Things to do in San Juan with kids
The stunning Caribbean island of Puerto Rico is famous for its beaches, colourful Spanish colonial buildings, centuries-old fortresses, tropical rainforest, food, and the warm hospitality of its people. As you’ll discover as you land in it’s capital city, there are so many things to do in San Juan with kids.
A family vacation to Puerto Rico brings together the rich history, culture, natural beauty, and adventure of the island to suit all ages. Puerto Rico’s warm tropical climate, 480 kilometres of coastline and 300 beaches will allow you to be as active or relaxed as you’d like.
Who better to fill us in on the best things to do in San Juan with kids than Jenny from Traveling Party of Four. Jenny and her Puerto Rican husband Andy, having been visiting Puerto Rico for years with their kids. They’ve got some great recommendations on which are the best Puerto Rico famliy activities from the main tourist attractions, to those off the beaten path experiences. Enjoy!
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El Morro, San Juan with kids
One of the most widely recognised landmarks in Puerto Rico is Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a magnificent fort built to guard the entrance of San Juan Harbor and defend the Spanish colonial port city of San Juan from pirates.
As you may remember from history class, Christopher Columbus claimed Puerto Rico for Spain in 1493. The history of this beautiful fort began in 1539, with El Morro with a tiny fort built at the entrance of the harbor for protection. However, pirates continued to invade and attempt to claim the island as their own.
As pirate invasions became more frequent and more protection was needed, fortification and enhancements began in the 1700’s and now the fort now stands at six levels of defence. It is breathtaking and a great place in San Juan for kids.
The entry fee of El Morro is $10US for adults, kids 15 and under are free. Operating hours are 9.00am-6.00pm. You will be given a map at the entrance for your self-guided tour of all six levels of the fort. Allow yourself about two hours to tour the inside of El Morro plus extra for the outside.
The inside of Castillo San Felipe del Morro is astounding. The kids will love exploring the stairs, tunnels, and ramps, plus hiding in the garitas (the small sentry boxes where the guards stood watch).
There are some great photo opportunities at El Morro. The cannons, cannon balls, and spiral staircases make for some fun images. Plus the family line up photo in the long archway is a must-do.
Make sure you leave some time to explore the outside grounds of El Morro and to fly a kite in front of the fort. There are vendors all around selling kites or you can purchase them in many stores in Old San Juan.
In front of the fort, there is a wonderful grassy area where you will find many people have a picnic, chatting, and watching their children run free. It is really something not to be missed.
Now head over towards La Puerta de San Juan (the San Juan Gate).
Once you walk through the gate, you will discover Paseo del Morro to the right. This trek will take you alongside the majestic walls of El Morro, towards the entrance of San Juan Bay.
The walk around El Morro ends in a picturesque coastal cemetery with incredible views of Old San Juan and La Perla.
Now it is time to grab a Piragua and cool off. A Piragua is shaved ice covered with fruit flavored syrup that kids love. Delicious!
Old San Juan with kids
Strolling around Old San Juan has been a family favorite for many years.
Old San Juan is a combination of history, art, architecture, culture, culinary delights, colourful scenery, and shopping. Plan on at least half a day, maybe even a full day of exploration.
Walk down Calle Cristo toward the Chapel of Christ the Savior. Shops, restaurants, and art galleries abound while surrounded by old world architecture.
The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista is one of the oldest buildings in San Juan and the oldest cathedral in the United States. It is located in the heart of Old San Juan. Tour this medieval structure with the kids and find the tomb of the Spanish Explorer Ponce De Leon.
Parque de Las Palomas, San Juan
At the end of Calle Cristo is the Parque de Las Palomas (Pigeon Park) offering scenic views and plenty of bird life!
Buy some bird feed from the lady in the park and watch the pigeons become your best friends. If you line the seeds up your arm, you will end up with a line of friendly snacking pigeons. Initially, the kids were nervous about the birds landing on them, now they think it is fun.
As you leave the park, you can grab an adult version of the piragua, a Margarita, at El Parnaso, a nearby Mexican restaurant with outdoor seating on the cobblestone street. This is a great spot to have a seat, relax and people watch!
El Yunque National Forest
There’s so much more to a Puerto Rico family vacation than visiting the beautiful beaches and you’ll be amazed to find less than an hour from San Juan, you can be in the stunning tropical rainforest of El Yunque.
Our favorite hike in El Yunque is the Big Tree Trail to La Mina Falls. The hike from the trailhead to the falls will take about an hour on almost entirely paved paths. There are some steps to climb and you will be walking at an incline on the way back to the trailhead. There are however a few covered rest stops, in case you need a snack or water break. I would say that the hike is easy to moderate in difficulty.
