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Pristine beaches, tropical Edens, and idyllic strips of paradise ... the beaches of Puerto Rico are varied, plentiful, and easy to find. After all, this is a small island. But which beach should you target when you're ready to spend a day in the sun? Here are a few snapshots of my favorite beaches to tempt you.
Destination: Culebrita Island
Playa Tortuga practically demands that you take the short water taxi ride from Culebra Island to Culebrita.Continue to 2 of 24 below.
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Destination: Vieques Island
Red, Blue, and Green. These are the colors by which three of Vieques' best-loved beaches are known. Red Beach, the largest and probably most popular of the three, is a long stretch of sand where you can almost always find an isolated spot to call your own.Continue to 3 of 24 below.
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Destination: Palominitos (off Fajardo)
The tiny island of Palominitos is one of the most picturesque island beaches you'll ever see, thanks to Hurricane George, which came through and wiped out about half of the island's trees, leaving a perfectly clean and sparkling beach. The site of several commercials and photo shoots, Palominitos is just a short boat ride from Fajardo.Continue to 4 of 24 below.
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Destination: Culebra Island
Considered one of the cleanest and finest beaches in the Caribbean, Flamenco Beach is an impossibly beautiful horseshoe of wide sandy beach framed by green hills and features dazzling, variegated blue waters. It's by far the biggest draw for visitors to Culebra Island.Continue to 5 of 24 below.
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Ocean Park Beach
Destination: San Juan
Nestled between the fashionable resort districts of Condado and Isla Verde, Ocean Park has a laid back vibe, and its beach is a popular draw for those who don't want to see or be seen.Continue to 6 of 24 below.
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Destination: Culebrita Island
The multi-hued blue waters of West Beach on Culebrita make for great snorkeling and wading. While the beach itself is quite narrow, the shallow, warm waters and the chance to see turtles, rays, and a variety of fish just off-shore make it a favorite day-trip destination.Continue to 7 of 24 below.
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Destination: Cabo Rojo
Among the best beaches in southwest Puerto Rico, Playa Boquerón has all the amenities you need, including picnic tables, parking, gazebos, handicap facilities, nearby lodging, a cafeteria, playground, and restrooms.Continue to 8 of 24 below.
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Destination: San Juan
Stretching along San Juan's resort strip, Condado Beach is arguably the capital city's best place to swim, sunbathe, and star-gaze. Some of the island's most exclusive shopping, lodging and dining are just a few steps away.Continue to 9 of 24 below.
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More popular with the locals than with tourists, Luquillo Beach is a lovely beach fringed by neat rows of palm trees. Far from the maddening crowds of San Juan, it's an ideal day-trip from the city that you can combine with El Yunque National Rainforest.Continue to 10 of 24 below.
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Sun Bay Beach
Destination: Vieques Island
Sun Bay Beach is the most popular beach on Vieques, with good reason. A large, perfect crescent framed by palm trees, it is the only public beach on the island with lifeguards, restrooms, and changing areas.Continue to 11 of 24 below.
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El Escambrón Beach
Destination: San Juan
Removed from most of the high-end resorts (but conveniently close to the Hotel Normandie and the Caribe Hilton), El Escambrón Beach in the Puerta de Tierra neighborhood of San Juan is especially popular with Sanjuaneros. A public beach with ample facilities and plenty of parking space (a premium in San Juan), it also has an excellent local restaurant.Continue to 12 of 24 below.
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A tiny treasure that's well off the beaten path, Mar Chiquita, or "Little Sea," is just a short drive from San Juan, but the casual tourist doesn't know about it. The beach is especially picturesque for the twin arms of coral and rock that encircle the beach, leaving a narrow opening that becalms the rough ocean waters.Continue to 13 of 24 below.
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Playa Combate - The Longest Beach in Puerto Rico
A perennial favorite with Puerto Ricans, Playa Combate needs no introduction to the average Sanjuanero. With good reason, they love it here.
"Battle Beach," which is the translation of Playa Combate, naturally carries some history. It is believed that on this beach a battle indeed took place between invaders from the north and local villagers, who fought with axes and so earned the nickname mata con hachas, or "kill with axes."
To be honest, these days the history lesson takes a back seat to the sheer indolent beauty of this place, which occupies a quiet corner of Cabo Rojo and a special place in Puerto Rican hearts. On any long weekend or holiday, expect a mob scene at Combate, with parking next to impossible, plenty of kiosks and activities, and large families enjoying one of the most pleasant beaches on the island.Continue to 14 of 24 below.
