Like last time, we split up our winter getaway to Puerto Rico in two parts: first, staying at a remote resort on the northeast shore with plenty of space and greenery, then staying near the city to partake in much food and walking.
If you’re wondering why Puerto Rico or about the different areas to visit on the island, I recommend checking out this post. Basically, we know that a balance of relaxation and city life is our favorite combination. Too much city or only relaxing at a beach would get boring for us (or too stimulating and we’d never feel like we had a vacation!).
How to prep:
I didn’t do a ton of prep since the time before we left was stressful, but I did bookmark a dozen restaurants to try on Yelp. I also borrowed this guide from the library and brought it along – I used it to find places that Yelp didn’t tell me about or to verify Yelp’s recommendations.
This time, we stayed at the sprawling Gran Melia Golf Resort. It was huge. There were iguanas everywhere, much to my preschooler’s delight. The best part was the pool, hands down:
Take me back.
It was so huge that it never got crowded and we always had a ton of space to ourselves. It was also shallow enough for the 4 year old to walk around in much of it. I’m still sad I didn’t get to try the wet bar, but it turns out vacationing with an infant and preschooler doesn’t allow for much more than grabbing a bottle of sangria at the grocery store and drinking on the balcony while the baby naps. (Not complaining.) The balcony on our room was huge, which is also really nice if you’re going to be spending a week in the tropics in February, you know? Maximize that outdoor time!
I also liked how the rooms were gigantic and part of a bungalow instead of a traditional high rise hotel building. The gigantic open-air lobby was full of places to hang out, as well.
And we spent a lot of time exploring the grounds – there was a lot of beachfront to walk along (with a hammock every 5 feet in case you need a break from that hard resort life) and the golf course had a walking path.
The hotel grounds – so gorgeous.
First, let me warn you that if you’re traveling to Puerto Rico with a baby: be prepared to wait. (well, everyone be prepared to wait. It’s not like they make you wait more with a baby. Babies are just impatient.) The restaurants are wonderful, but at almost all of them, our wait for food was much longer than we ever encounter at home. Normally, this is not a big deal. With a baby who has about 20 minutes of happiness to work with, one of us would end up leaving restaurants a lot to soothe His Royal Fussiness. At least it was 80 degrees and being outside was totally tolerable.
La Familia Bakery 2 – Yelp steered us toward this little cafe and I’m so glad it did. Get a swiss and egg sandwich on sweet bread and a cafe con leche or two for about $5. Definitely try the pastries, as well. I’m wishing I had my hands on another amazing donut right now! Skip the guava pastry, though, it was overrated. We picked up breakfast and ate it while driving to the rainforest. With the windows down. Happy sigh. I
La Estacion – We came here because I read on Yelp that they serve the vegetarian option (a bunch of side dishes) on a chopping block and I am one for novelty. It was very, very tasty. Even something simple like rice and beans were fantastic. It’s big on local ingredients and a foodie sort of place, to be sure. The pineapple sangria was A+.
Lluvia – A more upscale local eatery – it’s clean, has great food (get the guava pancakes and skip the breakfast burrito), and it incredibly welcoming. If your Spanish isn’t strong, don’t worry. Everyone seems to be super fluent in English. (I hate that I don’t know Spanish. It feels so rude, but that’s another post.)
Grocery store – If you’re going to be staying a resort with kids, sometimes you just need a PB & J without leaving your room or spending $12. This is what the grocery store is for. Also, be sure to pick up at least 3 things you’ve never tried before. Because you’re in Puerto Rico! Try new things! (Please note – the grocery store doesn’t open until 11 am Sunday. Island life.)
Just note on coffee – they don’t serve brewed coffee, just espresso, and it is fantastic. There’s something magical about coffee in Puerto Rico. They really value it, for one. I’d drink a cafe con leche every day of my life if I could. I’m on a hunt to find one just like it here, but no luck so far.
If you’re staying anywhere but Old San Juan, I recommend renting a car. The prices are low and it really opens the island up to exploring! (And if you have kids in car seats, it’s just easier.)
The most important thing to do here: go to the rainforest.
El Yunque National Forest, to be specific. The only tropical rainforest in the US National Forest system! Bring a bathing suit if you want to swim in the waterfall. It’s a pretty easy hike. I did it in my Teva flip flops. Afterward we grabbed some food from a roadside stand and Gabe got to drink coconut water from a coconut. He hated it, but new things! Must try!
The moon wasn’t right to do the bioluminescent tour in Fajardo this time, and with a baby, we were worried he’d cry on a tour, so we skipped any tour to the lighthouse. We enjoyed it last time, so I recommend checking it out! It was a really special experience. When we go back again (we WILL), Theo will be older and we’ll go again!
Luquillo – The other popular attraction in this area is a beach and food kiosks called Luquillo. It’s a quick drive from Rio Grande. The beach is gorgeous, but only open Wednesday through Sunday, so we didn’t actually get to go. But we did eat dinner at the kiosks. It’s a lot of fried food and a lot of meat, but we found a place that served veggie nachos and grilled cheese sandwiches! It wasn’t better than, say, a Five Guys meal, but we were looking at the ocean while we ate, so I can’t complain. Also, Five Guys doesn’t serve mojitos.
And that’s the first half our magical week in Puerto Rico! I feel more relaxed just remembering it. Vacation is totally worth the money.