Family Vacation in Puerto Rico! These Resorts are Good with Kids
Puerto Rico is back! After Hurricane Maria’s devastation and Covid’s exclusion, the best hotels have been rebuilt, refreshed, and reopened—and families are returning.
Some popular resorts line San Juan’s vibrant Condado Beach, but because that area can have rough waves and dangerous currents, we’ll leave those properties off this particular list (although if your kids are old enough and strong swimmers, one of those places might fit the bill).
The family-friendly resorts below give you more choices. Opt to stay near Old San Juan to be close to historic forts and attractions, or book on an offshore island for dazzling beaches and snorkeling. Or resort-hop, reserving rooms in a few locations to explore Puerto Rico’s diversity.
Pictured above: Family cycling in the Dorado Pterocarpus Forest at the Dorado Beach Ritz-Carlton Reserve
For families seeking to mix sightseeing with sand time, the Caribe Hilton (standard room about $325 a night in October) has a location near Old San Juan’s attractions that make the hotel a good choice. Its beachfront is excellent, too: A breakwater mitigates waves, creating a relatively calm cove for swimming and snorkeling, plus there’s a pool. At the Monica Puig Tennis Courts, named for the Olympic gold medalist, kids as young as 3—and anyone else—can pay extra to take lessons with Luis E. Garcia, who served as one of Puig’s trainers. As part of the resort’s rotating complimentary activities, kids learn Spanish phrases and sandcastle building, and the hotel puts on simple family activities such as watching movies and making s’mores. Teens may like the cardio tennis sessions that build skills while burning calories; parents may like the on-property spa.
Families with kids 5 and and older can assist San Juan’s Caribbean Manatee Conservation Center’s staff with preparing food for the creatures, feeding them, and interacting with them. Check to be sure that the program is operating (it may pause for high Covid rates). For more sightings, look for the manatee family that lives in the Condado Lagoon, located a mile from the hotel.
For families searching for a laid-back vacation with thin crowds and fabulous water, the isle of Culebra, 17 miles east of mainland Puerto Rico, is a haven. The local population hovers around just 1,200 and the star attraction, Flamenco Beach, is more than a mile of white sand and generally calm, shallow surf. It deservedly rates as one of Puerto Rico’s best beaches. Unlike in other areas of Puerto Rico, no high-rises mar the palm-tree-lined shore, so it’s an uncomplicated but well-serviced beach experience with lifeguards, bathrooms, showers, chair and umbrella rentals, and kiosks serving burgers, tacos, and pizza. Flamenco Beach even allows camping—the overnight spots are so close to the sea that you fall asleep to the sound of breaking surf. For good snorkeling nearby, the sliver of sand called Playa Carlos Rosario has reefs blooming with tropical fish and colorful brain, fan, and elkhorn coral. Outfitters also offer snorkeling and kayaking tours to pebbly Tamarindo Beach, known for its green sea turtles.
Near this idyllic beachy setting, Club Seabourne (Deluxe Villas allowing free kids cost about $299 a night in October) and its sister property Oceania Villas offer the best family-friendly lodging on Culebra. Club Seabourne, about four miles from Flamenco Beach on a hill, has a view of Fulladoza Bay, a chilled-out pool, and hammocks for napping in its flower-rich garden. Club Seabourne’s rooms are somewhat basic, but all rates include breakfast, and it also has a couple of villas sized for families. At Oceania Villas (pictured above), about a half mile away, there’s a range of one- to three-bedroom units, each with a kitchen, and a beach house for a multi-family trip. Villa guests can use the facilities at Club Seabourne.
El Conquistador Resort (standard room about $450 in October), in the east, takes a bit of effort to get around—the sprawling 500-acre property sweeps down a hill. But the range of amenities makes it worth it. A 10-minute water taxi ferries you to Palomino Island, the resort’s private beach, where free water toys and calm seas await. At Coqui Waterpark (pictured above), which is about a mile from the main resort entrance and free to guests, you and your kids swirl down a few slides, float on a lazy river, and splash in the pool. El Conquistador handles standard hotel room rooms as well as one- to three-bedroom villas with kitchens at hilltop Las Casitas Village, a sister property. The main resort also has tennis courts and a spa.
Puerto Rico’s eastern attractions are worthy of family exploration. Nighttime kayaking in Laguna Grande Bioluminescent Bay, about one mile from the resort, is magical. Microscopic dinoflagellates in the bay glow blue in response to any disturbance, so paddling creates a bluish streak in the water—the eerie light is most impressive on moonless nights. The towering trees, waterfalls, and trails of El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the United States, is 14 miles from El Conquistador.
Set on 500 acres with two miles of beach on Puerto Rico’s northeastern coast, the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort (standard room about $280 a night in October) is also well-positioned for families exploring El Yunque National Rainforest, which is about 10 miles away. Three pools keep kids and teens happy, while parents have a spa, golf, a casino, and a special beer by the local FOK Brewing that only this hotel sells. Sure, you can make s’mores, as you can at countless resort properties, but the real signature dessert is the corn fritters at the on-site Iguanas Cocina Puertorriqueña—they're stuffed with Nutella and served in a hard chocolate cup with taro root ice cream.
The property is meeting-oriented, but it still has complimentary, kid-friendly evening entertainment, such as dancing with your kids to live music at the Saturday night dance parties and frequent magic shows. Hotel-style family suites have a king bed, a sleeper sofa, and bunk beds stashed in a curtained nook and are good for families traveling with up to three children.
Touted as a resort for deep-pocketed golfers and privacy-seekers, the Dorado Beach Ritz-Carlton Reserve (standard room about $1,100 a night in October), 23 miles west of San Juan, works well for families with grade-schoolers. The oversized rooms—the smallest is 700 square feet, which isn’t that small at all—afford parents and kids plenty of space. The resort is one of a few world hotels to host Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment program. Through hands-on activities taught by naturalists, kids aged 4 to 12 connect with nature, learning the importance of safeguarding Earth’s resources through, among other planned activities, baking chocolate chip cookies in a solar oven, using an underwater digital camera to photograph fish and coral for a take-home slideshow, and discovering coquí frogs and other critters on a night walk through the Dorado Pterocarpus Forest, which is attached to the resort grounds.
At Stargazing, one of Ambassadors’ complimentary activities for all guests, the constellations and planets pop into view through telescopes. Meanwhile, bike trails lace the 50-acre oceanfront resort, which is located within the 1,400-acre Dorado Reserve. At the waterfront activities center Goodwinds, co-owned by Olympic windsurfer Karla Barrera, families kayak (it’s complimentary for guests) or pay a fee to kite-surf, sail, paddleboard, or windsurf. Or parents can always go low-key by relaxing at the beach where jetties mitigate the waves. The property also has a golf course and spa.