White sandy beaches and idyllic offshore islands are what put Puerto Rico on tourist maps in the first place.
- Best for Singles (Straight & Gay): Sandwiched between the Condado and Isla Verde along San Juan's coast, Ocean Park beach attracts more adults and less of the family trade. The wide beach, lined with palm and sea grape trees, fronts a residential neighborhood of beautiful homes, free of the high-rise condos that line other San Juan beaches. A favorite for swimming, paddle tennis, and kite surfing, the beach is also a favorite spot for young and beautiful sanjuaneros to congregate, especially on weekends. Knowledgeable tourists also seek out Ocean Park, which has several guesthouses catering to young urban professionals from the East Coast, both gay and straight. There definitely is a South Beach-Río vibe here, with more than a fair share of well-stuffed bikinis, but it's decidedly more low-key and Caribbean. It's a good spot for tourists and locals to mix. There are a few beachfront bar/restaurants housed in the guesthouses, good for a snack or lunch or cold drink.
- Best Beach for Families: Luquillo Beach, 30 miles (48km) east of San Juan, has better sands and clearer waters than most 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 as well as picnic areas with changing rooms, lockers, and showers.
- Best for Swimming: Pine Grove Beach, which stretches between the Ritz-Carlton and the Marriott Courtyard at the end of Isla Verde near the airport, is a crescent, white-sand beach, whose tranquil, blue waters are protected by an offshore reef from the often rough Atlantic current. By the Ritz-Carlton and the Casa Cuba social club to the west, the water is completely sheltered, and a long sandbar means shallow water stretches a long way offshore. There's more of a surf to the east, which is a popular spot for surfing, boogie boarding, and body surfing. The waves are well formed but never too big, which makes it a perfect spot to learn to surf. Local surfers give lessons and rent boards from this beach, which is also a favorite for small sail boats and catamarans. There are no public facilities here, but it's a short walk to restaurants in the Isla Verde district. Both hotels on the beach have restaurants, bars and restroom facilities. The beach also connects to the Carolina Public Beach, which has lockers, outdoor showers and restrooms, and is immediately adjacent to the east. If you are driving here, parking at the public beach may be your best bet. It's right off Rte. 187 on the road to Piñones. Otherwise, enter the beach near the Ritz-Carlton or Marriott Courtyard hotel. Outside San Juan, the best beaches for swimming are probably Guánica's Playa Santa and Caña Gorda beaches in southwest Puerto Rico. The water is extremely warm and absolutely calm year round, and both spots boast wide, white-sand beaches with vistas of nothing but Caribbean Sea and hilly coastline.
- Best for Scenery: In the southwestern corner of Puerto Rico, Boquerón Beach and its neighboring area brings to mind a tropical Cape Cod. The beach town of Boquerón itself, filled with colorful scenery, stands along the coast just beside the beach running along a 3-mile (4.8km) bay, with palm-fringed white sand curving away on both sides. The water is always tranquil, making it perfect for families and swimming. There's fine snorkeling, sailing and fishing as well. The beach here is also one of the Puerto Rico's state-run public beaches, with lifeguards, lockers, bathrooms, showers, a cafeteria and sundries shop, and picnic tables and barbecue pits. The village is a ramshackle collection of open-air establishments along the coast selling seafood and drinks. Fresh oysters are shucked on the spot and doused with Tabasco. Try the fried fritters filled with freshly caught fish or Caribbean lobster. There are plenty of interesting photo ops at this beach and its adjacent town.
- Best for Surfing: The winter surf along Puerto Rico's northwest coast is the best in the region. Generally regarded as one of the best surf spots across the globe, it draws surfers from around the world. Rincón is the center of the island surf scene, but it extends to neighboring Isabela and Aguadilla. Dubbed the "Caribbean Pipeline," winter waves here can approach 20 feet (6.1m) in height, equaling the force of the surf on Oahu's north shore. Rincón became a renowned surfing destination when it hosted the 1968 world surfing championships. Famed surfing beaches in town include Puntas, Domes, Tres Palmas, and Steps. In Aguadilla, surfers head to Gas Chambers, Crash Boat, or Wilderness; in Isabela, preferred spots include Jobos and Middles. The best time to surf is from November through April, but summer storms can also kick up the surf. In the summer season, however, when the waves diminish, these northwest beaches double as perfect spots for windsurfing and snorkeling, with calm waters filled with coral reefs and marine life.
