A quick hop from the mainland is a place where the sky is blue and the water's bluer, the beaches are all public, no passports are needed, and you never have to change your money. Few family getaways are this easy—and exotic. Want a rain forest or a dry forest?Righteous surf or quiet coves?A jungle hideout or oceanside quarters in Old San Juan?How about a dose of all these things?
COPAMARINA, GUÁNICA by the sea, oh how happy we'll be
Seek out Puerto Rico's most parched spot, the 9,900-acre Guánica Biosphere Reserve on the sparsely populated southwest coast, two hours from San Juan, and you'll be surprised to uncover a water wonderland. The Copamarina Beach Resort is a 20-acre oasis of clipped lawns, tropical flowers, and coconut palms. In tin-roofed, plantation-style buildings, the 106 rooms overlook gardens, pools (two adult, two kiddie), and a stretch of soft white sand along the Caribbean Sea. The luckiest families nab one of the two new three-bedroom villas.
Beached at the shoreline is every type of watercraft (kayaks, catamarans, water-skimming tricycles); moored in shallow waters is a trampoline (it's well-padded, Mom), and there's fishing for marlin and snapper from the long white dock. Those who want to venture farther out hop on the resort's Pro-Jet boat to reach some of the best diving and snorkeling spots in the Caribbean. An on-site PADI scuba operation certifies guests (starting age, 10). But a mask and fins are all you'll need to explore the reef at Gilligan's Island, five minutes away by ferry. After dark, a boat ride from nearby La Parguera transports guests to Bahía Fosforescente, one of Puerto Rico's most exciting light shows: Take a swim, or dip a finger in water that's teeming with phosphorescence (720,000 dynoflagellates, the fireflies of the sea, per gallon).
If you can coax your group out of the water, Copamarina is also well situated for landlubber outings. The Guánica Reserve is perhaps the best-preserved subtropical dry forest ecosystem in the world. Hiking trails wind through a bonsai-dense landscape of dwarf plants; others lead to milkweeds as tall as trees. If you drive 45 minutes west of Copamarina, until the road runs out, you'll find yourself at what looks like the edge of the world: sand dunes, salt flats, and cliffs where pirates once found shelter. Remember the brochure beaches that lured you to Puerto Rico?They're all here (El Combate, Bahía de Boquerón, Bahia Salinas), in this least-visited corner of the island. And Ponce, 20 miles east of the resort, feels like Old San Juan—minus the crowds. Don't miss the black-and-red-striped 1882 firehouse.
COPAMARINA BEACH RESORT Carr. 333, Km 6.5, Guánica; 800/468- 4553 or 787/821-0505; www.copamarina.com; doubles from $165, children under 12 free; airport shuttle $65 per person round-trip.