By Robert Colberg Orengo

Photos: Supplied

Children love discovering the wonders of the Island of Enchantment so parents have almost endless possibilities when it comes to keeping them entertained.

An excellent idea to entertain children is to create a themed road trip. For example, take a map of Puerto Rico, identify all the lighthouses found throughout the island, and set off on a driving expedition. You can also choose to visit local children’s museums. Old San Juan and Carolina have specialized museums most kids will love. There they will be entertained and have fun as they learn.

Get Creative

Use your imagination, take your children’s tastes and preferences into account, and create a fun journey together. Your morning can start with a stop at a historical place brimming with tales and anecdotes. The streets of Old San Juan offer a perfect setting as its colorful houses and colonial buildings are full of history.

wyndham-gran-rio-mar-beach-resort-and-spa_marianella-godoyHow about letting your little ones venture into the fascinating world of photography? Visit the town squares near your hotel and allow your kids to take pictures. At the end of your stay you can print the photos and make a scrapbook, allowing your children to share the experience with their classmates. Photographs can also be posted on social media for other family members and friends to enjoy.

Additional Options

At Museo del Mar (Maritime Museum), located in Old San Juan, you’ll find a collection of sea- and merchant marine-related objects. The Bayamón Science Park is an educational and recreational attraction that allows visitors to learn more about different branches of science in an interactive manner. Also, Luis Muñoz Marín Park, located in the heart of the San Juan metro area, is brimming with vegetation and possibilities for children to have a great time.

Check with your hotel or goto for suggestions on suitable venues for children who prefer more dynamic activities. There you will find everything from walking tours along the coast or up in the mountains to paddleboard classes and more.

Water-Based Fun

Who enjoys Puerto Rico’s warm climate the most? Kids, of course. So it’s no surprise that water attractions are among their favoriteparque-de-las-ciencias choices for having fun while visiting the island with their families.Many of our water parks have slides, crazy rivers, and other attractions that the whole family will enjoy. Some of them are:

  • Aquasol, Carolina (787-633-3457)
  • Las Cascadas, Aguadilla (787-819-5555, ext. 221)
  • Albergue Olímpico, Salinas (787-824-2200)
  • Surf N’ Fun Water Park, San Germán (787-659-7440)
  • Monte Frío, Bayamón (787-740-4005)
  • Arecibo Water Park, Arecibo (787-597-5257)
  • Parque Acuático Infantil, Humacao (787-622-5200)

In addition, some hotels feature swimming pools with extra attractions that their guests can enjoy:

  • Courtyard Marriott, Aguadilla (787-658-8000)
  • Coquí Water Park, El Conquistador Resort, Fajardo (787-863-1000)
  • Coco’s Park, Fajardo Inn (787-860-6000)
  • Mayagüez Resort & Casino (787-832-3030)

The following places combine water attractions with other fun activities:

  • Skateboard and Splash Park, Aguadilla (787-891-1460)
  • Parque Julia de Burgos, Carolina (787-710-9300)
  • Parque Familiar, Jayuya (787-232-1731)

By Elsa Fernández-Miralles

The Three Kings: protagonists of Puerto Rico’s celebration

What Santa Claus is to the U.S. mainland, the Three Kings are to Puerto Rico. Every year on Jan. 5, children in Puerto Rico collect grass and put it under their beds so that when the Three Kings visit the home and leave gifts they can also feed their weary camels.

Although the real reason for the popularity of the Fiesta de Reyes (Three Kings’ Day) in our local tradition is unknown, its influence is so strong that we have even coined the term reyar (to engage in Three King’s Day celebrations) as synonymous with folk songs in honor of the Magi accompanied by local instruments.

The Magi, also referred as the Wise Men or the Three Kings where, in the Christian tradition, a group of distinguished foreigners who visited Jesus of Nazareth, after his birth bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and mirrh. They are important figures in traditional Christmas celebrations and to Christianity itself.

The Promesa de Reyes (Three Kings’ Day Pledge) is still observed to this day. On the eve of Jan. 6, a devout Catholic makes a wish and vows to pay a promise. During the promise, a group of believers usually gathers and sings aguinaldos (local carols) whose main themes are Christmas and the birth of Jesus. Although aguinaldos are interspersed with prayers, the tone of the celebration is undeniably festive.

The event includes children and adults as the feast, in honor of Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar—the Magi who found Jesus after following a guiding star—is open to all.

January 6 is an official holiday in Puerto Rico. Here are examples of how different municipalities celebrate Three Kings’ Day.

