Teens will love snorkeling at Lobos Natural Park. // © 2016 Samantha Davis-Friedman
Feature image (above): Lobos Natural Park is located where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea. // © 2016 Samantha Davis-Friedman
Family vacations present parents and travel agents with a unique set of challenges. Finding activities that can be enjoyed by travelers of all ages can be tricky any time, but it can be especially difficult if teens are involved. As anyone who has traveled with teens (or has booked travel for teens) knows, they can be the toughest critics — but also your biggest fans. You’re in big trouble if something is deemed “babyish” or “boring,” but if something is considered interesting, exciting or cool, you’re golden. On a recent trip to Puerto Rico with my 15-year-old son, we experienced four great activities through El Conquistador Resort, located on Puerto Rico’s northeast coast, that could never be called anything but awesome.
A cool family- and teen-friendly activity at El Conquistador is an Aqua Parkour class. Employing the principles of parkour, which uses surrounding objects and obstacles to challenge and strengthen the body and core, this refreshing pool version has participants don webbed aqua gloves as they go through a series of exercises that use the water’s resistance as well as the pool’s walls, steps and even swim-up bar stools.
One of the teens traveling in our group — 15-year-old Brendan, a high-school athlete — thought Aqua Parkour was going to be easy, but afterward told me he was surprised by how physically demanding it was.
“I really enjoyed the Aqua Parkour class because it was in the water, and I had a blast doing this awesome workout!” he said.
Aqua Parkour classes are $25 per person and include half-day access for adults to the spa’s steam room, Jacuzzi, lockers and tea lounge.
Bio Bay Kayaking
There are several bioluminescent bays, often called “bio bays,” in Puerto Rico. One great one for families with teens is Laguna Grande in Fajardo. With Las Tortugas Adventures, travelers board two-person kayaks and paddle about 1 mile along dark channels through mangroves to the lagoon. Here, millions of bioluminescent plankton called dinoflagellate sparkle like tiny blue-green gems whenever paddlers dip their hands or paddles into the water. I was a little hesitant when our guide, Jake, told us to splash water onto our bare legs (after all, there’s glowing plankton in there), but once I did, I had to admit it was extremely cool to watch our legs shimmer with blue sparkles.
Jake told us the plankton lights up just like fireflies by combining an enzyme called luciferase with a protein called luciferin. When that happens, one photon of blue-green light per night is produced. He explained how that meant that when we saw one glow, it meant that it couldn’t glow again until the following night.
1.5-hour bio bay tours are $80 per person and run Monday through Saturday at 6:30 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. (Pro tip: The later tour offers better bioluminescence viewing since it’s dark the whole time). The excursions can be booked at El Conquistador’s activity desk, and there is a pick-up on property that takes guests directly to the starting point of the activity.
Note: For clients with physical limitations (or who just prefer not to paddle), Bio Island offers electric boat trips into the lagoon for $52 per person.
In this relatively new sport, players kick soccer balls from a “tee” into a specially designed hole or cup on a golf course (avoiding sand traps and water hazards, of course). El Conquistador has the first FootGolf course in Puerto Rico, with 18 holes on the resort’s championship Arthur Hills-designed golf course.
“FootGolf is soccer and golf put together,” said El Conquistador golf pro Aaron Kelly. “You have golf rules, holes and tee markers, but instead of swinging a club and hitting a little ball, you’re kicking a soccer ball.”
What makes FootGolf a great family activity is that it’s easy enough that anyone can do it, regardless of age or experience, but it’s challenging enough to keep teens engaged. And, since the 18 FootGolf holes are all on the first nine golf holes, it’s quicker than regular golf (about 2.5 hours instead of 4.5).
Note: FootGolf tee times are only available in the afternoon, and reservations are required. FootGolf is $40 per player and includes cart and ball rentals.
Snorkeling at Lobos Natural Park
Located near a private island off the northeast coast of Puerto Rico, Lobos Natural Park’s crystal-clear water is home to thousands of colorful fish and massive coral formations. As we approached the island, our captain pointed out the different colors of water where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, and even the teens onboard agreed that it was cool.
“I’ve snorkeled in Hawaii, Mexico and Honduras, but the chance to snorkel with nobody else around was amazing,” said Jacob, my 15-year-old son.
The three-hour tour ($60 per person) onboard Casa del Mar’s 46-foot boat departs from the marina at El Conquistador daily at 2 p.m. Certified instructors are on hand to offer snorkeling instruction to beginners as well as help with those always-temperamental snorkels and masks. The complimentary post-snorkeling snacks and soft drinks (plus beer for adults) are a great way to end the trip.