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2014 Mar

Enchanting Puerto Rico

Sometimes light, sometimes a little more intense, the warm rain is our constant companion as my son Ross and I hike along paved trails in El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. We’re on a four-day mini-vacation in Puerto Rico, and it’s easy to see why it’s nicknamed the Isle of Enchantment.

Colorful tropical flowers and lush green foliage spill across the trails at El Yunque. Impatiens grow waist high, and birds of paradise soar above our heads in a showy display of orange and yellow. Nearby heliconias display yellow banana-like blooms, and African tulips, the “flame of the forest,” brighten up bushes with their orange flowers. It’s like being in a painting by Gauguin!

Puerto Rico is the perfect place for families who want to get away. Besides gorgeous beaches and family-friendly resorts, you’ll discover a rich culture, Old-World architecture, and authentic Latin-American cuisine—and the best part is you don’t need a passport!

NIGHT MUSIC

El Yunque is just one of the many highlights of our first-ever visit to the Caribbean. From beginning to end, Puerto Rico is enchanting.

Besides its beautiful flora, Puerto Rico is home to exotic fauna. At the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa, where we’re staying, Ross loves to stop and visit with two colorful parrots in the lobby. Outside iguanas roam freely on the resort grounds, sometimes sunning themselves on the walkways. Numerous small lizards also skitter around underfoot.

My favorite animal in Puerto Rico is the coqui, a tiny frog that’s practically impossible to see, but at night you always know when one is nearby. “Ko-kee. Ko-kee!” the little frogs sing—a lovely, haunting sound that I’ll always associate with tropical Puerto Rican evenings.

Ross spends his first full day at the Rio Mar hanging out at Iguana Kids Club, the resort’s club for children. Smiling staff greet us at the door at nine a.m., and Ross joins half a dozen other children in the cheerful setting. He immediately heads over to the video game corner and barely looks up as I say goodbye. Later he tells me about all the fun he has that day: swimming in the pool, making a seashell frame, feeding lettuce to the iguanas, and playing in the playground.

Now it’s my turn to have fun—only my kind of fun will be much more relaxing. Novel in hand, I head to a hammock by the shore and proceed to while away the day. Puerto Rico is home to a number of resorts like the Rio Mar, perfect for anyone who wants a carefree Caribbean vacation. Most have amazing pools, pristine beaches, restaurants, planned excursions, golf, tennis, water sports, and more.

DANCING IN THE BREEZE

An all-day excursion to Old San Juan is on the agenda the next day, which dawns clear and sunny. The one-hour ride from the resort passes quickly, and we find ourselves in the charming historic district of Old San Juan, where pastel-colored stucco buildings perch along bluffs overlooking the sea.

Our first stop is El Morro, a fort jutting out into San Juan Bay. It’s a tradition to fly kites on the expansive grounds, so we buy one and Ross runs across the grass holding the string in his hands. Soon the kite is dancing in the breeze, and my son laughs with glee. Afterwards we enjoy another Puerto Rican tradition: piragua, also known as sno-cones. Refreshing, icy, and sweet, these taste great, especially in the heat of the day.

The next morning Ross and I enjoy some beach time. As we watch the sailboats skim across the blue Atlantic, I wish I’d budgeted an extra day for this visit so Ross and I could experience a sunset sail. Then again lying on the beach while Ross splashes in the waves isn’t so bad either!

SOMETHING SPECIAL

We lunch at the Tiki Bar & Grill, an open-air restaurant near one of the resort pools which features casual dining fare. One nice thing about the Tiki Bar is the tables sit right next to the playground, so Ross can dash off and play while I enjoy the rest of my lunch at leisure.

Other restaurants we sample at the resort included Marbella, where we fill up at the hearty breakfast buffet each morning. For adventurous eaters, Shimas, the resort’s Asian bistro, serves excellent sushi. Iguana’s Pub near the golf course offers pub-style fare and has amazing views of El Yunque.    

After our tour of the rainforest, we stop by the side of the road. “Now I will show you something very special,” our guide says. He hops out of the car for a second, and then he’s back, bearing his special gift: a delicate yellow yling ylang bloom, whose sweet perfume fills the inside of the van.

Now when I smell yling ylang, I think back to my enchanting visit to Puerto Rico with Ross. I remember the musical call of the coqui, the warm rainforest mist on my skin, the brilliant tropical flowers, the sea breezes that blew into my room each night, and especially the happy smile on Ross’ face as he ran with the wind and watched his kite dance in the blue Puerto Rican sky.

The Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa offers family and golf packages. Through April 26, you can book their “Winter Sale” rates of $184 per night with a min. four-night stay. For details on this special offer, visit www.wyndhamriomar.com or call 800-474-6627.

Peggy Sijswerda

Peggy Sijswerda is the editor and co-publisher of Tidewater Family and Tidewater Women magazines. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Old Dominion University and is the author of Still Life with Sierra, a travel memoir. Peggy also freelances for a variety of regional, national, and international magazines.

Website: www.peggysijswerda.com