No two beaches are alike in Puerto Rico. Balnearios are large, government-maintained beaches with bathroom and shower facilities, picnic tables, and snack bars. Some have lounge-chair rentals, lifeguards, and campsites. Expect to pay $3–5 per vehicle to get in, and be aware that they get crowded on weekends and holidays.
There are also many wilderness beaches, which are typically remote and devoid of development and facilities. Some beaches have big waves best suited to surfing, and others are as calm as bathwater and ideal for swimming.
One thing all the beaches have in common is their accessibility to the public. There is no such thing as a private beach in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico’s Best Balnearios
Balneario La Monserrate
Balneario La Monserrate, commonly called Luquillo Beach, is considered one of the island’s most beautiful beaches. It features a wide flat crescent of sand, a shady palm grove, and calm shallow waters. A couple of food vendors sell fritters and piña coladas, among other refreshments. There are several picnic shelters, as well as toilets and shower facilities. Camping is allowed with a permit.
Balneario Sun Bay
Balneario Sun Bay is Vieques’s crowning jewel of beaches. Pull your car to the edge of a sand dune and mark your spot on the smooth sand. Shade is spotty here, so bring a beach umbrella if you plan to stay for the day. Modest picnic shelters, bathrooms, and shower facilities are available. Camping is allowed with a permit.
Culebra is the lucky site of Playa Flamenco, one of “America’s Best Beaches,” according to the Travel Channel. The wide, mile-long, horseshoe-shaped beach boasts fine white sand and calm, aquamarine water. Unlike Puerto Rico’s other publicly maintained beaches, Playa Flamenco is home to two hotels—Villa Flamenco Beach and Culebra Beach Villas (the latter operates Coconuts Beach Grill, serving sandwiches and beverages to beachgoers). An abandoned graffiti-covered tank on the sand is a reminder of the U.S. Navy’s presence. Camping is allowed with a permit.
Balneario de Boquerónis
In addition to its long white beach and calm waters, publicly maintained Balneario de Boquerónis exceptional because of its excellent facilities, which are bigger, nicer, and more modern than those found at most balnearios. The property is quite shady, and in addition to the usual showers, toilets, and picnic tables, there is a huge events pavilion, a baseball field, and a cafeteria.
Balneario Cerro Gordo
Balneario Cerro Gordo in Vega Alta on the north coast is a large protected cove with calm waters and a pristine sandy beach surrounded by hills covered in lush vegetation. It boasts the best campgrounds of any of the balnearios because of its spacious location atop a hilly peninsula overlooking the ocean. There’s also great surfing to be had here.
Puerto Rico’s Best Wilderness Beaches
Bosque Estatal de Piñones
Bosque Estatal de Piñones offers several miles of gorgeous wilderness beach just minutes east of San Juan. Drive along Carretera 187 and look for sandy unmarked roads along the coast where you can pull your car right up to the beach and climb down the sand dunes into the water. For lunch, grab an empanadilla and coco frio from one of the food kiosks on the way. Plan on leaving by late afternoon because the sand fleas tend to attack when the sun starts to go down.
Playa Mar Chiquita
Playa Mar Chiquita in Manatí is a tiny little protected cove located at the base of limestone cliffs on the north coast. A coral reef nearly encloses the calm, shallow basin of water ideal for taking small children swimming. When you need some respite from the sun, explore the cliff-side caves.
It requires a boat ride to get there, but Culebrita, a cayo off the coast of Culebra, is the place to go if you really want to get away from it all. In addition to multiple beaches perfect for swimming or shore snorkeling, there are several tidal pools and a lovely, abandoned lighthouse. To get there, either rent a boat or catch a water taxi at the docks in Dewey.
Puerto Rico’s Best Beaches for Surfing
Although surf spots can be found all around Puerto Rico’s coastline, the most popular area is the northwest coast in the municipalities of Isabela, Aguadilla, and Rincón.
Playa de Jobos
Playa de Jobos in Isabela is an island favorite. The breakpoint off Puntas Jacinto is renowned for its right-breaking tube, and a shady parking lot right on the beach provides easy access. Within walking distance are a number of casual restaurants and bars. Happy Belly offers beachside service.
Rincón is the surfing capital of Puerto Rico, thanks to literally dozens of popular surf sites. By far the favorite is Domes, located in front of the green domes of an abandoned nuclear power plant known by the acronym BONUS. This easy-access spot features long hollow waves that reach a height of eight feet. Domes is often crowded, especially on weekends.
Tres Palmas is another world-class site in Rincón. The waves here are very long and fast, and require a 10-minute hike to access.
Aguadilla also boasts several outstanding surf spots. One popular spot is Wilderness, located on the former Ramey Air Force Base. Just drive right through the golf course to get there. Waves break right and left, and swells reach up to 16 feet in height. Nearby El Rincón Surf Shop is a great source of information on current conditions and hot spots.
Puerto Rico’s Best Beach for Snorkeling and Diving
Puerto Rico’s best snorkeling and diving is done offshore, but there are two beaches where underwater life can be explored.
Balneario El Escambrón
The publicly maintained beach in the San Juan neighborhood of Puerta de Tierra features a small crescent beach on a protected cove. On the ocean floor is a collapsed bridge that provides an excellent site for underwater exploration.
Playa Carlos Rosario
For easy access to a site rich in marine life, visit Playa Carlos Rosario, a narrow beach flanked by boulders and a protruding coral reef in Culebra. The underwater visibility is usually quite good here, and the coral reef, where you can see all kinds of colorful fish and coral formations, is teeming with marine life.
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.