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San Juan with Kids ~ What You Need to Know Before You Go

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Your family vacation will be an epic adventure in exotic-feeling San Juan, Puerto Rico. Just a two-hour flight from the continental United States, it's a U.S. territory so no passports are needed. A blend of Spanish, Indian and African influences gives it international charm. Easterly trade winds provide a tropical, yet mild climate, with temperatures in the 80s year round. Thinking of visiting San Juan with kids? Here's what you need to know before you go.

San Juan with Kids ~ What You Need to Know Before You Go

Old San Juan History

At almost 500 years old, Old San Juan is the oldest city in the Western hemisphere. It encompasses the historic colonial section of the city of San Juan. It is divided into seven square blocks. The northern side of the city is all uphill and residential.  Take in the stunning juxtaposition of progress and decay covered in street art and bold Caribbean colors.

Old San Juan in Puerto Rico ~ San Juan with Kids

Founded in 1521, Old San Juan is the oldest city in the Western hemisphere. (Photo credit: Pilar Clark)

Things to Do in Old San Juan with Kids

Take the hop-on-hop-off trolley to help you get around the city. The trolley is not a tour service, so keep in mind that it does not offer a narrated ride. It is not the fastest way to get around, but could be a lifesaver when the kids get tired and need a break.

Don’t miss Calle San Jose, famous for its flag door. It is considered the photo stop among tourists. The southern part of Old San Juan is the commercial and tourist section. Mom-and-pop shops, upscale retailers, restaurants,  and piers can be found.

Puerto Rico's famous flag door ~ San Juan with Kids

Puerto Rico's famous flag door (Photo credit: Pilar Clark)

The city’s eastern side is protected by Fort San Cristobal. The western area of the city is boarded by Paseo La Princesa Esplanada, La Fortaleza (Governor’s Mansion) and Fort El Morro. It is the oldest area of town where you can find 300-450 year old homes and buildings.

When visiting San Juan with kids, you must pick up a piragua from a local street cart vendor to keep cool as you walk. The affordable frozen treat is unique to Puerto Rico. Made from hand-shaved ice it is covered in fruit flavored syrup like Tamarind and Coconut.

Book a tour of Old San Juan through TripAdvisor and Viator now!

Piragua in Puerto Rico ~ San Juan with Kids

Shaved ice and fruit flavored syrup come together make up this unique pyramid-shaped Puerto Rican treat called a piragua. (Photo credit: Pilar Clark)

Fort El Morro

We visited Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, known as El Morro. Standing at the entrance to San Juan harbor, this six-level fort was named in honor of Spain’s King Philip II. It is part of the National Park Service and the admission fee is minimal with kids 15 years old and under getting in for free. Better yet, your ticket is good for admission to both the El Morro and San Cristobal forts for an entire week.

Fort El Morro in Old San Juan ~ San Juan with Kids

This massive six-level fort has watched over San Juan from its like-named harbor for close to 500 years. (Photo credit: Pilar Clark)

Grab a map from the park ranger when you arrive and use it to take a self-guided tour. Plan on spending a couple of hours at the fort. Short films about battles and the fort's construction run all day. Watch a film in English on the hour and ½ hour or in Spanish on the ¼ and ¾ hour. You can also attend a 30-minute talk every hour on the hour in English and on the ½ hour in Spanish. They are led by park rangers who will tell you about life at the fort and answer any questions.

Be sure to arrive early at El Morro. Area schools take field trips to the fort and it can become crowded quickly, especially if cruise ships are also in town. The open air fort is made entirely of stone and concrete and can get extremely hot. Pack plenty of bottled water and sunscreen.