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Domes Beach - The Surfer's Paradise
I'd be willing to bet that just about every surfer who knows Rincón has been to Domes Beach at least once. But those who don't surf will love it just as much.
Rincón in Spanish means "Corner," and that's a good way to describe Domes Beach. Tucked away at the end of an isolated stretch of road, Domes is one of the most popular surfing beaches in Puerto Rico. The beach draws crowds almost every morning, and by seven in the morning you'll find them testing the waves. Domes also has one of the more unusual and picturesque backdrops. The beach is framed on one end by the Rincón Lighthouse, and on the other by the massive dome, the last remnant of a bona fide nuclear reactor that the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission built in the 1960s. The reactor naturally gives Domes Beach its name, along with the worth-visiting "Reactor Reef" north of the beach. The nuclear materials have long been removed, and the dome now stands silent sentinel over one of Puerto Rico's most iconic surfing beaches.Continue to 15 of 24 below.
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Bahía Sucia - The Not-So-Dirty Beach
Talk about a misnomer. Bahía Sucia means "Dirty Bay" in Spanish, but nothing could be further from the truth at one of Puerto Rico's most beautiful surprises.
On busy weekends, authorities will sometimes rope off the entrance to Bahía Sucia, which is located at the end of Route 301 in Cabo Rojo, along Puerto Rico's Southwest Coast. If they do so, you'll have to park a good half-mile away and walk in the blistering sun along some pretty unattractive terrain, as I did one Saturday morning.
It was totally worth it. Framed by a picturesque lighthouse, this beach is a deep, golden crescent of sand facing warm, shallow waters of variegated blue. The rugged coastline stretches out like loving arms, protecting against the rougher waves and creating a calm and absolutely beautiful inlet. And it is big enough for plenty of people to enjoy it. Bahía Sucia is one of the jewels of the Southwest Coast if not all of Puerto Rico.Continue to 16 of 24 below.
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Bahía Salinas - Salt Flats and White Beach
Take a look at how many people are enjoying this beach. Know what day it is? Saturday. At about 1:00 pm. And Bahía Salinas belongs to just a few lucky souls.
In Cabo Rojo, the beach that everyone wants to get to is Bahía Sucia, with good reason. But there is another, isolated beach, which requires effort but rewards its guests with miles of nearly deserted beachfront, a distant view of a picturesque lighthouse, and warm, calm waters. To get to Bahía Salinas, you have to trudge through the dry forest and barren salt flats of the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge, then veer off to the left (you can grab a free map at the visitors' center) and traverse the dunes and wild brush at select points to reach the long, beautiful stretch of sand that is Bahía Salinas.
When I visited the beach, I decided to take the nature trail first, and as a result was hot, tired and in need of immediate relief by the end of the trek. So, you can imagine how wonderful it felt to stumble onto the beach and... practically call it my own for the next hour or two.
Is Bahía Sucia more beautiful? Yes, without a doubt. But if you want privacy and a small feeling of discovery, along with a perfectly beautiful beach, make your way to Bahía Salinas. They're right next to each other, but miles apart.Continue to 17 of 24 below.
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Punta Tuna is a remote and little-known beach with no trace of man's involvement, other than a small but pretty lighthouse.
Maunabo, on the southeast corner of Puerto Rico, hugs the coast and offers access to some of the island's more rustic beaches; and by that, we mean beaches that have no lifeguard towers, bathing facilities, kiosks or parking lots. In other words, beaches that are unspoiled, just golden tracts of sand wedged between the beautiful greenery and mountains of the southeastern coast and the sparkling blue Caribbean Sea.
How to get here? If you're staying in the area (say, at a place like the Caribe Playa Beach Resort), they'll be happy to point the way. Otherwise, just follow Route 3 to Route 760, and travel south until you run out of road and reach the lighthouse. From here, there's a trail that takes you to the beach.Continue to 18 of 24 below.
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Pools Beach is a small beach, perfect for kids and accessible via a dirt trail with no paved roads or steps leading to it ... all the more reason to come.
Part of the Puntas beach strip in Rincón, Pools is named for the shallow, calm stretch of turquoise water that laps against a small cove. The beach is tremendously popular with families and kids, and also has great snorkeling. A rocky outcropping at one end, splitting Pools Beach from the adjacent Sandy Beach, helps explain the protected waters.
