If your family vacation plans call for a little backpacking, you may want to consider a warm weather destination. And if you don’t have passports all lined up, you should go get that done, but in the meantime try backpacking around the island of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States. What that means is hotly debated, but what’s important for travelers is that it does not require a passport to visit.
The discovery of Puerto Rico dates back to 1493 and Christopher Columbus’ second voyage to the Americas when he claimed the island for Spain. The island went through a variety of foreign rule until in was ceded to the United States pursuant to the Treaty of Paris of 1898. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but cannot vote for President, have their own Supreme Court, yet are subject to our constitution, and have both Spanish and English as official languages. For years the status of the island has been debated – whether to remain a territory, become the 51st state, or to become an independent country. Planning a visit to Puerto Rico is a perfect opportunity to teach the kids a little bit about history, politics, languages, and current events.
What’s there for a family to do?
- Visit El Yunque – The only rainforest in the US National Forest System, there are 13 well-marked trails that will take visitors along waterfalls. You’ll find 20 types of rare orchids, over 400 species of trees and ferns, and 26 animal species that are found nowhere else. Pick up your trail map at the visitors center.
- Go underground at Rio Camuy Cave Park – This underground river, complete with crevices and sinkholes, has walls covered with petroglyphs. The adventurous can try spelunking in special rappelling trips, and the less adventurous can ride a tram to overlook the Tres Pueblos sinkhole.
- See the light – There are several bays that glow in the dark as a result of tiny creatures that light up when they’re disturbed. It cause eerie streaks in the water, giving the water a bioluminescent glow. Some of the best areas for seeing these lights are Luguna Grande and Mosquito Bay. In the latter you can take a night time boat ride or go kayaking to get a little closer to the experience.
- Family bike trip – The 6-mile Pinones Trail is a family favorite, offering a close up view of mangroves, palm forests, and lagoon. Stop and check out the observation towers, looks at over 45 bird series, or hop off and stroll the boardwalk. There are plenty of places to stop for a quick bite or back up a lunch to take along for the ride.
- Get high – You can get high literally and figuratively with a visit to Toro Verde, an eco-park that features a system of hanging bridges and ziplines. The highlight is The Beast, a nearly 4,000 foot long zipline. If that’s not enough adrenaline for you, try rappelling or a championship designed mountain bike trail.
Budget hotels, hostels and all inclusive resorts in Puerto Rico are relatively easy to find as are luxury resorts at the other end of the spectrum. So pack up the family, check on your backpacker’s insurance, and book your flight to the beautiful – and complicated – island of Puerto Rico.