El Morro in Old San Juan ~ San Juan with Kids

Can you imagine standing in one of these little garitas, or lookout posts, in a full suit of armor in the Caribbean heat? (Photo credit: Pilar Clark)

Other points of interest within El Morro:

  • Garitas: These sentry boxes are located all around the outer walls of the fort. You can step inside them and imagine what it would have been like to be a lookout.
  • Tres Banderas: Three flags are flown at the topmost level of the fort. They are the United States flag, the Puerto Rican flag and the Cross of Burgundy flag (an old Spanish military flag flown at the fort from 1539-1785).
  • Lighthouse: Rebuilt by the U.S. Army in 1908, it looks a little out of place among the stone of the fort.
  • El Morro Water Cannon Battery: This area was used to protect the entrance to San Juan harbor. Some of the remaining cannons are on display.
  • Torre Antigua: Torre Antigua, or “Old Tower,” is the oldest part of El Morro. Go down its tunnel, and you can see a shell fragment from the 1898 U.S. bombardment still stuck in the walls.
  • Kitchen and Forge: These impressive “rooms” are where meals were prepared and metalwork was created. The walls are still stained with soot from the hot fires!
Toroverde Adventure Park in Orocovis Puerto Rico ~ San Juan with Kids

Get suited up to take flight at the ultimate adventure-seekers paradise in the Puerto Rican jungle. (Photo credit: Pilar Clark)

ToroVerde for Thrill Seekers

For extreme thrill-seeking families, take a day trip to ToroVerde (“green bull” in Spanish). Located in Orocovis, a 90-minute drive from San Juan, this ecological adventure park offers some of the most breathtaking views of Puerto Rico’s mountainous jungle. Explore via zip lines, mountain bikes, American Ninja Warrior-style mazes and suspended bridges that look like something out of Indiana Jones. Combo packages allow guests to create the adrenaline rush of their dreams.

View from the Plaza Condado Hilton ~ San Juan with Kids

View from the Plaza Condado Hilton in San Juan (Photo credit: Pilar Clark)

The Condado Plaza Hilton

The Condado Plaza Hilton’s central location makes it the perfect springboard for adventure seeking. It's just a 10-minute drive from Old San Juan. The landmark 571-guest room hotel was designed in the early 1960s. The hotel includes a combination of sleek and retro, much like San Juan itself.

Many rooms have private balconies with beautiful cruise ship-style (steep drops straight down) water views. Ten on-site restaurants, bars and cafes serve up fare for every taste. Guests also enjoy a protected beach and swimming area, four outdoor pools, tennis courts and a 24-hour fitness center for parents.

Located between the historic sector of Miramar and San Juan’s sophisticated shopping and dining district, El Condado Plaza Hilton is the only hotel in the area to overlook both the Atlantic Ocean and the Condado Lagoon.

Sleek meets retro at the Plaza Condado Hilton

Sleek meets retro in this 1960s-era hotel, making it as unique as San Juan itself (Photo credit: Pilar Clark)

Dining at the Condado Plaza Hilton

Ten different restaurants, cafes and bars located at Condado Plaza Hilton are sure to please everyone in the family. Be sure to try traditional mofongo, an Afro-Puerto Rican dish featuring fried plantains mashed with garlic and oil in a wooden pilón, also known as mortar and pestle.

The Plaza Condado Hilton in Puerto Rico ~ San Juan with Kids

From American-style eats to sophisticated adults-only fare, the Plaza Condado Hilton boasts ten restaurants serving up meals for every taste in the family (Photo credit: Pilar Clark)

Food allergies can be accommodated. My severely nut-allergic son had plenty to eat, and I was surprised that almost everything we chose to eat was already prepared without any nut allergens or danger of cross-contamination.

