These Natural Swimming Pools in Puerto Rico Are an Instagram Dream

Puerto Rico's natural swimming pools have all the benefits of a beach without the crowds.

Charco Azul in Puerto Rico, a swimming hole amongst rocks
Photo: Jen Ruiz

Everyone thinks of beaches when they think of Puerto Rico. The mere mention of the island evokes thoughts of sunbathing, surfing, and cold beers on the sand. But, while tourists flood the coastline, residents head inland toward natural, freshwater swimming pools. These secluded spots are some of Puerto Rico's best-kept secrets.

Beaches have unyielding sun exposure while natural pools are tucked away in nature, with lush greenery providing ample shade. The water is always cold and flowing, a welcome relief on a hot day.

The pools are harder to reach, requiring guests to earn their right of entry through a preliminary hike, but are worth the journey. Picnics are allowed but remember to take trash with you in order to preserve the spot for others. Here are eight natural pools you should visit to experience Puerto Rico like a local.

Illustrated map of Puerto Rico showing 8 swimming holes
Mehroz Kapadia

Las Paylas

This set of natural pools and water slides is a family favorite. Neighbors have converted part of their property into a parking lot and maintain a bathroom for guests to use. (You pay a small fee in return.)

There is one main slide when you reach the end of the trail, but if you continue further down the river, you'll find other slides, a rope swing, and several swimming pools surrounded by vines — the perfect setting for an Instagram-worthy hair flip. The rock slides look easy and are exhilarating but make sure to tuck in your elbows on the way down to avoid injury.

When you're done, head over to the Luquillo kiosks. Less than 15 minutes away by car, this strip of beachfront shops has restaurants and live music so you can sip piña coladas while getting caught in the Bomba rhythms.

Charco Azul

There are several pools by this name on the island, but the one in Vega Baja is frequently photographed thanks to its dramatic cave walls and bold blue water. You can float under impressive rock formations and jump from the rocks into the deep water.

On your way in or out, stop by Ojo de Agua, the largest natural spring in Puerto Rico. This is a scenic place to take pictures with murals of the Puerto Rican flag or on a swing. During the holidays, it is lit up with decorations at night and is a magical place to take a stroll.

Charco El Hippie

This natural pool is set amid giant boulders, creating a feeling of seclusion. Few people realize that this is also part of El Yunque, the national rainforest of Puerto Rico, since it's far from the main entrance in Rio Grande. On a sunny day, the water is emerald green. It's best to go in the morning, as it can get murky when it rains. There is also parking on residential properties turned parking lots for a fee.

After a refreshing dip, feast on locally grown, farm-to-table food at Bacoa. Reservations are strongly recommended.

Charco Frío

Located in Ceiba, this pool is formed by the Fajardo River, which originates in El Yunque. There are two parking options — a cheaper one with a longer trail or a more expensive option on private property that cuts the hike in half. Either way, you will get muddy on the way in and out. Avoid this trail on a rainy day as it can get perilous. There is a rope swing that puts you right in the olive green color water.

Thrill seekers can continue on to Las Tinajas, up the river. You'll need to swim across the river and hike over big boulders and roots to get there. There's a large natural water slide when you arrive, perfect for adventurers and hikers who want to push their limits.

Charco El Pilón

This natural pool in San Germán requires a 45-minute hike to reach through the forest and along the Cain River. You'll have to cross the river a few times and have an intuitive sense of where to go. It is much more secluded given the time it takes to get there, and the water is crystal clear, allowing you to see to the bottom.

San Germán is the second oldest city on the island after San Juan. History lovers should stop by the town center to see the Porta Coeli church, built in 1609, which also doubles as a museum for religious art and artifacts.

Gozalandia

Well known for its rock face waterfall, Gozalandia is the most famous pool on this list. The surrounding area is well developed and caters to visitors, with a restaurant and stairs leading down to the water. There's even an Airbnb experience you can book with a local guide.

This is a popular spot that gets crowded, so go early and avoid the weekends. Afterward, drive to the mountain town of Lares to try savory ice cream flavors at the famous Heladería Lares. From garlic to rice and beans, these are family-owned recipes you won't soon forget.

Salto Santa Clara

This waterfall and natural pool are renowned for their height and for having ice-cold water. It is located in the southwest corner of the island. The trail is not easy, and there's a point where you'll need to use a rope to assist you, but it can be done in about an hour.

Don't leave Yauco without visiting Yaucromatic, a residential neighborhood turned outdoor art gallery and the most famous attraction in the city.

Charco Hondo

Located in Arecibo, this charco is formed by the Tanama River, and several tour operators will take you there as part of a day trip in the area. There are two man-made waterfalls, originally part of plans for a hydroelectric plant but now serving as a recreational attraction. The hike to the first waterfall is short, and it can be reached in less than five minutes. If you want to continue to the second waterfall, water shoes are recommended to traverse comfortably.

While in the area, make sure to stop by Cueva Ventana, which translates to "window cave" and features a panoramic view of the fields below it.

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