- Best for Windsurfing: Puerto Rico is filled with places for windsurfing and, increasingly, kite surfing. San Juan itself is a windsurfer's haven, and you'll see them off the coast from Pine Grove beach near the airport all the way west to where Ocean Park runs into Condado at Parque del Indio. Punta Las Marías, between Ocean Park and Isla Verde, is a center of activity. The Condado Lagoon, just behind the oceanfront strip of hotels, is also popular for windsurfing. (It's increasingly popular with kayakers too.) The northwest, from Rincón to Isabela, is another center for windsurfing, with strong winds throughout the year.
- Best Beaches for Being Alone: Puerto Rico is filled with isolated sandy coves and virgin white beaches accessible only by dirt roads 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. Guánica has several, including Las Paldas and La Jungla, which are empty except during holiday weekends. In Fajardo, a 2-mile (3.2km) hike from the Seven Seas Public Beach will reward you with the breathtaking El Convento Beach, along the miles-long undeveloped coastline stretching between Fajardo and Luquillo. Besides the governor's official beach house, a rustic wooden cottage, there is nothing but white-sand beach and pristine aquamarine waters. The area is a nesting site for endangered sea turtles, and there is excellent snorkeling just offshore, where the water is rife with unspoiled coral reefs and marine life. Environmentalists hope to turn the area into a nature reserve, but two hotel projects are also planned for the area. The government has indicated it wants to develop small-scale, low impact tourism for the area. Vieques and Culebra, the Spanish Virgin Islands, also have their fair share of deserted, out of the way beaches. Because access to many of these is limited due to poor roads, it is necessary to bring supplies, including fresh drinking water.
- Best for Snorkeling: The southwest, from Guánica through Boquerón, has excellent snorkeling with plenty of reefs and marine life right offshore. In the summer, once the big surf quiets down, several beaches in the northwest, from Rincón to Isabela, also boast good snorkeling. Steps is one of the best spots. The islands of Vieques and Culebra also have great snorkeling. On Vieques, try Media Luna, Navio, Red, and Blue beaches on the eastern side, and in the west, Green Beach. Culebra's most popular beach, Flamenco is picture perfect and has very good snorkeling, but a 20-minute hike from its parking leads to the Playa Tamarindo and Playa Carlos Rosario, beaches enveloped by a barrier reef. A quarter-mile (.4km) to the south is a place called "The Wall," which has 40-foot (12m) drop-offs, rainbow-hued fish, and other delights.
The Best Hotel Beaches
- El San Juan Hotel & Casino (San Juan; tel. 787/791-1000): This posh resort occupies the choicest beachfront real estate in San Juan at the heart of Isla Verde, a fat golden beach lined by luxury hotels and condominiums on one side and aquamarine waters on the other, evoking South Miami. The lush, multilevel pool area and outdoor restaurants form an oasis right off the beach, which pulsates with beautiful crowds and activity every day of the week. You can do it all, from parasailing to taking a catamaran trip, but sunbathing and splashing in the surf are the main attractions here. The hotel has a full array of watersports and other activities and is home to some of the city's best restaurants and nightclubs.
- Copamarina Beach Resort (Caña Gorda; tel. 787/821-0505) lies west of Ponce, Puerto Rico's second-largest city, in the coastal town of Guánica. A laid-back retreat, the resort is located off a breathtaking country road that winds over a mountainside and back down toward the mangrove-lined coast. It sits on one of the prettiest and least crowded beaches in southwestern Puerto Rico, beside the Gúanica Dry Forest nature reserve and bird sanctuary.
- The Ritz-Carlton San Juan Spa & Casino (Isla Verde; tel. 787/253-1700): This elegant sandstone and azure blue resort blends effortlessly into its setting on one of San Juan's most pristine beaches at the secluded eastern end of Isla Verde. Majestic stone-lion fountains and towering rows of royal palm trees run through its pool area. A large gate opens to the white-sand beach, whose tranquil aquamarine waters are sheltered by a large coral reef offshore.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.