You will be serenaded by the coquis (small frogs) throughout your trek to the falls. It is much like a peaceful enchanted forest with amazing flora and fauna. You will be able to hear the falls a bit before you arrive and your effort will be rewarded with a beautiful site at the end of your hike, La Mina Falls.
The hours of operation of El Yunque National Rainforest are from 6.00am to 6.00pm. They will close the gates if the park becomes full, so arrive early.
You can access the rainforest for free. However, I suggest that you check into the Visitor’s Center for directions. There is a charge of around $4 at the Visitor’s Center, but it is worth it. The center is full of information plus there is a gift shop and coffee shop. You can try to find the trail with your GPS, but thus far, I have had no luck with this option. GPS is hit or miss on the island, so best to find the Visitor Center and get proper old fashion directions to your destination.
Puerto Rico Beaches
No visit to San Juan with kids is complete without factoring in a relaxing beach day. Especially after touring El Morro (inside and out), walking the vibrant streets of Old San Juan and hiking the rainforest.
There are many unbelievably beautiful beaches in Puerto Rico. Your choice of beach will depend on what you want to do. Some beaches are quiet and secluded, while others are bustling with activity.
Isla Verde beach is a beautiful, laid-back, tropical beach lined with coconut trees. The water temperature is perfect, ranging from 25-28 Celsius (78-83 Fahrenheit).
There are people listening to music, families picnicking and relaxing, kids playing paddle ball and making sand castles. If your family is into water sports, you can rent a jet ski, ride on a banana boat, or learn to surf on this beach. This is also a popular area for kite surfing and parasailing. I have even seen flyboarding on Isla Verde Beach.
There are vendors walking the beach selling Helados Caribe (ice blocks), always a highlight of our beach day.
Plaza and a Movie
The perfect break from the heat and humidity of the island of Puerto Rico for families is a day at Plaza Las Americas (“Plaza” in local lingo).
Plaza Las Americas, the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean, is in San Juan.
I know what you are thinking… it is just a mall, on a beautiful island, with so many other things to do! However, it is a nice cooldown and it’s fun for the whole family.
There is a movie theatre, Caribbean Cinemas, with recent movies to choose from. There are lots of stores to shop including Macy’s, JC Penney, and Sears. There is a Bose store, Kiehl’s, Playero and Kipling. There are even some boutiques…Carolina Herrera, Cartier, Michael Kors, Tous, and Tiffany & Co. There are several restaurants to choose from. And they have a Starbucks!
At the top of the list of our favorite family vacation activities in San Juan is horseback riding. We have been on multiple rides throughout the island of Puerto Rico with kids and our favorite is right outside of San Juan.
Hacienda Campo Rico is about fifteen minutes from San Juan. DO NOT USE THE GPS! It will take you somewhere else. Use the directions on their website.
Hacienda Campo Rico has several activities for families to choose from. Activities include ATV rides, archery tag, and ziplining. You can also take an eco-tour through the sugar cane plantation.
For those who don’t want to partake in any activities, you can relax at El Mojito Bar with TV’s, an ice cold Medalla (local Puerto Rican Beer) and stunning views of the valley.
Recent hurricanes devastated the agriculture of Puerto Rico. However, our most recent ride proved the resilience of nature. There were new, lush leaves as far as the eye could see. Our guide pointed out new papayas, guavas, mangoes, almonds, and, of course, plantains.
During the storm, the horses were set free to seek shelter in the hills. It took about three to four weeks to clean up and rebuild the stables before they could bring the horses back. It was encouraging and heartwarming to hear that they did not lose any of their horses during this catastrophic storm. AND three of them came back pregnant.
Stand Up Paddleboarding at Condado
The lagoon in Condado is the perfect place for families to learn to stand up paddleboard (SUP).
The water in the lagoon is almost perfectly flat with minimal wind, especially in the morning hours. There are several places in the lagoon to rent paddleboards, but we have always used Vela Uno. They are located at the Western end of Ashford Avenue, on the lagoon side, next to Dos Hermanos Bridge.
The rates are reasonable, include a life jacket and a place to store your personal items while on the water. In 2020, stand up paddleboards were $20/hour, single kayaks are $20/hour, double kayaks are $35/hour. They even have this Super SUP which will fit eight people for $99. We may try that next time. Get more information at Vela Uno or alternatively at VIP Adventures Puerto Rico.
