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Trip Report PR trip report: great family fun!

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We just got back from a wonderful, 10-night spring break vacation in Puerto Rico. I came to this site a year ago to put our plan together. At that time, I didn’t see many folks that were putting together the type of vacation we were looking for. But there was much helpful advice that enabled me to do so. Perhaps we are the odd-balls, but in case not, I thought I would report back.

We were drawn to Puerto Rico for a lot of reasons: climate, range of activities, history, ease of travel, cost, etc. English is spoken every where (if necessary). I think it is an overlooked destination.

We are a family of 4 with kids age 10 & 7. We like to travel to different spots so I wanted to plan a trip with the thought that we might not be back (soon). We tend to emphasize local attractions/sites and food rather than accommodations. You can’t “do” a country in 1.5 weeks, but I narrowed it down to 3 areas: Old San Juan, El Yunque/Luquillo/Fajardo, & Vieques. We spent 3 nights at each location. Here are the highlights:

First 3 Nights:
Condado (San Juan). Holiday Inn Express. We really liked the Condado area as it gave easy access to OSJ, had many restaurants within walking distances and had beach access (though we didn’t use it). The HI Express was perfect for us: clean, friendly, good location, pool for the kids and <$200/nt. The beaches may have been better further east, but we knew our “beach” part of the vacation was coming later.

We took the city bus for 75 cents each into OSJ for 2 days. The 1st day was primarily for the 2 forts. The 2nd day was for a walking tour of the city to see the other sites. I’m glad we didn’t try to do it all on in 1 day. That left pool time at the end of the day. We enjoyed San Cristobal more than el Morro, but we did it first and we were fresher. We liked the walk outside the city walls (SW side) during our walking tour. The kids kept count of the stray/wild cats (19).

Originally, I had planned to take a day trip to Aricebo/Camuy Caves but decided against it. It felt like it was going to be too much (plus the holiday weekend). Also, the reviews were mixed on the caves (or the administration of the caves) so we passed.

2nd 3 Nights:
Sue’s Place, Sabana/Luquillo, near El Yunque. Staying at Sue’s Place (3BR chalet, $200/nt) provided us with a unique experience. We had a “shortcut” into El Yunque, a short drive to Luquillo, space to spread out, and could hear the coquis serenade us at night. The drive there was a little harrowing (some single lane roads with blind turns – honk, honk) but it was worth it. It is an older house with some “features” that can make it charming or disappointing depending on your perspective going in.

After dropping off our bags, we headed to El Yunque. We did the La Mina Falls and Big Tree trails first. (Note: do them the other way so you can walk downhill on the road rather than up when you are finished). They were pretty crowded (Easter weekend) and that’s where the buses drop people off. We also did the Bano de oro trail.

On the 2nd day, we set off to climb to the El Yunque peak via the Mt. Britton lookout. We made it to a very nice lookout near the top, but didn’t take it all the way up. We did the Los Picachos offshoot as well. It was good to hike around and see the unique vegetation (along with a few lizards). The views at the “top” were amazing.

Note: make sure to have lunch at the Café near the La Mina trail head and get the pinchos (chicken kabobs). Ask for the extra sauces too. Yum!

We drove down to Luquillo on a busy (Easter) day late in the afternoon and were not that impressed with the beach we chose. Parking was difficult and the beach was crowded and a little dirty. I got a parking ticket (along with many other vehicles) to boot. Perhaps it was our timing and choice of location.

On our 3rd day at Sue’s, we dropped off some laundry in Luquillo and then drove to Fajardo for our sailing/snorkeling trip with Ingrid on Erin Go Bragh III. There were 2 crew, our family of 4 and 1 other couple. That’s the way to go! Ingrid is a wonderful and knowledgeable host. Snacks and lunch were tremendous. The snorkeling was good (my wife saw a turtle, the rest of us had to settle for fish), but the conversation and relaxation really made it.

3rd 3 nights:
Esperanza Inn, Vieques. Now to the beaches! We drove to Fajardo and left our rental in a parking lot near the ferry. For a grand total of $6, we were taken to Vieques. It took about 75 minutes total. Once there, we grabbed a publico and then picked up our Jeep Liberty. Some of the beach roads require off road (like) capability. Isabella II isn’t much to look at and is not that charming. Esperanza is the place to be (for us).

The Esperanza Inn is a great place. Lisa and J have 8 apartments and we splurged for the 2BR on the top floor ($199/nt). The location is perfect (short walk to restaurants along Malecon) and the hosts are great. Roosters and mosquitoes, not so much. That’s Vieques though. Be prepared.

Note to city folk (like me): roosters don't wait until dawn! They talk to all of their neighbors all night long.

Beaches, beaches, beaches. We did Sun Bay and Navio on the 1st full day and Red/Blue/Media Luna on the 2nd. Sun Bay and Red were the most spectacular. The kids loved the shallow, calm water of Media Luna. Great times.

We capped it off by taking the Island Adventures tour (pontoon, swimming) to the Bio Bay. Fabulous! It’s an experience not to be missed. The astronomy lesson on the way out was also a nice touch. My daughter said it was the best 20 minutes of her life!

Last night:
Took the ferry to Fajardo and drove back to the HI Express for 1 last night before our flight the next day. Pool, food, and shopping.

Food:
In general we loved the Puerto Rican cuisine. We tried some of the fried food (tostones, empanadas, pastilles, etc.) but that wasn’t our thing. We loved the beans & rice, fresh fish, churrasco (skirt steak), and I was a fan of the riper plantains (amarillos).

Our favorite restaurants were Ajilii Mojili (Condado), El Quenepo (Vieques), Ropa Vieja (Condado), La Parilla (#2, Luquillo) and Congas (#9, Luquillo). Dinners w/ 1 round of drinks ranged from $75 - $110 w/ tip. We sometimes shared meals as eating out every day is a lot of food.

As usual, I’m too verbose, but hopefully this will help another family out there looking to plan a great vacation. [I've even posted more detailed lodging reviews on Trip Adviser.] We were fortunate to have the extra time to squeeze it all in while having a relaxing time doing so. It was perfect for us.

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