Best Beaches in Puerto Rico
What’s not to love about Puerto Rico? This knockout Caribbean destination has it all—a thriving culinary scene led by outstanding homegrown chefs like José Enrique, stunning natural attractions such as El Yunque National Rainforest, and of course, beautiful beaches. You don’t have to go far to find them. Touch down in the bustling capital of San Juan, and you’ll be sipping a piña colada, mingling with locals, and hearing the waves crash on Condado—one of the most iconic stretches of sand in the whole island—within the hour.
Of course, sometimes you want to be away from the scene. And that’s what the quiet southwestern side of Puerto Rico—renowned for it snorkeling—is for. You can also head to the beautiful islands of Vieques and Culebra, known as the Spanish Virgin Islands.
These two gems are located off the east of Puerto Rico, six miles and 17 miles, respectively, and accessible via tiny sea planes or by ferry. Once there, you’ll find the vibe is even more laid-back; the beaches, arguably more pristine. On Vieques, you can see incredible attractions like the Bioluminescent Bay, which illuminates at night thanks to tiny micro-organisms. These microscopic species, when touched or displaced by people swimming in the water, let off an otherworldly glow. (You have to see it to believe it!)
Vieques is also home to a standout new design-forward hotel—El Blok, a winner on Travel + Leisure’s It List for 2015. The curving, concrete structure with its perforated façade is an Instagram-opp on its own: get indoors, and you’ll find that the 22 rooms all have outdoor terraces, with sweeping views of the island’s mountains.
So whether you’re looking to fly off to the Spanish Virgin Islands or simply stay put the center of Old San Juan, you don’t have to worry—these beautiful beaches are accessible to everyone. Public bathing beaches that have lifeguards, restrooms, and showers, and are managed by the Puerto Rico National Parks Company are called balnearios. But keep in mind that all beaches, even hotel beaches, are considered public.
Families flock to this crescent-shaped beach located 30 miles east of San Juan because the waters are shallow, warm, and placid. And behind the beach is El Yunque National Rainforest, one of Puerto Rico’s top natural attractions. Luquillo is a balneario, so you’ll find lifeguards, showers, and bathrooms. Vendors also sell cocktails, ice cream, and various snacks. Note: You’ll have to pay a $5 fee for parking.
Just west of San Juan, Dorado Beach is a tony enclave with a unique history: this area was once home to a 1,400-acre sugar plantation, and then the property of eco-pioneer Laurance Rockefeller. Today, you’ll find the luxurious Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, along this windswept white sand cove. Guests can enjoy lounging in seclusion along the shore; try Mi Casa, a restaurant by Jose Andres; or walk the 11-mile long Rockefeller Trail.
This two-mile-long golden crescent offers gentle waves, and is backed by plenty of swaying coconut palms. It’s the ideal setting for a resort—which is why the St. Regis Bahia Beach, a luxury property catering to both families and couples, has subtly set up shop along the shore. Adventure-seekers can try their hands at water-skiing, snorkeling, and scuba diving. On land, they can set out to see famous sites such as El Yunque National Rainforest and the Fajardo Bioluminescent Bay.
Two miles outside San Juan, Pinones is a relaxed and carefree spot where you can rent kayaks for a paddle around the lagoon and its mangrove islands. Locals also like to ride bikes along the boardwalk, which is essentially a nature trail. And you can stop and sample local dishes like arepas, pinchos de pollo, and bacalitos at any of the many food kiosks.
This is one of the most beloved spots in all of Rincon, a magnificent stretch with unbelievable sunset vistas. Sandy Beach is lined by apartments, hotels, rentals, restaurants, and beach bars like Tamboo Tavern, voted by Travel + Leisure as one of America’s Best Beach Bars (and one amazing place to order a mojito). Couples come here to sit on the open-air beachfront deck and listen to Latin music.
Ocean Park Beach
This mile-long Atlantic-facing beach just east of Condado offers the best of both worlds. The mood is relaxed, and relatively low-key. But it’s also great if you like some activity: there are opportunities to kite-surf, play paddle tennis or beach volleyball, and boogie-board.
This is one of the most photographed beaches in Puerto Rico. Set on the north coast, Mar Chiquita is a stunning horseshoe-shaped swath protected by two coral rock formations. As the waves from the Atlantic roll in, break, and crash, the setting can be quite dramatic. During the winter months, it is not advisable to swim, though during the summer months, the water can be calm.
Ever since Puerto Rico was put on the map as an upscale tourist destination in the 1920s, Condado has arguably been the destination’s most famous beach. Today, it is still the setting for some of the island’s best hotels and resorts—including the newly revitalized Condado Vanderbilt, a Spanish-Revival style property that dates to 1919. If you’re looking for peace and quiet and easy swimming, this isn’t the place. Rather, you come here for the see-and-be-seen vibe, to work on your tan and sip a few cocktails, and to mingle with both locals and tourists.
Located along the southwestern coast, Boqueron is one gorgeous mile of golden sand, and a balneario in the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge. Palm, almond, and Flamboyan trees provide shade for the local families who come from the town of Boqueron on the weekends to play music and picnic. If you come during the week, odds are you’ll see less people, and be able to take full advantage of the basketball courts, gazebos, and playgrounds on-site. You can also grab fresh oysters and seafood from one of the many shacks lining the shore.
La Chiva, Vieques
Vieques is home to some 40 sandy stretches—La Chiva, or “Blue Beach” being one of the best. (Years ago, the U.S. Navy named all of the beaches on Vieques after different colors.) To get to this spot, where the water can appear to be fifty shades of blue, you have to drive through the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, and then turn off into one of the 21 numbered pull-offs. The west end of La Chiva offers wonderful snorkeling, while the east side has shallow waters for wading.
Navio Beach, Vieques
Framed by scenic cliffs, Navio is all about the waves—locals come here boogie-board, surf, and bodysurf. There are also numerous sea caves to explore if you swim just around the cliffs. You’ll need to bring your own gear and towels, as there are no concession stands, and do keep in mind there are no lifeguards.
Flamenco Beach, Culebra
Playa Flamenco, a balneario, is located on picturesque Culebra, one of the Spanish Virgin Islands. The sand is soft, the turquoise waters are crystal clear and shallow: in short, it’s a stunner of a beach, ideal for swimming. There are also snack stands and lifeguard towers on-site—great if you’re traveling with the kids in tow.