best views in the city. We also found a small water fountain just up the street from El Morro which proved to be a much needed refreshment from the sun (it’s the simple things when travelling with kids, isn’t it?).
Old San Juan is really a place you could wander and shop through for the whole day. Given that we were travelling with a little, we spent only a short time shopping between food stops 🙂
We ended up in Isla Verde in search of a good swimming beach. While the waves were still high for a toddler, it was the perfect spot to hang-out for the day. The first day I visited this beach, my sister and I had taken a long walk from Ocean Park area to Isla Verde. We had a great walk through town, until we could join the beach. Then we sat on a patio at the Intercontinental San Juan to enjoy a drink and the view of the Atlantic. We didn’t stay at the Intercontinental, but it looked like a fantastic resort for future travel. Up the beach you can also rent beach chairs and umbrellas for a longer lounging experience. There are tons of restaurants in Isla Verde that we didn’t even get to experience. Next time we’d probably stay closer to this area, with easy access to downtown San Juan by Uber.
Playa La Pocita de pinones
This beach was recommended to us by one of our Uber drivers, and it did not disappoint! He described this beach where the water is calm due to an inlet from the ocean, making it perfect for small children to swim. This is such a cool place where all the local go! It was maybe a 20 minute drive out of San Juan, but oh so worth it. We were able to wade into the shallow, warm water, while just over the natural barrier/breakwater, waves came crashing in. We were shielded from the intense waves of the Atlantic in this shallow pool. I would recommend water shoes, though, as it is rocky. Our water excursion ended a little early when Miss E stepped on some coral.
There were vendors selling ice cream on the beach, and across the street, an awesome food market where they sell all sorts of delicious meals and treats for the best prices we had found anywhere near San Juan. There were also some wild dogs that were hanging around that provided some entertainment after lunch. The dogs were in some rough shape from the sun, but they were frequently fed scraps and water in the short period we were there.
I realize this is a chain restaurant, but we were travelling with a rambunctious toddler and this was just the kind of fun, distracting atmosphere we were in need of at this point in the trip. It was bright, happy, and air conditioned for everyone to enjoy. The balloon hats and shots for Chris straight out of the bottle didn’t hurt either.
Parque de Las Palomas (Pigeon Park!)
Ok, this was a very fun experience for our daughter, if a little unnerving for us adults. The Pigeon park is within the walls of Old San Juan, and there is someone selling bird seed for $1 USD near the entrance. Once inside the park, there are HUNDREDS of pigeons vying for food, or nested in the pigeon ‘apartments’ along the wall. It probably goes without saying: watch where you step, and be careful walking under the giant tree in the centre of the park!It was still a lot of fun and an interesting experience that Evey still talks about!
Museo de arte de Puerto Rico
This was a cultural trip for the parents, on a rainy day. At 3 years old, the art galleries were interesting to Miss E for first 20 minutes, but the highlight of the visit for her was most certainly the big open-air area at the centre of the museum. She and Chris ‘hunted’ for geckos in the big space, while my sister and I explored all the floors of the museum. It was a nice balance. Visiting here maybe took 1 – 2 hours total.
Miramar food truck park
Located at 1006 Avenida Juan Ponce de León, San Juan, we stumbled across this gem of a food park while wandering home from the museum. There are a bunch of food trucks with varying menus, and, as a bonus, a covered eating area. The covered eating area came in handy as the skies opened-up while we were eating our food. We arrived here by foot following a long and loud emotional fit from Evey, who was probably tired and hangry because she ate well and then fell asleep on the way home.
There were so many fun places to see in San Juan, it’s difficult to name everything. I think we found the perfect balance of beach lounging and entertainment. Next time we agreed we would want to stay further away from the city centre, because overall the biggest challenge was how expensive the tourist district was. While our flight and Air BnB stay was quite reasonable, we paid for it in the exchange rate from Canadian to US dollars in a tourist area. Overall though, it was an incredible trip that I could see us doing again and again.