There are no public facilities at Pools, but don't let that deter you from the warm, shallow water and lazy waves. Also, climb the rocky point for great views. There is a local legend that the famous Puerto Rican pirate Roberto Cofresi has scratched out seven marks on a rock here that provides clues to where he buried his treasure.Continue to 19 of 24 below.
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It's only natural that Sandy Beach follows Pools. A rocky point separates them, but even without the physical barrier, these two beaches are quite different.
It's not the most original name for a beach, but Sandy Beach isn't popular because of its originality. In fact, you'll find a cluster of very typical and low-key restaurants, bars and guest houses (or rentals) along this long stretch of beachfront. The waves here lure its share of surfers, the bars draw its share of wayfarers and tourists, and the vibe is your average tropical seaside hangout.Continue to 20 of 24 below.
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Red, Blue, and Green. Three colors, three beaches, each of them different. Green is the most remote... but you'll be glad you came.
You have to want to be on Green Beach to get to Green Beach. Vieques’s westernmost beach is remote, by this island’s standards. To get here, you have to pass a metal bridge a mangrove lagoon, and a dirt road or two. Then, when you arrive, you’ll notice immediately that this is a long but narrow beach, nothing on the scale of its color-coded cousins, Red and Blue (the names, incidentally, come from the U.S. Navy, who used the colors to identify the beaches when conducting training exercises).
Then you see the coconut palms, the occasional sailboat or two, the edge-of-the-world isolation, and, in the distance, mainland Puerto Rico. The tip of Green Beach, Punta Arenas, is the closest point to the mainland. And you think that maybe, this was the beach you wanted all along. Just one thing though: be careful of overstaying your welcome, because the beach’s... more permanent residents - the sand flies – will make your life miserable in the late afternoon.Continue to 21 of 24 below.
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Black Sand Beach - Vieques
Yes, the sand is black in patches. Yes, it is an absolutely beautiful beach. And yes, it's worth the trek.
Black Sand Beach is one of the most unusual beaches in Puerto Rico, thanks to its volcanic, black-tinged sand. But to appreciate it, you'll have to work to get to this isolated half-mile stretch of paradise. Take Route 201 south past Route 996, which takes you Esperanza, and keep going until you pass a small bridge. There’s a cleared-away patch to the side of the road where two cars can park; stop here and follow the opening down to a broad trail. It’s a relatively easy walk (although with plenty of cobwebs and no-see-ums along the way) to the beach, which is often desolate.Continue to 22 of 24 below.
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Just a few miles from glittering Isla Verde Beach, Carolina Beach doesn't get as much attention from tourists... but it sure is popular with the locals.
One of only two balnearios, or public beaches, in San Juan, Carolina Beach is a lovely white sand beach just a few miles away from tourist hotspots in Isla Verde. This means that you get full beach facilities (parking, lifeguards, and restrooms) along with a palm-lined beach that locals love and more tourists might want to get to know.
It's easily accessible by taxi or car, but too far to walk from your hotel ... and that's its only drawback.Continue to 23 of 24 below.
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There are a few reasons to make the trip from San Juan to Piñones ... starting with Piñones Beach.
Located just a few miles east of Carolina (about ten minutes from Isla Verde by car when there's no traffic), Piñones is a relaxed beachfront that comes alive with a bang on weekends, when locals swarm to its golden-sand beach, its numerous kiosks serving all kinds of crispy, fried and authentic goodies, and its pleasant boardwalk.
Throw in a gourmet eatery like Soleil Beach Club (which offers free transportation to and from your San Juan hotel), and you've got no excuse not to make the trip out here if you want a lovely change of pace from the capital.Continue to 24 of 24 below.
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Isla Verde Beach
Isla Verde Beach has made Isla Verde so popular that it's essentially been adopted by San Juan ... even though it's not technically part of San Juan.
Isla Verde Beach is a destination unto itself. Ringed by luxury hotels like the Ritz-Carlton, San Juan and the El San Juan Hotel & Casino, it's a beautiful and busy beach that draws tourists from all over the capital, and the playground of the hotel strip that fronts it.
The beach's generally calm waters make it a great place for water sports, sunbathing, and swimming. The only hardship you might find is the lack of parking, should you choose to drive.