Puerto Rico abounds in remote sandy beaches, lush tropical forests, and mountain lakesides that make for fine camping.
Although it has been technically illegal to camp on beaches (except in designated areas) for the last decade, it is commonly done in off-the-beaten path coastal areas, especially in Guánica, Isabela, Fajardo, and the offshore islands of Vieques and Culebra.
Also, there are more than enough campgrounds available in coastal areas, as well as in the mountains and local state forests and nature reserves.
Some of the nicest campgrounds, as well as the best equipped and safest, are those run by the government Compañia de Parques Nacionales (www.parquesnacionalespr.com, Av. Fernández Juncos 1611, Santurce; tel. 787/622-5200).
Six of the eight campsites it operates are located on the coast -- at Luquillo, Fajardo, Vieques, Arroyo, Añasco, and Vega Baja. It also runs two fine campgrounds in the mountain town of Maricao and in Camuy's Cave Park.
Some of these are simple places where you erect your own tent, although they are outfitted with electricity and running water; some are simple cabins, sometimes with fireplaces. Showers and bathrooms are communal. To stay at a campsite costs between $15 and $25 per night per tent.
Many sites offer very basic cabins for rent. Each cabin is equipped with a full bathroom, a stove, a refrigerator, two beds, and a table and chairs. However, most of your cooking will probably be tastier if you do it outside at one of the on-site barbecues. In nearly all cases, you must provide your own sheets and towels.
The agency, the National Parks Company, in English, also operates more upscale "vacation centers," which feature rustic cabins and more tourist-ready "villas," on par with many island inns.
State forests run by the Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales also allow camping with permits. Except for cabins at Monte Guilarte State Forest, which cost $20 per night, camping sites are available at $5 per person. For further information about permits, contact the DRNA at (Rte. 8838, Km 6.3, Sector El Cinco, Río Piedras; tel. 787/999-2200).
There are seven major on-island camping sites in the following state forests: Cambalache State Forest, near Barceloneta; Carite State Forest, near Patillas; Guajataca State Forest, near Quebradillas; Monte Guilarte State Forest, near Adjuntas; Susua State Forest, near Yauco; Río Abajo State Forest, near Arecibo; and our favorite, Toro Negro Forest Reserve, near Villaba, where you can camp in the shadow of Puerto Rico's highest peaks.
It's also possible to camp at either of two wildlife refuges, Isla de Mona Wildlife Refuge, lying some 50 miles (80km) off the west coast of Puerto Rico surrounded by the rough seas of Mona Passage, and at Lago Lucchetti Wildlife Refuge, a beautiful mountain reservoir between Yauco and Ponce.
Meanwhile, visitors can also camp at El Yunque National Forest (tel. 787/888-1810), which is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service. There is no cost, but permits are required. They can be obtained in person at the Catalina Service Center (Rte. 191, Km 4.3) daily from 8am to 4:30pm, and weekends at the Palo Colorado Visitor Center (Rte. 191, Km 11.9) from 9:30am to 4pm. It's primitive camping within the rainforest.