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March Break: Paradise Found in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is one of those places that never on my radar, I knew Ricky Martin was from there, Bacardi Rum has a plant there, and that's about it. Now I know that it's a bustling island with tons to do, even if all you want to do is crash on a beach.

March Break: Paradise Found in Puerto RicoWho will love it?

Families who can’t decide on what type of getaway they’re after. Puerto Rico offers something for beach bums, foodies, nature nuts and history buffs alike.

Best age?

Kids of all ages are welcomed by Puerto Rico’s Caribbean-infused Latin culture, but families toting babies can feel at ease with the island’s potable drinking water and availability of diapers and baby supplies at local shops.

Good to know before you go

Puerto Rico is a self-governing territory of the United States. US currency is used there, and US citizens don’t require a passport to visit. Spanish is the predominant language but English is spoken in all the major tourist areas.

What to do there

• A trip to the Caribbean usually centres around the beach, and in Puerto Rico, you’re spoiled for choice. The sapphire Atlantic beaches of the North coast range from a surfers’ paradise to family-friendly. The Caribbean beaches on the Southwestern part of the island boast calm turquoise water and wide white sand vistas.

• Add some history to your itinerary with a day in Old San Juan, founded in 1521. Grab a coconut ice cream from a street vendor as you meander the cobblestone streets and beautifully restored centuries-old buildings. Be sure to stop for lunch at Raices. Kids will love the traditional costumes and décor, and parents will enjoy the shrimp mofongo — yum. Raices’ kids’ menu offers smaller portions of Puerto Rican favourites, as well as more typical fare.

• Nature lovers should head to El Yunque National Rainforest, east of San Juan. There are a number of easy walks for little legs. Big Tree Trail is a gentle one that leads to the breathtaking La Mina Falls, a perfect stop for a picnic lunch. El Yunque is home to over 240 species of trees (26 found nowhere else), which are then home to the coqui — tiny (and noisy!) tree frogs native to Puerto Rico.

When to go

Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to November 30, but August is usually the wettest month. Peak tourist season runs mid-December to mid-April, with prices rising in relation to the number of visitors. Late spring or late fall visits offer the best chance of good weather combined with off-season prices. All major US airlines fly to San Juan via hubs in Chicago, Charlotte, Atlanta and Miami. Air Canada offers seasonal direct flights from Toronto and Montreal, and charter airline Sunwing offers weekly directs from Toronto during high season.

Where to stay

We stayed at the San Juan Marriott Resort, in the chic Condado district of new San Juan. It offers the city out the front door and, according to my daughter “a beach in our backyard!” The San Juan Marriott’s stretch of Condado Beach offers a gentle slope of golden sand and waves that vary from rollicking to rough. With a drugstore, ice cream parlour, and plethora of boutiques across the street, all your needs are easily met. Forego Starbucks for the coffee shop in the lobby — the coffee, and the prices are better. There are various packages and incentives for family time together, like picnic lunches with tickets to attractions, in-room movie and ice cream parties, and specials for single parents. Prices start at US$179 a night.

Do it or regret it forever

The trade winds that keep Puerto Rico comfortable are also ideal for keeping kites aloft, and there’s no better place to go fly one than the lawn outside the centuries-old fort known as El Morro. Actually, to call it a lawn is a bit of an understatement, as the U.S. Navy once used the emerald expanse as a small golf course. The fort itself is a wonder of old stone with cannons, turrets and secret passageways, but some of the stairs and inclines are not exactly stroller-friendly. The incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean are worth the effort. Once you’ve perfected your kite flying, treat everyone to a piragua, the Puerto Rican version of a snow cone. I wasn’t brave enough to try the tamarind flavour, but the lime was a big hit.

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