Puerto Rico is truly a beach lover’s paradise. With some 270 miles of coastline, Puerto Rico boasts nearly 300 beaches. Whether you’re down for a spirited surf trip, just want to chill out on the shore, or anything in between, there’s a beach just for you. Professional surfer and Puerto Rico native Otto Flores grew up on the Island and began catching waves at age nine. Today, at 46, he still calls this tropical paradise home and is passionate about preserving the destination’s natural beauty.
“As far as sustainability and protecting the ecosystems, I’m a big advocate and activist,” says Flores, who advises visitors to “mind your surroundings—leave the place better than you found it. Take your trash off the beach—do not leave it there. The ocean and Puerto Rico’s incredible beaches are not to be polluted or contaminated.” Rather, they are there to be enjoyed and celebrated for their spectacular beauty, whether you’re riding waves, kayaking tranquil waters, or just soaking up some Vitamin D. Here, he gives Afar his insider’s insights into eight fabulous beaches throughout Puerto Rico.
An uninhabited little island off the east side of Puerto Rico, not far from Fajardo, Cayo Icacos is a popular boating destination for locals and tourists alike, says Flores. “It has turquoise-blue water, and the south side is very flat, making it a draw for beachgoers and boaters. People anchor boats together and do barbecues. There are catamarans that go for the day for tourists, whether you want a booze cruise or snorkeling tour.” It’s also a perfect outing for when you want to completely power down: “There’s nothing on it! No electricity or establishment. It’s a protected area.”
Crash Boat Beach
An ideal place for surfing and underwater sports that also comes with a vibrant party scene, Crash Boat beach is located inside Aguadilla Bay on the northwest coast of Puerto Rico. “When there’s no swell, it’s a beautiful beach with a lot of wreckages for snorkeling and scuba diving. There are lots of fish and marine wildlife in the water. It used to be a military docking zone,” says Flores. “There are prevalent east and northeast winds, and it blows like a lagoon when there are no waves. And when the swell is up, it’s a very cool wave to surf because it breaks off these jetties. Because of the depths right there, the wave quality is world class when the swell hits that side of the bay.”
But you don’t have to be a surfer or snorkeler to enjoy this beautiful beach. You’ll find local food kiosks and vendors along the pier, and you can stay right there on the beach and mingle with locals and tourists from abroad, says Flores.
Located on the west side of Puerto Rico in Rincón—better known as “surf city” or “surf town,” says Flores—Domes Beach attracts surfers from all over, and especially in winter when the snowbirds descend. “It’s a world-class wave, with a right point break, in a beautiful place on the Island. It’s the most consistent spot in Rincón, and the sunsets are pretty incredible there.”
Rincón is a very cool surf town, says Flores, and it’s a gastronomical destination as well. Be sure to check out the famed breakfast/brunch destination, the English Rose, and “a couple very interesting restaurants that overlook the sunset on the mountain side, and farm-to-table destinations such as Crudo, which is half outdoors, with a super rootsy island style. There are also really nice fine dining options as well. Expect really good food and a cool local vibe.” When you’re in Rincón, Flores recommends sampling some Karibe Kombucha—"the boutique distillery is located in Rincón, and they make it from scratch. And there’s a great farmers market there too.”
This “wave-rich area, with multiple surf breaks” is on the southwest coast, in Cabo Rojo. “The beauty of La Playuela is that it’s an enchanting green space that hosts hikers, mountain bikers, and beachgoers,” says Flores. “It’s a breathtaking piece of land with iconic palm trees,” attracting campers, beach lovers, and surfers who come for the consistent year-round waves. “It has a special kind of feel to it. It’s just a magical piece of land.”
Located in the town of Manatí, Mar Chiquita is one of the most popular natural pools in the north coast. “Waves roll in through the lava rock of the bay, but the water dies down and pours out into a beautiful white-sand beach that’s shaped like a seashell,” says Flores.
“With incredible water colors and seascapes that are breathtaking, it’s another hidden gem inside the north coast of Puerto Rico, and also very close to San Juan so it’s good for day trip. But there are Airbnbs and other lodging opportunities there as well.”
Go off the beaten path with a visit to Mona Island, the entirety of which is a natural reserve, protected for its endemic species, notes Flores. “Located between the Dominican Republic and the west side of Puerto Rico, it’s bordered by barrier reefs and pristine beaches.”
It’s a three-to-four-hour boat ride to get there from the mainland. Get up early and go for a day trip or, better yet, get a camping permit and stay overnight, slumbering to the sounds of unspoiled nature. You’ll find “beautiful sea life, big hikes, and sheer cliffs that hit the ocean,” says Flores. “It’s an iconic part of Puerto Rico’s heritage and a beautiful landmark. Go and unplug and tap into nature.”
Playa El Escambrón
Located in San Juan, “the area of El Escambrón is a very unique place,” says Flores. “You’ll find little lagoons, tide pools, and golden-sand beaches and parking here. It’s very urban, mixed with colonial forts and culture.” It’s also home to one of the best local beaches in San Juan, Playa El Escambrón, and a great surf break nearby. “La Ocho is a local surf spot in this area, where lots of tourists go as well,” says Flores. If you’re in San Juan and want to go for a surf or run, it’s bordered by Luis Muñoz Rivera Park, making it a great fresh-air outing. “It has a family vibe, perfect for walking and sightseeing,” says Flores.
For raw beauty, you can’t do better than a day at Sun Bay Beach on the south side of Vieques. “It’s a beautiful white-sand beach that holds incredible green space in an area that is just breathtaking,” says Flores. “When you get there, the simplicity of it will just blow your mind. It’s a great place for beach walks and frolicking with loved ones, and it’s never too cloudy there.”
A small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico, Vieques itself is home to turquoise waters and several white- and black-sand beaches. Flores recommends travelers spend part or all of their vacation there. “Vieques has incredible boutique hotels and breathtaking restaurants—there are amazing culinary experiences there. It’s a small island, but it does have a great community with its own vibe and own culture. You’ll see wild horses running around the island. It used to be part of the U.S. military, so you’ll find incredible deserted beaches that are open to the public now.”
Respect nature—and the local communities—and you’ll be rewarded
Whichever beaches you end up visiting, Flores has a word of advice that will take you far and ensure a great time is had by all: “Be sympathetic to the locals. Treat them with respect and enjoy the warmth of the community,” he shares. “When you put great energy into visiting the place it comes back tenfold. And I don’t just mean the epic sunsets and soft, sandy beaches. The energy of the people here is beautiful—I’ve traveled the world, and it’s the most embracing culture that I’ve found.”