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Puerto Rico's Monkey Island

What's more fun than a barrel of monkeys?
An island of monkeys. Monkeys, monkeys everywhere, from the top of the coconut palms to the edge of the beach, curious primates that line up to watch equally curious humans.

Monkey Island, also known as Cayo Santiago, is located off the southeast coast of Puerto Rico. This tiny island is home to the descendants of a colony of rhesus monkeys brought here from India in the 1930s for research. Today the land is off-limits to visitors, but snorkelers are welcome to observe from the sea.

And so we approached the island, feeling a little like James Bond as we silently slid through the waves, hoping to edge a little closer before the lively primates saw us.

Wrong. Our best Bond technique delivered us about 100 feet from the shoreline when we were spotted, our arrival heralded by squawking, bouncing, waving monkeys. We had to be content to go no further, observing the island's inhabitants from the shallows, hearing their aggressive chatter.
In contrast to our reception on Monkey Island, families visiting Puerto Rico are greeted with a hearty "Bienvenidos" and a welcoming blend of the familiar and the exotic. It's a recipe that's sure to please: take one part Caribbean island and one part US destination. Add a sprinkling of US currency, equal portions of English and Spanish languages, and a good helping of a uniquely regional spirit that bubbles over in everything from dance to dishes. The result? A recipe for a festive family vacation with the spirit of the Caribbean with all the conveniences of the US.

Starting with your arrival in the capital city of San Juan, you'll find a bustling pace, regardless of the hour. Casinos ring with the clink of slots; while couples cram the dance floor. This mega-city buzzes night and day with commerce, cruise ships, and savory cuisine.

San Juan sprawls across several districts. Tourists typically visit Condado, Isla Verde, and Old San Juan, the historical heart of the city. Walking tours of the old city include a visit to El Morro, the historic fort overlooking the Atlantic, and continue along narrow cobblestone streets that echo back to the city's earliest days. Keen-eared family members might hear the sound of a cruise ship's horn in the distance, calling its passengers; the port is one of the Caribbean's most popular.

Off Puerto Rico's shores, the islands of Mona, Culebra, and Vieques offer quiet getaways for those willing to take an extra hop. Unlike Monkey Island, the inhabitants of these islands welcome families savoring peace and quiet in tiny Puerto Rican villages.


Don't leave Puerto Rico without a taste of the island's cuisine, a distinct blend of Spanish, African, and Taino Indian influences. Start with an appetizer of tostones (fried plantains) or empanadillas, little meat turnovers. Save room for flan, a creamy custard, or tembleque, a custard made with coconut milk and sprinkled with cinnamon. It's a sweet end to a day in a sweet destination for family travelers.

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