Endless Summer > Magazine > Beach > Puerto Rico

Cays: Icacos, Diablo, Palominos, Palominitos, JCD
Endless Summer > Beach > Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico has more than 365 beaches, a beach for every day of the year. Do you like long sweeps of beaches that extend for miles? We have them. Do you like intimate cliff-lined coves? We have them, too. We have beaches that look out on large Atlantic Ocean waves and others that front the calm Caribbean Sea, beaches surrounded by mangroves, shaded by palms, peopled by sun lovers or populated by little more than sand crabs. What do they all have in common? They are warm, tropical, and lovely.

Beach aficionados could spend a year exploring Puerto Rico and its offshore islands, visiting a different beach every day. They’d find long strips of sand, cliff-bordered shorelines and half-hidden coves. But all Puerto Rico’s beaches have several characteristics in common. Sand in most areas is shaded a pale beige, and coconut palms, trees that weren’t even found on the Island half a millennium ago, sway to the trade winds virtually everywhere along the coast. Here is a sampling of the beaches Island-wide.

Let’s take a sampling of beaches Island-wide, starting in metropolitan San Juan. San Juan’s beaches form long gentle curves that face the Atlantic Ocean and front hotel resorts and residential districts. You’ll find rentals for just about every watersport your heart desires, from surfing and kite boarding to snorkeling and kayaking. Two of the best-known beaches, Escambrón west of Condado and Carolina in Isla Verde, are balnearios, public bathing beaches, with parking, lifeguards, changing rooms and snack bars. They were recently admitted into the European-based Blue Flag program for environmentally sound beaches. Yet even the metro area has its out-of-the-way gems such as Piñones, an undeveloped track of coastline set amid mangrove forest, former coconut plantations, kiosks, restaurants and a six-mile-long bicycle boardwalk/path.

Elegant describes many of the beaches along the northeast and eastern coasts. Waters are shallow, and sands are bordered by stately coconut palms. These are relative newcomers to the Island, arriving with the earliest settlers and finding their way to virtually every Caribbean coastline. Small cays dot the horizon, and deep-green forests rise in the background. Resort hotels here pamper beachgoers with lounge chairs and cooling drinks. The best-known northeast beach is Luquillo, a balneario and a Blue Flag beach, ideal for families (with facilities for special-needs travelers). Rustic kiosks in front of the beach along Highway 3 serve up traditional Puerto Rican snacks and home-style meals.

The offshore islands to the east boast the crystal-clear turquoise waters for which the Caribbean is famed. Shallow coral-fringed waters surround islets off Fajardo and continue to the inhabited islands of Culebra and Vieques. These are important nature islands, known for their reserves and their stunning beaches. One of the most spectacular, Flamenco Beach on Culebra, resembles a vast palette of turquoise sea, white sand, green hills and blue sky. A Blue Flag beach, it offers overnight camping. On Vieques, several beaches east of Sun Bay recently opened to the public. Still semi-deserted during the week, they are as beautiful as Flamenco but on a much smaller scale.

The south coast of Puerto Rico faces the Caribbean Sea. Waters are calmer, particularly in winter. Mangrove forests, once found in abundance Island-wide, remain common. They protect the coastline and harbor large quantities of wildlife. For a remote treasure-island sort of adventure, charter a boat to Caja de Muertos off Ponce’s coast. Back-to-back beaches, a little-used snorkeling trail and a hilltop lighthouse distinguish the islet. (Currently, Caja de Muertos is closed for renovation but the beaches are still accessible by boat.) A popular land beach is the Caña Gorda balneario in Guánica. A ferry in Guánica takes visitors to nearby Gilligan’s Island, a south-coast favorite.

One of the best-known beaches on the west coast is the Boquerón balneario, a large and deeply recessed bay bordered by bird-rich lagoons. For an off-the-beaten-track experience, head down the coast to the southwestern tip of the Island. A dirt road passes salt-mining pools and a mangrove reserve as it heads to the neoclassical Cabo Rojo Lighthouse, set at the edge of 200-foot cliffs. To the left is a beautiful but undeveloped (take everything you need) half-moon beach known as La Playuela. Cabo Rojo’s lighthouse is one of a dozen that surround Puerto Rico and its offshore islands. Built in the latter half of the 19th century, they continue to guide the Island’s maritime travel, but they also guide landlubbers to lovely off-the-beaten-path coastal settings.

Another lighthouse is found in the west-coast town of Rincón, in a park where surfers and humpback whales are spotted in winter months. Rincón marks the division between the calm Caribbean to the south and the rougher Atlantic to the north. Most beaches in this region extend for miles and virtually every kind of water adventure, from low-keyed beachcombing to world-class surfing, is found.

Many beachgoers head to Crash Boat Beach in Aguadilla. Colorful fishing boats line the shoreline, set at the foot of limestone cliffs. Around the coast to the north, Isabela hosts a long series of beaches, sand dunes and protective offshore rocks, former sand dunes that hardened over the eons.
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