We give a thumbs up to the following on-site eateries:

  • Cafe Caribe: This casual, family style restaurant serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner. Think typical American egg dishes, tropical fruit platters, classic pasta, meat-and-seafood entrees, traditional Puerto Rican comfort dishes and an extensive selection of gelatos and desserts. Floor-to-ceiling windows boast dramatic views of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Aqua Bar and Grill: This casual pool-side grill offers fresh salads, grilled fish tacos, fried plantains, American-style burgers and flatbread pizzas made to order.
  • Eight Noodle Bar: Located on the second floor of the hotel, this restaurant cooks up traditional and modern takes on Chinese and Japanese specialties. Sit at the sushi bar to watch the expert chef create your Dragon Rolls and California rolls by hand. The portions are very hearty, so be sure to bring your appetite or ask for one entree to share.
Plaza Condado Hilton in Puerto Rico ~ San Juan with Kids

Kids love the four pools at the Condado Plaza Hilton (Photo credit: Pilar Clark)

Water Activities at the Condado Plaza Hilton

There is water everywhere at Condado Plaza Hilton. From the protected reef right in the Condado Lagoon to four oasis-style pools, overheated explorers can spend the afternoon and evening enjoying them all.

Stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, pedal boats and snorkel equipment are also available for rent on site. The paddle boards and kayaks are complimentary while the pedal boats and snorkel equipment require an hourly fee.

With the support of the Condado Lagoon Reef Restoration Project, the reef offers marine life lovers a chance to experience a snorkeling adventure right off the resort’s small beach. Excellent for first-time snorkelers, the calm, shallow waters and abundance of tropical fish make it a must do.

A family of people-friendly manatees lives in the stillest part of the lagoon farther down the strip from Condado Plaza Hilton. Pick up a head of lettuce at one of the local shops. Then kayak over for an encounter that can only be described as once-in-a-lifetime. Don’t be alarmed if they swim right up and bump the kayak to say hello.

Read reviews on TripAdvisor and book your Condado Plaza Hilton getaway today!

Snorkeling at Plaza Condado Hilton ~ San Juan with Kids

First-time snorkelers can get their fins wet in the calm waters of the Condado Lagoon right off the hotel's protected beach (Photo credit: Pilar Clark)

Whether you choose to kayak with manatees and zip line, or just sip piraguas and sit by the pool, visiting San Juan with kids will be a memorable experience.

Which activities for San Juan with kids would you like most? Let us know in the comments below!

My son and I fell head over feet for Puerto Rico’s urban jungle and historic time capsule that is Old San Juan as guests of El Condado Plaza Hilton. As always, opinions, stories and experiences are my own.

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About Pilar Clark, The Offbeat Travel Mama

Pilar Clark and travel have been besties since slap bracelets and tight-rolled jeans were a thing. Planning geek-inspired adventures around film and fiction has taken her throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, Europe and the Caribbean. Her professional background - award-winning writer and surgical technologist-in-training - is just as eclectic. Pilar lives in Chicago with her husband, two children and rescue pup, Haggis. She is also the gypsetting storyteller behind pilarclark.com. Say hello to Pilar on Instagram @pilarclark #explorewanderland.

Comments

  1. Its great! Great Read and thanks for sharing what we can do with kids over there! Amazing ideas.

    Cheers!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this! We’ve actually San Juan on our travel list for a while now, so this was a very useful read for me.

  3. My father loved Puerto Rico but I sadly, have never had the opportunity to go there. Your post makes me want to see it. It looks like you both had a grand time

  4. I had hundreds of students from Puerto Rico and have always wanted to go. It looks beautiful.

  5. Claudia Krusch says:

    We loved our trip to Puerto Rico. I am hoping we can go back this winter. There are so many great things to do as a family.

  6. Amy Desrosiers says:

    I have always wanted to go to Puerto Rico. I think it really seems like a nice place to visit with families.

  7. Puerto Rico, in particular San Juan, are on my travel bucket list. It looks to peaceful and colorful. I think I would love to vacation here.

  8. Your pics are the cutest! This sounds like a perfect vacation for kids with some history, culture and lots of fun! I would like to go to San Juan.

  9. Beautiful! I need to add San Juan to my travel bucket list. I really think my whole family would enjoy it.

  10. What an amazing place to visit. I would love to take a vacation there.

  11. What a beautiful location and not somewhere I was thinking to take my kids but I am now! Plus, they have a lighthouse and my son is begging to see one lol!

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