Given the ages of my kids (4 and 7 at the time), our two favorite day trips from San Juan were hiking through the rainforest of El Yunque (and swimming in the waterfalls), and visiting Loquillo Beach. Here are a few notes and pics from our trip:
El Yunque Rainforest Hike (and Waterfalls)
I spent a ton of time trying to find out if the waterfall hikes in El Yunque were appropriate for little kids. Many of the online recommendations were daunting – not for the very young, they’d warn, the paths are too steep!! Don’t wear flip-flops, the paths are slippery! The hikes are long! The water’s cold! Danger! DANGER!
I mean…OK. The water is cold. But we did the hike with a 4 and 7 year old (who wore flip-flops), expecting at any moment we’d have to turn around and….no. It was fine. Actually, it was better than fine. El Yunque? IS AWESOME.
There are a few things I wish I had known, however, before setting out to El Yunque.
1. Google maps won’t work outside of San Juan (heck, it barely works in San Juan) so those old fashion map thingies will prevent many a driving argument. Just sayin’.
2. If after said argument you find yourself STARVING because it took so long to get there, there are two food….huts? …on the side of the road (once you are in the park and are close). We stopped in the hut on the left – it’s good. Fresh coconut water (they’ll open them right there), good tacos and empanadas – yes.
3. It WILL rain. Like crazy. The fattest raindrops you ever did see. It will feel like a torrential downpour. And even if you manage to sit it out in your food hut with the amazing view and feel smug that you ‘timed it right’….it will rain again. There’s virtually no way to do this hike without getting wet at some point.
4. The paths are easy to walk. They’re a little bit slippery at times and maybe they’re a little bit steep in places, but you’d have to be a pretty big nervous nellie to call this hike “treacherous”.
5. Swimming in the waterfalls is AMAZING. And….amazingly cold. We’re talking seriously frigid water. Even Raines, who fears no water, tried to climb up on Mike’s head milliseconds after jumping in. Clambering over the rocks to get to the waterfall pools was the most slippery part of the hike.
For the record, I did swim to the waterfall. It was both awful and amazing, and we had a ton of people cheering us on. On the hike back, the sky opened and we were drenched – again. No one cared. This was truly one of the highlights of our trip.
There’s so much buzz about Culebra Island that we originally planned to take a day and head over….until we realized that travel to Culebra requires tickets on a ferry. Tickets that you must wait in line for, in person, the day of. Tickets you may never be able to purchase because the ferry is full. Tickets where it’s common to wait in line for hours, if not all day.
Frankly, we didn’t want to sacrifice a day waiting in line, even if we could get tickets. Someday we’ll get to Culebra Island for some amazing snorkeling and paddle-boarding, or to do some kayaking through the bioluminescent bay. But with a four year old in tow (who wasn’t old enough for any of the tours), this wasn’t our time. Most of the local advice is to either stay in one of the few hotels/B&Bs on Culebra Island, or work with one of the touring companies – they can help streamline the ferry ticketing process (my first call would be Culebra Island Adventures).
Instead of Culebra, we headed over to Loquillo Beach. Close to El Yunque, it’s a stretch of seriously gorgeous beach with water warm enough for hours of swimming and snorkling.
It’s so close to El Yunque that the clouds would roll right over the beach, changing the light dramatically, and keeping the beach from being overwhelmingly hot.
On the other side of the beach is a stretch of little open-air food vendors. Some are fancy, some are casual, but there are bars, pizza places, taco joints, and every type of restaurant you can imagine. A great place to escape the heat and refuel.
Raines almost lost his tooth while we were there. The poor kid had a whole crowd giving him advice on how to pull it out.
Thanks for the amazing trip, Puerto Rico. We can’t wait to come back.
In case you missed it, here’s a link to Part 1 – where to stay and eat, and Part 2 – favorite things to do with kids in Old San Juan.