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Puerto Rico's Secret Beaches

Some of Puerto Rico's most beautiful and isolated beaches lie on the island's southwestern coast, on the Caribbean Sea, far from major highways. Stretching between Ponce in the east and Cabo Rojo on Puerto Rico's extreme southwestern tip, these beaches flank some of the least densely populated parts of the island. And because the boundaries between them are relatively fluid, only a local resident (or perhaps a professional geographer) could say for sure where one ends and the other begins.

If you consider yourself an aficionado of isolated beaches, it's worth renting a car and striking out for these remote locales. Drive westward from Ponce along Hwy. 2, branching south along Rte. 116 to Guánica, the self-anointed gateway and capital of this string of "secret beaches."

By far the most accessible and appealing beach is Caña Gorda. Set about a quarter mile (.4km) south of Guánica, at the edge of a legally protected marsh that's known for its rich bird life and thick reeds, Caña Gorda is a sprawling expanse of pale beige sand that's dotted with picnic areas and a beach refreshment stand/bar, showers, bathrooms and other facilities. Just beyond the public beach is the well-recommended hotel, the Copamarina Beach Resort (tel. 787/821-0505). You can check in for a night or two of sun-flooded R&R. Even if you're not staying at the hotel, consider dropping in for a cuba libre, a margarita, or a meal.

Farther along is Ballena Beach, which stretches for a mile or more along a deserted beachfront, protected by rocky bluffs and a grove of towering palm trees. There are several other smaller beaches as Rte. 333 cuts farther into the dry forest and ends at an undeveloped parking area, adjacent to a foundation built right on the coast, with the sandy Tamarindo Beach beyond it. Hills surround the area, covered by the dwarfed pines at the outskirts of the reserve.

Another beautiful beach in town is Playa Santa, which also lies off Rte. 116 (the exit to Rte. 325 is signposted). The white-sand beach has incredibly tranquil salty water, and there is a string of eateries serving snacks and cold drinks around a harbor beside it. La Jungla and Manglillo are two other beautiful, undeveloped beaches bordering here, with great snorkeling because of coral reefs just offshore and interesting mangrove canals. The road to Playa Santa first cuts through a section of undeveloped dry forest before ending at the beach town. An unmarked dirt road on the left-hand side leads to another breathtakingly beautiful sand beach.

In the very southwest sector of Puerto Rico are some relatively hidden and very secluded beaches, although getting to them is a bit difficult along some potholed roads. Head west on Rte. 101, cutting south at the junction with Rte. 301, which will carry you to one of the most westerly beaches in Puerto Rico, Playa Sucia. The beach opens onto Bahia Sucia, whose name rather unappetizingly translates as "Dirty Bay." Actually it isn't dirty; it's a lovely spot. Hikers willing to walk a while will also be rewarded for their efforts from the Boquerón public beach and over the bluffs bordering it.

All these beaches might be hard to reach, but persevere and you'll be met with warm water and long, uncrowded stretches of sand, where towering king palms and salt-tolerant sea grapes provide an idyllic tropical backdrop for sun and surf. Keep in mind that most of the beaches mentioned here have virtually no services or public utilities. Pack what you'll need for the day -- food, water, sunscreen, and so forth.

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.