Puerto Rico for Families

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Puerto Rico for Families
Natural wonders and hands-on learning opportunities make Puerto Rico an educational experience for the whole family, but without being dull. And when the learning gets too much, there are always sandcastles and sea to fall back on.
By Dwiveck Custodio, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Eva Parey/age fotostock
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    Going Underground
    There are many exhilarating caves that are easy to explore in Puerto Rico and which children will love. The walkway at the Río Camuy Cave Park in western Puerto Rico isn’t too steep, and the caverns are well lit, so everyone will feel safe. Guides will help you tour mesmerizing rock formations and openings where light pokes through and water trickles down. The spacious and easily-accessible Cuevas del Bosque Río Abajo, in the forests of the Utuado municipality, allow for camping—so you can take your time exploring.
    Photo by Eva Parey/age fotostock
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    Interactive Archaeology and Astronomy
    There are many interactive educational sites on Puerto Rico where children can learn more about the island. The Tibes Ceremonial Center, an archeological site in Ponce, houses a Taíno ceremonial complex with burial grounds and fields where you can study artifacts and petroglyphs from before the arrival of the Spaniards. The Arecibo Observatory in central Puerto Rico houses the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, which is visible from a terrace. The Observatory also puts on astronomy-related documentaries, exhibitions, and interactive games.
    Photo by Dorling Kindersley/age fotostock
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    Child-Friendly Puerto Rican Dishes
    It's easy to find child-friendly food in Puerto Rico. Kiosks in the eastern town of Guavate sell roasted pork, fritters, and coconut water straight from the coconut. El Meson Sandwiches, a Puerto Rican chain restaurant, makes plain grilled cheeses and can add island ingredients like plantains and pork. Café Manolín is where all the San Juan locals stop for simple and filling meals during their lunch breaks from work. Try the bistec encebollado (beefsteak and sauteed onions) with rice and beans, and don’t miss out on the fresh orange juice. In Cabo Rojo, Casabe’s lunch specials include chicken stuffed with sweet plantains.
    Photo by Ruslan/age fotostock
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    Learn about Puerto Rican History
    You can learn about Puerto Rico's history by visiting ancient citadels, churches, and Taíno ceremonial sites. The island, considered the "Key to the Antilles" by the Spanish, was fought over in many wars; the 1539 El Morro in Old San Juan—the Caribbean’s largest fortress—played an important role in many of these conflicts. Hide in watchtowers overlooking the water, role-play in the dungeons, and examine the cannons used in battle. Other educational historical sites include the Church of San Juan, which holds the tomb of conquistador Juan Ponce de León, and the Catholic art museum Porta Coeli, in San German, which was built by Dominicans in the 17th century.
    Photo by Larissa Santoro
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    Slow Down and Relax in the Town Squares
    Puerto Rican plazas are laid-back gathering spaces where locals buy snacks, watch shows, play dominoes, and chat with friends. Take a seat on a bench to give your feet a break and soak up some of the everyday comings and goings. At the Plaza de Armas in San Juan, buy the kids traditional treats like sesame seed lollipops or coconut candies and check out the fountain with the four statues symbolizing the seasons. The Plaza las Delicias in Ponce is made up of two squares divided by a cathedral—one has a statue of journalist and governor Luís Muñoz Marín, while the other is home to the Lions Fountain from the 1939 World Fair. On sunny days, look for plaza vendors selling piraguas: shaved ice treats topped with a fruity syrup of your choice.
    Photo by Atlantide Phototravel/age fotostock
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    Any Excuse for a Festival
    Puerto Ricans seize every opportunity to gather and celebrate. Themed festivals are held year round for people to watch traditional bomba and plena dances; buy jewelry, artisanal leather goods, and wooden toys and ornaments; and eat to their hearts’ content. Your children will love Puerto Rican sweets such as arroz con dulce (rice pudding with coconut and cinnamon) and guava paste. Meanwhile, you can indulge in pasteles (plantain dough filled with meat) and alcapurrias (root vegetable fritters stuffed with meat). The municipality of Maricao holds a coffee festival every February, and in April, Las Marías celebrates the sweet orange.
    Photo by John Brehm/age fotostock
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    Promenades and Boulevards
    Take a leisurely stroll down one of San Juan's boulevards at the weekend to soak in the island’s sights, smells, tastes, and sounds. Wandering along the tree-lined Paseo de la Princesa in the old city you will see Raices Fountain, centuries-old fortress walls, and the waves in the distance. Buy souvenir seashell necklaces or paintings from the artisans along the boulevard, or try churros (fried-dough pastries shaped like tubes) brimming with chocolate or dulce de leche. In southern Ponce, mingle with the locals at the Tablado la Guancha boardwalk as you admire the ocean and sway to the beat of salsa music. The nearby playground is a perfect place for the kids to spend a few hours.
    Photo by Wendy Connett/age fotostock
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    Hike in Nature
    As a tropical island, Puerto Rico is an exciting place for your children to learn about the natural world. El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System, has educational signs along its trails as you trek up to the highest point, where you will be greeted with a view of northeastern Puerto Rico from high in the clouds. The rain forest is home to the coquí, a small Puerto Rican frog, and also boasts the Coca and La Mina Falls, perfect for a picnic and a swim. The Cabezas de San Juan Natural Reserve is another worthy trip for nature lovers.
    Photo by Ijfke Ridgley