Photo by Nick Spinder / Shutterstock
Photo by J Steele / Shutterstock
Mar Chiquita is just 45 minutes from San Juan airport.
Beach life in Puerto Rico is all bioluminescent waters, white sands, and bathtub temperatures.
If you can dream it, you can beach it in Puerto Rico. With over 300 miles of coastline between the main island and smaller islands like Vieques and Culebra, beaches here unspool in cove after crescent of sandy perfection. That means there’s surely more than one beach in Puerto Rico with your name scrawled into its sands.
Will you flop down at a natural pool shaped like a half-moon on Puerto Rico’s north coast in Manatí or head instead to one of the idyllic beaches beloved by the surf set on the island’s west coast?
Read on for a few of the best beaches in Puerto Rico for getting away from it all.
Within 45 minutes of leaving the airport in San Juan, you can be in beautiful Manatí on Puerto Rico’s north coast, a pretty region distinguished by looming limestone hills that peek from jungle-clad surrounds. The area is known for its blissful beaches, too, lined with lagoons and natural pools; among the best of them is Playa Mar Chiquita.
Here, a crescent-like sweep of beach is lapped by calm, protected waters a glacier-blue hue. While it’s quieter during the week, weekends bring food trucks selling empanadas and piña coladas to Playa Mar Chiquita—along with lots of local families enjoying the shallow waters. Rinse off from the beach later in one of the sublime outdoor showers in suites at the Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve just west of San Juan.
This rugged sweep of white sand bookended by forested headlands on the northwest coast of Culebra is well worth the 20-minute hike to reach it along a dirt path that winds from the parking lot at Flamenco Beach. After walking along the forested fringes of the Reserva Natural de Culebra, you’ll arrive at Playa Carlos Rosario and its prime snorkeling waters, where clouds of reef fish often school in the shallows.
If you prefer to arrive by boat, it’s easy enough to find captains offering their services back in Culebra’s main town, Culebra Pueblo (Dewey) for about $50 to $60 per person for boats with at least four passengers. The trip takes about 20 minutes.
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Vieques’s bioluminescent lagoon tends to hog the spotlight, and it’s stunning, for sure. But beach lovers might be even more impressed by the island’s powdery stretches like Playa Caracas, one of the finest examples of a quintessential Caribbean beach. Located on the island’s south coast, it’s one of the most easily accessible beaches within the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge yet rarely crowded. Dramatic rock formations surrounding the chalk white crescent of sand are carpeted with lush vegetation, and the surrounding waters are usually as transparent as a swimming pool.
To continue the zen theme, book a suite at the farmhouse-style boutique inn and yoga retreat, Finca Victoria, and stay surrounded by cacti and flowering gardens.
Just off Puerto Rico’s southern coast and also referred to as Gilligan’s Island, Cayo Aurora is a tiny cay that’s part of the Cayos de Caña Gorda. It’s just off shore from the mainland and the subtropical dry forests of the Bosque Estatal de Guánica, a United Nations Biosphere Reserve.
It’s also easily accessible via private boat tours (or the ferry, when it’s running) from nearby Playa de Guánica, just 10 minutes away. If you’re feeling ambitious and find someone renting kayaks, you can also use your own paddle power to reach it. How you spend your day on the cay is up to you. For most, it’s all about frolicking in the natural surrounds, snorkeling in a mangrove-lined lagoon, or relaxing on another pristine Puerto Rico beach.
The visual parfait of diamond-dust white sand meeting turquoise and sapphire seas awaits at Zoni Beach on the east side of Culebra Island. From April to June, leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles haul themselves ashore on a beach lined with sea caves to nest.
Far less crowded than Culebra’s other main beach, Flamenco, Zoni is an idyllic place to linger along palm-lined shores or, come summer, bathe in waters that approach bathtub temperatures. The sea is usually calm, too, because the beach is sheltered by the islands of Cayo Norte and Culebrita, just offshore, which add to the impressive views.
Just east of Playa Caracas and within the lush and undeveloped setting of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, Playa Pata Prieta is often called Secret Beach. And even if it’s not really a secret, it is one of the quieter and prettier beaches on an island brimming with them, ribboned with a thin strip of sand and backed by thick shade-providing palms and other lush tropical foliage. On calm days, the waters are as smooth as a mirror and beckon beachgoers off the sand to swim among swirls of tropical reef fish. (Don’t forget your snorkeling gear.)
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Continue the reef theme with a stay at El Blok Hotel, where the architecture was inspired by Puerto Rico’s coral reefs and contemporary suites overlook the mangroves.
Just north of the surf haven of Aguadilla in Puerto Rico’s northwestern corner, Playa Punta Borinquen is a favorite among local families who come to spread out and enjoy its wide, golden sands. Surfers gravitate here and along beaches to the south and north, too, where strong northwest swells pump out perfect tubes from shallow reef breaks. And between its natural beauty and killer waves, it’s no surprise the beach was declared a World Surfing Reserve in late 2018 by the Saves the Waves Coalition.
In Cabo Rajo on Puerto Rico’s southwest coast, Playa Buyé is known for the clarity of its waters on an island lapped by them. Stretching roughly a half-mile long, it’s a favorite spot for beachgoers who enjoy a strand where they can go for a decently long stroll, too. Picnic tables shaded by almond trees and swaying palms are an ideal spot to unpack lunch with million-dollar views of the typically translucent sea. On the weekends, things can take on a party vibe, as the beach is a favorite among locals. But during the week, you can find long lonely stretches to unfurl your beach towel and breathe in the briny ocean air.
Another fantastic Culebra beach awaits near the southernmost tip of the island at Playa Punta Soldado, where a sweep of golden sand fronts a semi-protected bay lapped by clear waters. Be sure to bring a mask and fins: There’s excellent snorkeling just offshore from the leftmost end of the beach.
With its lush hillside setting strung with hammocks and villas overlooking Fulladoza Bay, Club Seabourne makes for a quiet boutique hotel stay a 10-minute drive from Playa Punta Soldado. Several companies in Culebra Pueblo (Dewey) rent golf carts or jeeps to make it easy to get around and explore.
You reach Playa Escondida, in the northeastern corner of Puerto Rico, via an easy 25-minute hike through a forest of tangled mangroves from the western end of Fajardo’s far busier Seven Seas Beach. Along the way, you may wonder whose domain you’re in, with large holes tunneled by land crabs littering the sandy path. Once you emerge at the secluded setting of Playa Escondida, chances are you’ll have the beach to yourself or be sharing it with only a few others. The seas can be dangerous to swim in when rough. As long as things are calm, wade in and enjoy the solitude.
>> Next: AFAR’s Puerto Rico Travel Guide
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