When planing a vacation in Puerto Rico, first time visitors tend to default to one of two options for accommodations: Old San Juan, or an all-inclusive beach resort.
While both of these defaults have their obvious benefits -Old San Juan its historic charm; all-inclusive resorts their beaches and adult beverages- there is a third locale that vacationing families should consider: a rental condo in Luquillo.
About 40 minutes east of San Juan, situated along Puerto Rico's northeast coast, Luquillo has endless gold-sanded beaches that are fairly uncrowded, even on weekends. Our favorite is Playa Azul, which is often nearly deserted. Parking is free along Playa Azul, and is shaded by palm trees.
It should be noted, however, that Playa Azul has no food stalls, restrooms, or lifeguards. Those spending a whole day at a beach, especially with small children, might prefer Balneario Monserrate, less than a mile west of Playa Azul. Balneario Monserrate offers "kioskos" (food stalls), clean restrooms, and lifeguards. Expect to pay a few dollars for parking. Bring extra cash to rent kayaks.
In addition to fabulous beaches, Luquillo's location also offers easy access to:
- the famous "kioskos de Luquillo." The kioskos are essentially a long, unassuming strip mall of mini restaurants or food counters. There are roughly 60 different stalls, but given their varied hours/days of operation, expect to find about 45 open at any given time. Many of the kioskos serve Puerto Rico's adored "frituras," fritters with various meat, seafood, or vegetable fillings, counter-service style. A few stalls have been converted to full-service restaurants offering more diverse fare.
- Fajardo and its ferries to the islands of Vieques and Culebra. The 25-minute drive from Luquillo to Fajardo is especially helpful for visitors catching a 9 a.m. ferry, for which check-in before 8 a.m. is necessary. Otherwise, you risk the boat filling to capacity, forcing a wait for the 1 p.m. (Vieques) or 3 p.m. (Culebra) departure. Side note: our experience was similar to online discussions in that it is impossible to reach the ferry terminal by phone.
- El Yunque National Forest. The only rainforest in the U.S. National Forest system, El Yunque is home to more than 240 species of plants and wildlife, a few of which, such as the endangered Puerto Rican parrot, cannot be found anywhere else in the world. This fascinating and picturesque park is an easy 20-minute drive from The Towers of Luquillo (see below). Admission to the park is free; $4 to El Portal visitors center (U.S. National Park passes honored).
Dulces Sueños rental unit, Playa Azul
Note: We have no affiliation with the unit owners or with VRBO. All opinions are our own.
Dulces Sueños is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath condo unit located in The Towers at Playa Azul. Its 11th floor location with an almost wrap-around balcony allows beach views of both sunrise and sunset. For us, this was the main selling point; coming to the Caribbean, we would not have been satisfied with a parking lot or city view.
The balcony also overlooks The Towers' amenities, which include a large and well maintained pool, basketball courts, and a playground. Amenity hours run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., so there is no worry of pool-goers disrupting an evening of stargazing on the balcony.
Dulces Sueños' fully equipped kitchen allows guests to prepare meals in-unit; a good money-saving option. The in-unit washer and dryer minimize the amount of luggage needed, even for a longer stay. (Laundry facilities allowed us to travel with just one carry-on each, despite a 8-day stay; no checked luggage hassles or fees.)
Bed and bath linens are provided, including separate towels for the pool/beach and bath. And the biggest plus: the unit owners have provided all the equipment needed for a day at the beach. Beach chairs, beach umbrella, sand toys, boogie boards, snorkels and fins, a mini cooler, and a beach bag are all furnished.
Dulces Sueños has air conditioning and ceiling fans in each bedroom and the living room, high speed internet throughout, and HD cable tv in the living room.
The Towers provide security at the gated entrance to the complex, as well as security at the entrance to each of the three individual towers. The unit itself features key-less entry, which is especially handy when coming to/from the beach or pool.
Online reviews consistently mention the helpfulness and availability of unit owners Don and Brandi. We never needed to contact them during our stay, but were very pleased with the information they provided prior to our arrival, and beyond satisfied with their communication throughout the rental process.
Current rental prices for this 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 6-person unit are $170-$180/night. For more information or to make a reservation, check out Dulces Sueños' listing on here on VRBO.