Puerto Rico is one of these islands where there are still too many beaches for few tourists, it seems. Things never really get crowded, and if they do, there’s always a backup plan in another bay or another islet. This place is just too beautiful to just see one beach (or stay in the resort!).
What I love about Puerto Rico is that all beaches are different. Very different. The color of the sand changes from location to location, as does the vegetation and infrastructure. For me, the best way to see it all is to take a car and just go around the island. If you have only a few days, stay on the north shore.
Going out of San Juan, it all starts with the lonely, long stretches of Isla Verde and Carolina’s beaches. The coastal road runs along the shore, but there’s usually little traffic (besides rush hours, when there can be traffic jam) and you rarely see people on this long beach. The reason may be its remoteness of other touristic attractions, and I have also heard that safety is an issue. Be sure to lock your car and take belongings with you!
Further down East, there are a couple of beautiful beaches that have been recently developed by luxury hotels in Rio Grande. Coco Beach is a peninsula that has a Melia Hotel as well as one of Trump’s golf courses. The beaches are still accessible if you make it through the security gate (just pretend you are a tenant in the small village enclosed by the golf courses).
Luquillo Beach is a local favorite and has several beaches: In the west, Fortuna beach is lined with hundreds of kiosks that serve all kinds of great food and drinks. On weekends extremely crowded, this is a must for dining along the way (if you are lucky enough to grab a parking spot). My favorite is Edelweiss Bar & Grill, which serves traditional Puerto Rican food in perfection. Have the coconut rice.
Further east, Playa Azul is a more local and quiet beach that is actually one of my favorites on the island. Accessibility is top, but there’s no infrastructure (besides a few large condo buildings). Yet one beach further down the road, Luquillo town is home to surfers and kite surfers. And, of course, they have their own surf shack which actually serves pretty decent food and has a fantastic view (Boardriders).
On the northeast corner of Puerto Rico, we find Fajardo and a lot of beautiful beaches around. The Nature Reserve “Cabezas de San Juan” is located just on this tip, and at its entrance, you find a fabulous yet shallow beach that runs for about a mile. Full on weekends, but they have a couple of shops that sell empanadas con chapín (fish) or Camaron (shrimp).
Once in Fajardo, the best is to hop on a sailboat that takes you around the small islands east of Puerto Rico. Along a northerly barrier reef, the islands of Icacos are a precious gem for hanging out and sipping rum on the boat. Further east, there’s Culebra island with its Flamenco Beach – said to be one of the worldwide top beaches (I can confirm that!). Culebra is also an excellent spot to find a nice meal.
But also the South of Puerto Rico has many beach destinations worth a visit. On the southeast side, coming down from Fajardo there are more quiet spots with cozy small hotels nestled beneath the beach, such as Patillas or Maunabo.
In the very south there is another one of these favorite spots of mine that is a must-see. Near Guánica there is a State Forest Reserve with some of the most beautiful natural seashores you can find in the Caribbean. The spot is also called “Gilligan’s Island” because the original movie was filmed there. The nearby town of Guayanilla has excellent beach-side restaurants with traditional Puerto Rican fare (such as Mofongo).