The instructor will take you out for 10-15 minutes before setting you off on your own. My ten-year-old was able to manage a board by himself but I would say that if they are under ten, they may need to share a board with an adult. There are lots of fish (including manta rays) and birds. There are manatees sharing the water with you as well. Manatees are huge creatures but don’t worry, they are gentle giants.
Piñones Boardwalk, Puerto Rico
Piñones is a different world compared to the busy tourist areas of Condado and Isla Verde.
Take the 15-minute scenic drive from San Juan to Piñones to discover beaches, mangroves, nature trails, and Puerto Rican food are just a few jewels you will find in this area.
Located a bit off the beaten path, you will notice more of a local vibe. You may find a language barrier, but hey, it’s part of the adventure.
CicloNatura rents all different types of bikes. In addition to the normal “comfort” bikes, you may rent kids bikes, bikes with baby seats and even a bicycle built for two. The price for rental is around $5-10 and includes a helmet.
Ride the scenic boardwalk that runs down the coast, offering stunning ocean views and then heading into the mangrove forest.
After your relaxing ride, stop off at one of the local restaurants for an ice cold refreshing Medalla. They are about a quarter of the price as you will find in the tourist spots. Also, the kids will love the pinchos, which are marinated chicken or pork on a skewer, grilled to perfection.
I must mention that although this is a great way to travel out of the hustle of San Juan city, there are some drawbacks. Since this isn’t a tourist attraction per se, it is not well maintained and in some areas, you may find litter from irresponsible humans. Also, there is a stray dog issue in Puerto Rico and there are lots of them on the beach. The citizens of Puerto Rico are actively addressing this issue and it has improved since we began regularly travelling to Puerto Rico. These drawbacks should not keep you away from this adventurous local experience.
Puerto Rican Cuisine
It may seem funny to some to hear food referred to as an “attraction.” But hear me out on this.
Puerto Rico is a beautiful island filled with stunning beaches, nature, history, architecture, friendly people, lively music and vibrant colors. But, don’t miss out on the unique cuisine of the island.
Puerto Rican cuisine is a mix of Taino (the Native Puerto Rican), African and Spanish influence. The basics are beans, rice, plantains, pork, fresh seafood, and tropical fruits. These basics are prepared with Puerto Rican spices and love. Fried or roasted on a spit.
Almost everything is served with red beans and white rice. A typical Puerto Rican meal consists of pork, plantains (green or ripe), beans and rice. This keeps my kids satisfied daily.
Here are some of my favorites.
- Mofongo, a quintessential Puerto Rican dish, with fried green plantains, mashed with salt, garlic, and oil. A “bowl” is created with the mixture and filled with pork, fish, chicken or shrimp.
- Chillo Frito Con Mofongo Y Ensalada (Fried whole red snapper with mofongo and salad), order this, you won’t regret it.
- Tortas de Bacalao (fried codfish) served on an appetizer platter alongside croquettes, alcapurrias, and tostones. All fried deliciousness.
- Coco Frio, an ice-cold coconut cut off at the top by a machete and served with a straw.
- You will find tropical fruits at stands and markets all over the island.
- Sorry Starbucks, but the Puerto Ricans have you beat. You can find strong, delicious local coffee anywhere in Puerto Rico. It will be better than any Seattle bean that you have ever tasted.
Things you need to know about visiting Puerto Rico with kids
Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the USA, meaning that if you’re an American citizen you don’t need a visa, and for everyone else, it’s the same requirements as entering the USA mainland.
The official languages are Spanish and English, and the currency they use is US Dollars.
Fun fact: did you know the Pina Colada was invented in Puerto Rico?
Puerto Rico family vacation tips
- It is hot, dress accordingly
- Wear comfortable shoes
- Wear sunscreen at all times and re-apply frequently
- Have bug spray with you and use it
- Hydrate. Hydrate.
- Be smart about your belongings. Try not to wear flashy jewellery or carry flashy designer bags that will bring unnecessary attention to you. And don’t leave valuables in your car.
- The GPS on the island is hit or miss, therefore do not rely on it for directions. Use an old fashion map!
- BRING YOUR CAMERA!
There is so much on offer in San Juan Puerto Rico for families. There are adventures in nature, historical sites, stunning beaches and cuisine that you don’t want to miss. Puerto Rico has something for everyone!
Author: Jenny from Traveling Party of Four
Jenny is the mother of a twelve-year-old daughter and a ten-year-old son, both who are basketball fanatics. She is married to Andy, who is from Puerto Rico. They have been traveling to Puerto Rico for years to visit family. The family becomes immersed in the culture of the island at every opportunity. They have explored the island for years and would love to share their experiences with you.