We were invited to a wedding in Puerto Rico this September, so we decided to make a family vacation out of it and stay a few days. We absolutely loved the beautiful clear water beaches, swimming in waterfalls, horseback riding on the beach and amazing sunsets. We had such a great time that we are already trying to plan a trip back! Sharing some of the highlights here with recommendations if you happen to be planning (or want to plan) a trip to this beautiful island.
First Stop, Aguadilla, Puerto Rico
We got a direct flight on JetBlue from Orlando, FL to the Rafael Hernandez Airport (BQN) in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. With a flight time under 3 hours, we arrived at 10AM with a full day ahead of us to settle in. This was way better than our trips to Hawaii, which usually amounted to 10 hours of traveling and arriving tired and jetlagged. In fact, PR reminded us a lot of Hawaii but with way better travel time.
The airport is located close to where we were staying at the Villa Montana Beach Resort. We had an easy time picking up the rental car and driving about 15 minutes to the hotel. On the way over we got to see the first of many iguanas! This one was running across the telephone wires over the road, so at first I thought it was a squirrel until I realized it wasn’t small and fluffy, but a big lizard!
I actually managed to get it on video:
Villa Montana Beach Resort
When checking in at the Villa Montana Beach Resort, you get the feeling right away that this is going to be a nice place. We got a one bedroom villa with a “garden view” and it ended up having a little porch where you could actually see the beach. It was a great spot to just sit, relax and enjoy the sounds of the waves.
Our room had a small kitchenette with a tiny fridge, stove and microwave. There was no coffee pot, but a single serve coffee maker that uses coffee pods. The place was nice and clean, and small but not cramped. The A/C worked great, which was a bonus because many of the Air B&B places we looked at only had A/C in the bedrooms. So be sure to check that if you are booking somewhere else.
They do a great job of keeping the resort area clean and manicured, and the whole area is gated so it is super safe. They also provide you with free snorkeling equipment on request and bikes to ride. They were trimming the palm trees on our first day and my son got obsessed with trying to bust open a coconut and drink the water. There were a lot coming off the trees, and one of the workers picked one up and sliced the top off for him.
They also have little cabanas right on the beach, which is a great spot to watch the sunset. No reservations needed! In the evenings, we relaxed with a glass of wine and watched the sun go down.
Dining in Puerto Rico
The Eclipse restaurant at the Villa Montana is right on the beach and has amazing food. Everything we tried was delicious. We got started with margaritas and the Puerto Rican sampler and sampled much of the menu during our stay.
The restaurant is pricey though. You get charged $5.25 for the water, and I about fell out of my chair when I saw the bill was $10 for my son’s juice! I told him he better drink the whole thing. Apparently, it was the best juice ever and he spent the rest of the trip asking if he could have “the $10 juice” again.
We ventured out and tried several different places to eat that were close by. I recommend the Palmas Cafe and Ola Lola’s. And no trip to Puerto Rico would be complete without trying a local favorite- the mofongo! The Mofongo dish centers around mashed plantains, with other things mixed in. We tried the Mofongo with chicken.
Gozalandia Waterfalls in San Sebastian
My favorite part of the trip was our day in San Sebastian, where we visited Gozalandia and the Cataratas Waterfalls. There are two waterfalls to visit, which are both easy to get to. In between the upper and lower falls are a lot of neat little lagoon spots to explore. The water was clear and refreshing and the area was surprisingly uncrowded, even on a Sunday. The whole area is just beautiful.
I recommend wearing water shoes because there are a lot of rocks and climbing around them can be tricky. When you arrive at the falls, a parking attendant will be there, and it costs $10 to park. From there it’s a short walk to the lower falls. The lower falls are the biggest one, and more crowded than the upper falls. But when I say crowded, I mean about 15 people. There are plenty of spots along the way that are totally empty. At one point were all by ourselves at the upper falls!
Everything at Gozalandia is clean and well-maintained. There’s also a little restaurant and restrooms right near where you park. We stopped there for lunch and the food was excellent. We also managed to get the kid juice for a reasonable $4.
Horseback Riding on the Beach
I’ve always wanted to try horseback riding on the beach, and there just happened to be a place that offered it right next to Villa Montana. We booked an afternoon ride with Tropical Trail Rides, which was $75 a person. I was a little nervous to let my 7-year-old ride by himself, but he was being brave, so I had to be too! It had been a long time since my husband and I had been on a horse, and it was our son’s first time ever.
Tropical Trail Rides does two rides a day- one at 9AM and one at 4PM. When you arrive they ask you about your horse experience and match you with a horse. Before you can ride you have to get weighed, because there is a 250 lb. weight limit for the horses. They care about the health and safety of their horses, so they don’t do rides in the middle of the day when it is super hot, and they don’t do rides with too much weight. Everybody gets weighed, regardless of your size.
You’ll want to wear long pants and close toed shoes. If you didn’t think to bring long pants on your vacation, then just bring a towel and you can sit on that. My pants were capris, and the part where my leg wasn’t covered was against my horse. When I got done, that part of my leg was covered with dirt and stuck-on horse hair. It was pretty gross looking. You definitely don’t want your whole leg like that! And ladies will want to wear a supportive sports bra, because those horses like to trot! I never bounced so much in my life.
My son was matched with Roxy and she was very good with him. He rode the whole way with no problem. My horse Blaze was a bit more challenging, as he didn’t like the road or trail and just wanted to trot on the grass. When I probably looked panicky and was desperately trying to get him back in the line with the other horses, our guide Isabella said, “Oh, that’s just Blaze being Blaze. He does that.” So apparently my horse was known for not following the rules. After that I just let him trot where he wanted since that seemed to be his thing.
He also wanted to eat all the long grass as we passed by, so I spent a lot of time trying to get him to stop eating and walk. But overall, he was a good horse. He just had the munchies a bit. All the other horses were trying to eat the grass as well, and our guide told us to keep them moving because they are well fed.
You start by going through a forest trail, which leads to the beach. My favorite part of the ride was when they were walking slowly along the beach. I could finally relax for a minute and stop holding on for dear life. There was way more trotting involved than I expected, and I never quite got the hang of standing up in the saddle so I didn’t bounce up and down constantly.
After the first beach walk, you go through another forest trail and then you arrive at Survival Beach. This is the part where the website description says you’ll have a rest and get to hike a little cliff and explore caves, or even go swimming. You’ll do none of that. I don’t know why they still have that on their website, as many many of the reviews mention this is not included. It is honestly misleading for them to continue to have it on there.
You’ll take about a 15 minute rest and have time to explore the beach, which is very rocky so you aren’t going to want to swim. It’s called Survival Beach for a reason! And I did see a cliff close by, but there wasn’t really time to go off exploring, and nothing was mentioned of it or the caves. So don’t expect to do anything besides ride to the beach and back.
I do still recommend the horseback riding, as it was a really unique experience. I’m not sure if I’d want to do it again though. My husband and son really liked it, but I was a little stressed out with all that bouncy, fast-paced trotting.
Afternoon Iguana Time
A wrap-up of our trip can’t be complete without mentioning the giant iguanas roaming everywhere. They also have some smaller Puerto Rican ground lizards that are not huge, but much bigger than our lizards at home in Florida. If you want to see a lot of iguanas, go outside from 2-4pm. Every day around 3PM, the iguanas would come out and get some sun. The smaller lizards. which were still over a foot long, were out more in the mornings and evenings.
We had a great family vacation and are already trying to figure out when we can go back. We loved the Villa Montana and the area. I highly recommend it. Feel free to post any questions if you are thinking about going!