VILLAS DEL MAR HAU, ISABELA living la vida playa
A pair of dolphin statues flap their flippers in welcome on the roadside sign in front of the hotel, 60 miles west of San Juan on an out-of-the-way stretch of the north coast. Numerous other signs—CUIDADO, NIÑOS JUGANDO—lining the narrow drive through the property repeat the message: children at play. Some of the kids belong to the Hau family, who founded Villas del Mar Hau 40 years ago and still manage the resort. Others belong to the Puerto Rican clans who are regulars here. At play they are—on the basketball and tennis courts, in the volleyball sandpit and well-stocked game room, and astride horses.
And they're in the water. A reef just offshore creates a calm and shallow seawater pool for splashing around, practicing your breast stroke and butterfly, or just lounging in chairs dragged ankle-deep into the water. Older kids catch the waves— and the rip-curl culture—at beaches running from the hotel 30 miles south to the surfer hangout town of Rincon.
Most families, however, stay put, content in the shade of the casuarina pines that canopy the resort grounds. Forty-one brightly painted wooden cottages are strung like a candy necklace along the oceanfront boardwalk, which runs from the main office to the open-air but surprisingly formal Olas y Arena restaurant. Each villa has air-conditioned bedrooms and a generous porch facing the beach; most sleep up to six and have simple kitchens. There are barbecue pits and outdoor taps for rinsing off sandy feet. The mode is decidedly low-tech; in some rooms bunk beds are fashioned out of two-by-fours. Type A's should look elsewhere. This is the spot for a down-home holiday that's as unencumbered as it is unassuming.
VILLAS DEL MAR HAU Carr. 466, Km 8.9, Playa Montones Isabela; 866/862-7428 or 787/872-2045; www.villahau.com; doubles from $68, kids 5 and under free, 5—12 $10, over 12 $15.