Juana Díaz – With nearly 130 years’ worth of tradition, Juana Díaz has become the capital of the Three Kings in Puerto Rico. In the 19th century, the town held a parade featuring the Three Kings and shepherds, followed by a Mass. After Mass, the Kings brought gifts to Baby Jesus. In 1983, when Spanish priest Valentín Echevarría arrived in town, the celebration regained its religious tone with an ecclesiastic theater presentation followed by the Feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6. Juana Díaz’s current Three Kings continue traveling to several locations throughout the world, including the Vatican.

Isabela – The Feast of Isabela’s Kings (also known as Isabela’s Singing Kings) is coordinated by the Casa de la Cultura Isabelina (Isabela’s House of Culture) and is known for the Kings’ beautiful costumes and their message of faith, hope, and charity. The two-day event is held Jan. 5 and on the Epiphany (Jan. 6) and consists of four different celebrations. First, the Kings arrive in town and a Kings’ Promise is held.

Then, they parade to the town square so they can meet with Baby Jesus. Later they worship Jesus and bring Him gifts as representatives of the people. Lastly, a town festival is held.

Las Marías – Every Three Kings’ Day, local children and even visitors await the distribution of gifts at a prearranged location. At the event, there are bounce houses, snacks and candies, clown shows, and live music.

Guaynabo – The Trulla de Reyes (Three Kings Caroling) is an event that takes trullas (caroling parties) through different town sectors. Shows featuring troubadours and other performers are held at a designated location.

San Juan – For years, the distribution of Three Kings’ Day gifts for children was conducted at La Fortaleza, the Puerto Rico governor’s residence, and now takes place in several municipalities. Ask your hotel concierge about the designated locations for 2016.

By Elsa Fernández-Miralles

Photos: Supplied

Enjoy the unique San Sebastián Street festival

If you are planning to come to the island in January, you shouldn’t miss one of Puerto Rico’s most emblematic celebrations: the San Sebastián Street Festival. On Jan. 14-17, 2016, youngsters and adults will attend this festival that attracts thousands of people to Old San Juan—particularly to San Sebastián Street and surrounding areas—for a weekend full of customs, traditions, and numerous events.

It’s been said that this festival began in the 19th century. However, it wasn’t until the mid-20th century— specifically in 1954—that Father Juan Manuel Madrazo, the parish priest of San José Church in Old San Juan, organized it to raise funds intended to restore the church and the street itself.

When Father Madrazo was transferred to another parish outside San Juan, the festivities were suspended until Rafaela Balladares, who along with painter Antonio“Tony” Maldonado created the San Sebastián Street Residents Steering Committee, whose aim was to generate funds to help improve area residents’ quality of life.p-25-cred-pr-tourism-co

Balladares met with Ricardo Alegría, director of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, who told her to revive Father Madrazo’s former celebration. Balladares heeded the advice and in 1970 street residents held the first contemporary festival—which included a reveille, a Mass, the procession of the saint, a paintings exhibit, and a period ball. Local dishes and beverages were sold, and neighbors built the stage where musical acts were performed and the kiosks for the arts and crafts fair.

The cabezudos (festive big papier maché heads) seen during Father Madrazo’s time were replaced by others with closer links to Puerto Rican culture. Over the years, these festive heads—which represent different characters in popular culture—have become the symbol of the San Sebastián Street Festival.

Forty-five years later, the once-modest neighborhood celebration has become a grand annual event that attracts more than 500 artists and artisans and nearly half a million visitors. This year’s proceeds will go toward the cathedral’s restoration fund.

The festival begins on Thursday with a Mass in honor of San Sebastián. On Friday there is a cabezudos parade where historical tableaus come to life and we see representations of public figures as well as characters from our traditional stories. The parade ends at the San Juan Cathedral. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday there are shows featuring popular singers and bands. During the weekend you can also enjoy all kinds of family-oriented entertainment—including arts and crafts exhibits, dancing, shows, and food and drink kiosks, among other options.

Since the festival’s attendance is just massive, local authorities provide transportation from specific spots near parking structures and lots, so people can hop on a trolley or other type of public transportation that will take them straight to the festival site. Your hotel can tell you what to do to avoid the dreaded traffic jams and provide tips on the best way to get to the festival.

We invite you to experience a unique celebration in Old San Juan. Wear cool clothing and comfortable shoes, and enjoy the eagerly awaited San Sebastián Street Festival with us!