There are so many fabulous ways for your family to enjoy the magnificence of the island of Puerto Rico: the spectacular, sun-drenched beaches, historic forts, rhythms of salsa music, and the delicious, culinary offerings. But for my family there were other somewhat strange and thrilling worlds to discover, and our adventurous Puerto Rico day trip may be the one of the memories our daughters remember most.
From below the ground to way above, we were amazed at what we found just a short trip away. We ventured deep down into majestic caves, climbed way up high to hunt for aliens, and even peered into a HUGE sinkhole! Obviously we weren’t in Jersey anymore!
So lace up your sneakers, grab a poncho and camera and embark on an unforgettable Puerto Rico day trip. Using San Juan or Dorado as your base, you can easily visit all three stops and return to your hotel in time for dinner.
STOP 1: RIO CAMUY CAVES
Head for the truly awe-inspiring Rio Camuy Caves. We began our “journey to the unusual” with a relaxing tram ride through lush vegetation with colorful, eye-popping flowers. The tram stopped right at the mouth of the caves. With my girls’ curiosity growing by the minute, we were escorted into the caves’ slippery depths.
Our tour guide was a “show” unto himself, keeping us laughing while pointing out spectacular stalagmites, stalactites and, most importantly, warning us not to touch the guano, which my girls were disgustingly delighted to learn was bat poop! The vast, seemingly endless, cavern immersed us in an eerie landscape that my girls said made them feel like we were on another planet. At the end of our cave journey there was one final surprise, a mammoth, incredible sinkhole created by the ancient Camuy River. My kids marveled when they learned it took millions of years to form this cave system.
Tips: To avoid long waits and possibly getting shut out, arrive early! If it rains, call to confirm that the caves are open. Some websites warn that those with asthma should be careful because the cave air is humid.
STOP 2: ARECIBO OBSERVATORY
Out of this world! (Literally)
When I asked my girls if they’d like to visit a real observatory where scientists search for extraterrestrial life, they were out the door with supersonic speed. My budding scientists loved the Arecibo Observatory, which includes an intriguing compact museum, a short educational film and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stand before the world’s largest single dish telescope!
When we viewed the telescope up close, our mouths dropped open at the sheer enormity of this wonder. It is 1,000 feet in diameter — AMAZING! Adding to the amazement is that this spectacular telescope is built directly into the depression left by another tremendous sinkhole! (This must be the best use of a sinkhole ever!)
Before we left home, I showed my girls segments of the movies Contact and Goldeneye, which featured the tremendous radio dish. It made the anticipation that much higher.
Tips: The final part of the road to the observatory is narrow and windy. From the parking lot to the entrance is a steep walk; there is a shuttle available, if needed. While the museum is child friendly, the presentation is advanced.
STOP 3: CUEVA VENTANA (WINDOW CAVE)
Holy Batman (and Bat-kids)!
This was the adventure my girls still haven’t stopped talking about! We arrived at Cueva Ventana, donned our helmets, and prepared to get down and a little dirty. First, we met a true medicine man, a descendent of Taino Indians. Then, our tour guide led us on a wondrous trek through the verdant forest on a steep trail. Along the way, the girls examined petroglyphs (rock engravings). Next, we entered the cave by literally grasping tightly onto thick tree roots.
And soon, our tour guide asked us to power off the supplied flashlights. Then, out of the darkness, suddenly the cave was illuminated, and there, just fifteen feet from where we stood, a huge colony of fruit bats hanging overhead! (Must say we were glad we were wearing helmets!) We stood there, mouths open, gawking at this incredible sight.
Finally, beyond the creature-filled darkness, a reward for your bravery, was a gigantic window in the cave that allowed us to gaze out onto the spectacular view of the valley below — an awesome heaven for photography junkies like me!
Tips: Cueva Ventana is only recommended for children willing to listen to directions to remain safely with their parents. There are no railings. Also, several young hikers had to turn around because they were scared of the dark. Cueva Ventana is located directly next to a Puma Gas Station and has its own parking lot up a hill beyond the ticket tent.
PUTTING THE ITINERARY TOGETHER FOR A PERFECT PUERTO RICO DAY TRIP
Check the website for each stop to make sure it is open for your visit. Arrive at the Rio Camuy Caves when it opens. Buy lunch at the cafeteria at the case or pack a picnic to eat in the pavilion, then make your way to the Arecibo Observatory and end at Cueva Ventana.
Take major roads when possible rather than local ones, which are sometimes slowed by deliveries blocking the narrow lanes and people riding donkeys in the street! (Yup, this happened to us twice!)
This entire adventure is an easy day trip from San Juan or Dorado. For a home base, I suggest the family-friendly beach resort, Caribe Hilton in San Juan. My entire gang loved it! And when you return home to the hotel, if you are too tired to head back out for dinner, check out Caribe Hilton’s recently opened family-friendly Caribar where you can dine on delicious fare and try the hotel’s famous piña coladas while sitting outside under the stars with views of the ocean.
Aliens, bats, caves, sink holes…followed up by a gourmet dinner under the stars? Where else but Puerto Rico!
This article was originally published by Hilton Mom Voyage.