Puerto Rico has beaches, hundreds of beaches_long beaches, short beaches, white beaches, beige beaches; beaches as calm as a lake in summer, beaches as rough as a storm in winter; cliff-lined beaches, pebble-strewn beaches; beaches surrounded by mangrove trees, beaches shaded by coconut palms, beaches with and without people. The beaches are warm, tropical, and lovely.
Puerto Rico’s beaches began to take shape some 200 million years ago as part of the Antillean Island, a super-island, stretching from Cuba to the Virgin Islands. Over the years, volcanoes rose and fell, mountain ranges formed, and the Antillean Island broke up into smaller pieces, including the Island of Puerto Rico. After the breakup, the beaches of Puerto Rico formed from a complex interplay of erosion, marine deposits, wave action, currents, and the shape of the ocean bottom. Much later, coconuts brought over from the Pacific and planted along the shoreline added a final important touch to some of Puerto Rico’s great beaches: shade.
Although each of Puerto Rico’s beaches is distinctive, all have certain general characteristics depending on their location. Northwest beaches (west of Dorado) face the Atlantic Ocean, where the water tends to be rougher, especially in winter months. There are many protected beaches in this area, thanks in large part to a fascinating geological formation known as cemented sand dunes (ancient sand dunes cemented together into lunar-like rocks) that take the brunt of the Atlantic waves. Many unprotected beaches along this section of the northwest coast are subject to strong currents and, though beautiful, are not safe for swimming. Beaches in the northeast (east of Dorado), including all the swimming beaches in the San Juan Metro Area, are much calmer. East coast beaches facing the Spanish Virgin Islands of Culebra and Vieques do not have the strong wave action and currents found in the northwest. Beaches in the south (and south of Rincón) face the Caribbean Sea (or the Mona Passage) and are typically placid year-round.
Some of the most spectacular stretches of coastline are maintained by the government as balnearios, or public bathing beaches. Balnearios are found in metropolitan San Juan, around the Island and on the offshore island of Vieques. Most have a majestic beauty and protected waters. These are ideal places for a family outing, and they are well used. There are lifeguards, ample parking, dressing and shower facilities, and food and drink stands. A few have campgrounds, and kayak and cabin rentals. Some of the facilities are closed Monday for maintenance.
The San Juan/Isla Verde beaches in the metropolitan area are classic urban beaches, long and gently curving, spotted with coconut palms and seagrapes, and shaded in the late afternoon by hotels and condominiums. You’ll find all possible water sport activities here. Ocean Park fronts one of the nicest metropolitan beaches.
East of San Juan, the Piñones region offers extensive mangrove forests, lagoons and a former coconut plantation framing six miles of beach. Farther east, the Island’s most famous balneario is found at Luquillo, another former coconut plantation. The lovely sweep of this beach is legendary, as are its snack kiosks. Its unique wheelchair-accessible facility known as the Sea Without Barriers ensures that everyone can enjoy these waters.
Fajardo is the boating capital of Puerto Rico, and some of these boats offer memorable day outings to bone-white, coral-rimmed beaches on offshore islets and cays. If you’re boatless, the balneario at Seven Seas will do very nicely. The larger offshore islands to the east, Culebra and Vieques, are paradise for beach lovers, with dozens of stunning seascapes. Flamenco Beach on Culebra is often listed as one of the prettiest beaches in the world, and the balneario at Sun Bay on Vieques is truly majestic.
Puerto Rico’s southeastern and southern coastline is less developed than the north, and it retains a yesteryear tropical feel. Offshore islets in this region include the immensely popular Gilligan’s Island in Guánica (crowded on the weekends) and Caja de Muertos off Ponce. Caja de Muertos is the setting for pirate legends, a hilltop lighthouse, a beach with turquoise water, and hiking trails.
The west coast, also known as Porta del Sol, has long been known for its beautiful beaches and spectacular sunsets. Those around the Cabo Rojo lighthouse are among the most dramatic and remote in Puerto Rico. Farther north, the balneario at Boquerón has been a vacation getaway for generations. The balneario at Añasco is every bit as lovely as Luquillo but less known.
The town of Rincón has a unique set of beaches: those south of the lighthouse at Punta Higüero, Puerto Rico’s westernmost corner, are calm and genteel swimming beaches, while those to the north have the large waves that have made them a preferred surfing destination and the setting for two world surfing championships. These surfing beaches can be dangerous for swimmers, particularly in winter. A favorite year-round swimming beach is Crash Boat Beach in Aguadilla. Its pier, once used by boats that rescued downed airplanes from the former Ramey Air Force Base (thus the beach’s name), now has become an underwater home for corals and sea creatures. Shacks Beach on the north coast in Isabela has an underwater ring of rocks and caves known as the Blue Hole, which is rife with sea life. To the east, sand dune rocks protect the beaches of Jobos and Montones.
The rest of the north coast back to San Juan has dozens of protected beaches and coves. One of the loveliest is Mar Chiquita in Manatí, where two large sand dune rocks extend into the ocean and form a fan-shaped pool of water. Los Tubos Beach in Vega Baja offers both surfing and swimming. Beyond, the lush, coconut-palm-laden beaches of Dorado have lured sanjuaneros for decades.
This is just a sample of the hundred or so beaches you will find on the Island.