Friday, July 4, 2008
Puerto Rico - The Best Beaches
The Best Beaches
White sandy beaches put Puerto Rico and its offshore islands on tourist maps in the first place. Many other Caribbean destinations have only jagged coral outcroppings or black volcanic-sand beaches that get very hot in the noonday sun.
Best for Singles (Straight & Gay):
Sandwiched between the Condado and Isla Verde beaches along San Juan's beachfront, Ocean Park Beach attracts more adults and less of the family trade. Only Isla Verde beach to the east matches Ocean Park for its broad beach and good swimming. The people-watching here is nothing compared to the well-stuffed bikinis (both male and female) found on South Miami Beach or Rio de Janeiro. However, for the Caribbean, Ocean Park is as good as it gets. Because many gay boarding houses lie in Ocean Park, a lot of the beach here is frequented by gay young men, mainly from New York. However, straight people looking to meet someone while wearing swimwear will find plenty of lookers (and perhaps takers).
Best Beach for Families:
Winning without contest, Luquillo Beach, 30 miles (48km) east of San Juan, attracts both local families, mainly from San Juan, and visitors from Condado and Isla Verde beaches in San Juan. Beach buffs heading for Luquillo know they will get better sands and clearer waters there than in San Juan. The vast sandy beach opens onto a crescent-shaped bay edged by a coconut grove. Coral reefs protect the crystal-clear lagoon from the often rough Atlantic waters that can buffet the northern coast, making Luquillo a good place for young children to swim. Much photographed because of its white sands, Luquillo also has tent sites and other facilities, including picnic areas with changing rooms, lockers, and showers.
Best for Teenagers:
More families with teenagers check into the Hyatt Dorado Beach Resort & Country Club west of San Juan than into any other competitor in Puerto Rico, including the resorts along the San Juan beach strip. Six beaches border the Hyatt resorts, each a strip of white sand fronting the north coast. Because the Dorado features many activities for kids of all ages, its beaches over the years have become family favorites. The Hyatt beaches originally opened onto a grapefruit-and-coconut plantation, but today these 1,000 landscaped acres (400 hectares) are devoted to fun, ranging from jogging and biking trails to swimming in the longest pool on the island. Young people find it easy to meet other teenagers here, not only on the beach but while participating in the resorts' myriad of activities.
Best for Swimming:
Whereas on much of the northwest coast of Puerto Rico, rough Atlantic waters often deter bathers but attract surfers , the south coast waters are calmer. On the south coast, Playa de Ponce, outside Ponce, Puerto Rico's second-largest city, consists of a long strip of beautiful white sand that opens onto the tranquil waters of the Caribbean. Less crowded than Condado and Luquillo, Playa de Ponce is an ideal place to swim year-round in clearer, less polluted waters than those along the more heavily populated northern coastline.
Best for Scenery:
In the southwestern corner of Puerto Rico, Boquerón Beach lies in a section of the island called the Cape Cod of Puerto Rico. The beach town of Boquerón itself, filled with colorful scenery, stands at the heart of a 3-mile (5km) bay, with palm-fringed white sand curving away on both sides. In addition to this panoramic vista, you can also sample vignettes of local life. Fisherfolk, sailors, and scuba divers are also attracted to this beach, where fresh oysters are shucked on the spot, doused with Tabasco, and sold at various ramshackle shacks. You can see that there are plenty of interesting photo ops at this beach. While enjoying the scenery and the sands, you can take a break and order a regional ice cream at one of the stands. It's made with sweet corn and dusted with paprika. Sound awful? Try it: It's good.
Best for Windsurfing:
Rincón's winter surf, especially at Playa Higüero, puts Malibu to shame. Today surfers from all over the world are attracted to Rincón, which they have dubbed "Little Malibu." From Borinquén Point south to Rincón, nearly all the beaches along the western coast are ideal for surfing from November to April. As the windsurfing capital of the Caribbean, the Rincón area was put on the map when it was the site of the 1968 world surfing championships. Some of the 16-foot (4.8m) breakers here equal those on the north shore of Oahu.
Best Beaches for Being Alone:
The main island is filled with isolated sandy coves that only the locals seem to know about. The best, all guaranteed to delight the escapist in you, stretch between Cabo Rojo (the southwesterly tip of Puerto Rico) all the way east to Ponce. Beginning in the west, directly east of Cabo Rojo, you'll discover Rosado Beach, Santa Beach, Caña Gorda Beach, and Tamarindo Beach. Access to many of these is limited because of poor roads, but the effort is worth it. Be sure to bring the necessary supplies.
Best for Snorkeling:
For snorkeling, we prefer to escape from the Puerto Rican mainland altogether, heading for the isolated beaches of the offshore islands of Vieques and Culebra, part of the Spanish Virgin Islands. In Vieques alone there are some 40 beaches, most of them officially unnamed even though U.S. sailors once stationed on the island have nicknamed their favorites-everything from Green Beach to Orchid. The best beach for snorkeling on Vieques is Playa Esperanza, especially that spot in front of the Trade Winds Guesthouse. Another favorite location, which we discovered when directed there by a Navy SEAL, is across the little harbor at Cayo de Afuera. This site gives you the best preview of dramatic (and living) antler coral. Nurse sharks and the occasional manatee also hang out here.
On the neighboring island of Culebra, the beaches are less visited by snorkelers, even though they open onto coral reefs and clear waters. The snorkeling is not so hot at the island's most frequented beach, Flamenco Beach. But all you have to do is take a 15- to 20-minute hike from the parking lot at Flamenco over the hill to Playa Carlos Rosario, which offers some of the best snorkeling in Puerto Rico. A barrier reef virtually envelops the beach, and you can snorkel all day. For other great snorkeling, you can walk along the cliffs south of here for about a quarter mile (.4km) to a place called "The Wall," which has 40-foot (12m) drop-offs, rainbow-hued fish, and other delights.
The Best Hotel Beaches
Wyndham El San Juan Hotel & Casino
(San Juan; tel. 800/WYNDHAM or 787/791-1000): This posh resort occupies the choicest beachfront real estate at Isla Verde Beach, one of the finest in Puerto Rico. Ideal for swimming, the golden sands near the airport evoke South Miami Beach. Picnic tables are found here, and the beach is also good for snorkeling. But it is mostly the sands themselves that provide the attraction-that and all the many facilities of El San Juan resort itself.
Hyatt Resort at Dorado
(Hyatt Dorado Beach Resort & Country Club; tel. 800/233-1234 or 787/796-1234): Lying 18 miles (29km) west of San Juan, this posh resort was carved out of a plantation. Today it opens onto several miles of white sandy beaches at the mouth of the Río de la Plata. Since the turn of the 20th century, Dorado, which means "golden," has attracted U.S. presidents and rich folks like the Rockefellers. Today families can be seen romping along its sands.
Copamarina Beach Resort
(Caña Gorda; tel. 787/821-0505) lies west of Ponce, Puerto Rico's second-largest city. A laid-back retreat, the resort opens onto one of the best and least crowded beaches in southwestern Puerto Rico. This appealing beach is set a quarter mile (.4km) south of Guánica at the edge of a government-protected marshland known for its rich bird life. Its pale beige sand fronts a backdrop of bohios (thatched huts), where you can retreat from the noonday sun.