Did you know that when you fly into Puerto Rico’s main airport, you’re really not in San Juan? That’s right! You’ve arrived at Carolina, Puerto Rico! Personally, I think this city isn’t given enough credit. I prefer its beaches over those at San Juan. That’s why I’ve come up with this guide to Carolina.
It’s nicknamed La Tierra de Gigantes (Land of Giants) in honor of the town’s “giants”, and I’m not just referring to Felipe Birriel González, who was 7’11”. I’m also referring to Carolina’s greatest, like poet Julia de Burgos, baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, and Puerto Rico’s first Puerto Rican governor appointed by the US, Jesús T. Piñero.
As an interesting fact, it was also nicknamed El Pueblo de los Tumba Brazos (Arm Hackers Town) because in the 1800s sugar cane workers would solve their issues by fighting with their machetes… and many lost their arms.
So without further ado, here are the top things to do in Carolina, Puerto Rico!
Isla Verde Beach
If you do one thing in Carolina, you should visit Isla Verde Beach! It was voted “Best Urban Beach” in 2016 by USA Today readers. This doesn’t come up as a surprise as it’s one of the most popular beaches in Puerto Rico. This is a 3 mile-long beach of light golden sand.
But did you know that what most people call Isla Verde Beach is actually three separate beaches? You’ll find El Alambique, Pine Grove, and the Balneario de Carolina. If you have time, visit all three. They each have a different “vibe”.
El Alambique Beach
I’d say this is the best beach in the area if you have small children. It’s a crescent-shaped beach which makes for fewer waves; safer for smaller children. You can find beach chairs and umbrella rentals, water sports, and places to eat at walking distance. This is definitely an urban beach as you’ll find the most hotels and resorts here.
This beach is located on José M. Tartak Street. It has no parking, but there’s street parking. However, it can get pretty crowded during the weekend. So make sure to get here early!
Pine Grove Beach
This is also a very family-friendly beach and has a more laid-back vibe. The waters are calm as it is protected by a coral reef – perfect for snorkeling! As you walk east, the waves get a little rough, which is why you’ll find more body surfing, boogie bording and surfing. Still, it’s not extremely wavy, making it great for beginner surfing lessons!
This beach is also home to the Playa Pal’ Pueblo (Beach for the People) coalition. It’s a movement to protect nearly 5 acres of land adjacent to the Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde Beach Resort. If you think about it, the view to Isla Verde beach is almost completely blocked by buildings. They’re doing a pretty good job in conserving it. They have designated it the Bosque Playero (Beach Forest) and camp there.
This beach is located on Route 187. The best place to park your car if you’re driving is at the Playa Pal’ Pueblo lot. There’s no parking fee!
Balneario de Isla Verde
Balneario refers to public beaches in the sense that they’re managed by the Compañía de Parques Nacionales (National Parks Service). You see… there are no real private beaches in Puerto Rico. They are always open to the public and nobody will kick you out because it’s “closed”.
This beach has gazebos, showers, bathroom facilities and a kids aqua park called Aqua Sol. It’s also located on Route 187. However, the facilities are temporarily closed as it sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Maria in 2017 and the crazy-high tides of March 2018. I will be updating this post once the have reopened, but you can still visit this beach.
If you have the time and the littles have the energy (took their nap at the beach, perhaps), you can rent a bicycle and ride through the coast line. There’s a walkway and a boardwalk right after the Balneario de Carolina that will take you all the way to Piñones beach, which I will be talking about later. So stay tuned!
Museo del Niño
Some people might skip this as they might have similar museums back home, or are just really not interested in going to a children’s museum. However, as parents I think we should ALWAYS try to include activities for the little ones when we travel. If you visit, plan to spend half a day here. There’s a lot to see and do, and the kids will LOVE it. Trust me!
Inside you’ll see hands-on educational exhibits, a volcano that erupts every once in a while (or you can ask a guide to make it erupt), and artwork made by actual kids. How cool is that?! Outside you’ll find an actual American Airlines airplane which is open for tours every half hour, go-karts, paddle boats, an outdoor play area, and a mini-zoo.
My little one’s favorite areas were (of course) the Music & Arts and Water Elements exhibitions. They are both on the second floor of the main building. He would’ve stayed there the rest of the day if we’d let him!
For more information you can go here. The entry fee is pretty reasonable considering the size of the museum and the amount of activities available ($6 for children 1-14, $10 for adults 15-59 and specials for senior citizens). Overall, it’s a great experience for the kids.
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