Need a Last-Minute Spring Break? Explore Puerto Rico

They say it never rains in Southern California, sunny Arizona or Florida— places that typically top most families’ lists for spring break fun. If you’re looking for a different destination this year, consider Puerto Rico. Sure, it rains in some parts on most days, but there’s a lot to love about this tropical paradise.

Temperatures in Puerto Rico this time of year linger upwards of 80 degrees everyday. And, outside of the rainforest, there’s plenty of sunshine. What’s more, you may be able to nab flights from Chicago for around $300, so there’s almost no reason not to add Puerto Rico to your family’s vacation bucket list.

Where To Stay

The Gran Melia in Rio Grande is a wonderful place on the water, and the closest hotel from the airport. It’s only 20 minutes from baggage claim. The beach is rocky there, making it great for photos, but not good for swimming. The pools, however, are fantastic. If you upgrade to Red Level, you get access to less crowed swimming pools and bed-sized loungers at no additional cost. You also get a complimentary breakfast and use of the spa’s health club.

Must-See Attractions

El Yunque rainforest is the only rainforest in the U.S. — and it happens to be the wettest rainforest in the world. Yep, the wettest. It rains there everyday. But trust us, you don’t need sun for fun. Not in a cool rainforest, that is. There is so much to do here, and lots of it — like ducking and dunking into a waterfall – involves getting wet. If your family likes exploring, learning more about the environment and hiking through beautiful terrain — it’s definitely a must do.

Photo by Kai Griebenow
Photo by Kai Griebenow

If you are looking to do something wildly different, check out Caja de Muerto or Coffin Island. This uninhabited island lies 6 miles off the coast of the southern city of Ponce. The island is protected by the Reserva Natural Caja de Muertos natural reserve because of its native turtle traffic. Catch a ride on Island Venture, which ferries passengers (mostly locals) from La Guancha. Coffin Island is a tropical treat. Since there is no running water on the island, the sea is a clear as glass. Coral reels encircle it so there is plenty of aquatic life to discover steps from shore.

A trip to Puerto Rico isn’t complete without visiting the forts in Old San Juan El Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal. Puerto Rico’s geographic position at the western edge of the Caribbean made San Juan one of the key frontier outposts of Spain’s West Indies dominions. Today, the forts still stand guard to the walled city and are open everyday for exploration. Walk through the forts and see where the first shots of the Spanish-American War were fired. With spectacular views, it’s a fantastic spot for a family photo.

Aerial view of Old San Juan. Photo by U.S. National Park Service
Aerial view of Old San Juan. Photo by U.S. National Park Service

There’s a free trolley to ride, a dirt-cheap ferry that goes across the bay and back in about a half an hour, and even horse and buggies to rent. As you head east for your return to San Juan, you can take in three wonders of Puerto Rico. The Observatorio de Arecibo, the world’s largest and most sensitive radar/radio-telescope, searches the night sky for extraterrestrial life in the universe beyond. In Karst Country, the Caguaña Indian Ceremonial Park in Utuado was built by the Taíno Indians 1,000 years ago. The grandest attraction of all, the Rio Camuy Caves, contains the third-largest underground river in the world. With proper timing, all three of these attractions can be explored in one day, with time still left for the final drive back into San Juan.

If you have extra time, check out the grassy fields surrounding El Morro, which are a favorite spot for flying kites. You can buy a kite at the street-side refreshment carts outside the park’s entrance. And, if you’re looking for great shopping, plan a stop at Plaza las Américas, the largest mall in the Caribbean.