The Best Beaches in Puerto Rico
Beautiful beaches are what put Puerto Rico on the tourism map in the first place. The island’s coastline is a string of sun-soaked spots ideal for swimming, surfing, snorkeling, socializing, or enjoying your solitude. And then there are the offshore isles of Vieques and Culebra—two of the loveliest specks of paradise in all of the Caribbean.
Picking the best beach for you depends on which of the above sights and activities appeal to you the most. That’s why we’ve organized this rundown of the island’s best stretches of sand according to each destination’s primary draw. No matter what you look for in a beach, you’ll find it in Puerto Rico. Wepa!
This long expanse of sand in the resort-filled Isla Verde district east of San Juan borders tranquil waters protected by an offshore reef from rough Atlantic currents. Carolina has public facilities including outdoor showers and lockers; directly to the west lies the slightly more secluded Pine Grove Beach, a crescent-shaped beauty curving between the Ritz-Carlton and the Courtyard by Marriott. Numerous bars and restaurants are within walking distance, too.
- Beyond San Juan: At Guánica’s Playa Santa and Caña Gorda in southwestern Puerto Rico, the water stays warm and calm year-round.
Located 30 miles east of San Juan, Luquillo attracts local families as well as visitors who know they’ll find better sand and clearer waters than in the city. The vast beach faces a crescent-shaped bay bordered by a coconut grove. Coral reefs protect the crystal-clear lagoon from choppy surf, making this a safe spot for young children to wade into the ocean. You can also try your hand at kayaking, fishing, snorkeling, or sailing. There are tent sites, picnic areas, changing rooms, lockers, and other handy facilities for day trippers.
- Picture perfect: Luquillo is one of Puerto Rico’s most photographed beaches, owing to its prototypically Caribbean white sand and palm trees.
Ocean Park, between the Condado and Isla Verde areas along San Juan’s coast, is a favorite spot for young sanjuaneros to congregate, especially on weekends. Less family-oriented than many hotel beaches, the upscale area has something of a Miami vibe, with lots of bikinis and young professionals cutting loose in waterfront bars and restaurants, though things remain decidedly more low-key than on South Beach (the area is still residential and there are more B&Bs than high-rises). The sand is lined with palm and sea grape trees—a nice backdrop for swimming, kite surfing, and mingling with trendy locals.
- LGBT friendly: Most of San Juan’s gay bars are further west, in the city’s Santurce Arts District. But Ocean Park is as popular with LGBT beachgoers as it is with straight ones—and overall, Puerto Rico is probably the gay-friendliest spot in the Caribbean.
Puerto Rico’s northwest coast is generally regarded as one of the best surf spots on the globe, especially in winter, when waves can be as high as 20 feet. Rincón is the capital of the island’s surfing scene, with famed beaches including Puntas, Domes, Tres Palmas, and Steps. Primetime for hanging-ten is from November through April, though summer storms have been known to kick up the surf, too. When the waves calm down, northwestern beaches have excellent snorkeling opportunities, thanks to nearby coral reefs inhabited by marine life.
- Beyond Rincón: The neighboring towns of Isabela and Aguadilla have a number of good surfing spots, too.
Located in Puerto Rico’s southwestern corner, Boquerón is like a tropical take on Cape Cod. The beach town stands along a 3-mile bay lined with palm-fringed white sand on both sides. Ramshackle open-air establishments line the waterfront, where you can get drinks and seafood like fresh oysters that are shucked on the spot and doused with hot sauce. In addition to providing tons of Instagram fodder, the beach has calm waters where you can swim, sail, snorkel, and fish.
- Go birding at the nearby Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge, a habitat for many native bird species, including the endangered yellow-shouldered blackbird.
Persistent trade winds of around 22 miles per hour blow across Puerto Rico from east to west year-round, making the island a popular destination for windsurfers and kitesurfers. Those sports are especially popular in San Juan—you’ll see thrill seekers of all skill levels harnessing the elements of wind and water with boards and sails along the beaches at Pine Grove, Ocean Park, and Punta Las Marías between Ocean Park and Isla Verde. A slightly less touristed alternative is the Condado Lagoon, located just behind the city’s oceanfront strip of hotels. This is a good spot to try kayaking, too.
- In the northwest: The area from Rincón to Isabela is another center for windsurfing, owing to strong winds throughout the year.
One of the unalloyed joys of Puerto Rico is happening upon a secluded cove or unspoiled stretch of white sand far from crowds and bustle. In Fajardo (about an hour’s drive east of San Juan), a 2-mile hike from the Seven Seas Public Beach will bring you to beautiful El Convento Beach, stretching for miles along an undeveloped shoreline. It's likely you’ll have the sand and aquamarine water all to yourself—save for the sea turtles and other marine life that frequent the spot.
- Other secret beaches can be found in the southwest, between Cabo Rojo and Ponce. In Guánica, for instance, Las Paldas and La Jungla beaches are often empty except during holiday weekends.
For a worthwhile snorkeling excursion, you want coral reefs teeming with interesting marine life—ideally located close to the shore. Southwestern Puerto Rico, from Guánica through Boquerón, fits the bill, and the area is less crowded than the northeastern part of the island, where San Juan is. The northwest, from Rincón to Isabela, is worth strapping goggles on for as well, but only in the summer, after winter’s big waves quiet down.
- Best snorkeling in the east: Fajardo’s El Convento Beach and the offshore isles of Vieques and Culebra (pictured above)
Known as the Spanish Virgin Islands, lovely, out-of-the-way Vieques and Culebra represent for many visitors the quintessence of Caribbean beach bliss. Though they’re not quite the undiscovered gems they once were, these two tiny isles off the mainland’s east coast still offer postcard-ready beaches, stylish inns, and charming towns free of chain stores. Vieques is the more developed of the two, with upscale resorts and gourmet restaurants; Culebra is even more relaxed. From its most popular beach, Flamenco (pictured above), a 20-minute hike will bring you to Playa Tamarindo and Playa Carlos Rosario, which are surrounded by a barrier reef. A quarter mile to the south lies the island’s snorkeling highlight, known as The Wall—where you can swim amid 40-foot dropoffs and rainbow-hued fish.
- Getting there: To get to Vieques or Culebra, you can take a short plane ride from San Juan or a ferry from Fajardo. The latter is by far the more affordable option and lasts about 75 minutes to Vieques and about 45 minutes to Culebra.