Hidden Beaches

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Bahia Beach entrances visitors with a peaceful setting and bespoke amenities.

Secluded shores beckon with unparalleled scenery, a taste of local culture and enchanting marine life along the coast of Puerto Rico.

By Damon M. Banks

Bahia Beach entrances visitors with a peaceful setting and bespoke amenities.
Bahia Beach entrances visitors with a peaceful setting and bespoke amenities.

Puerto Rico immediately brings to mind endless stretches of white sand beaches giving way to turquoise water, welcoming locals and visitors alike with breathtaking views. While many guidebooks suggest longtime favorites such as Ocean Park, Pine Grove and Boquerón, a number of less publicized beaches offer an array of delightful secrets just waiting to be explored, from wildlife to local culture and unparalleled scenery.

With more than 270 miles of beaches, island visitors are sure to find the perfect destination for an afternoon of sun and fun along the spectacular Puerto Rican coast. Here, explore a carefully curated sampling of some of the region’s idyllic, less-traveled beaches, where endless hours of relaxation and excitement await.

 

Bahia Beach

Combining singular amenities, an abundance of awe-inspiring nature and peaceful surroundings, Bahia Beach has something for everyone. Though only steps away from The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, the shoreline often feels like a private paradise with nobody else in sight. The setting remains pristine through the resort’s commitment to environmental preservation, a philosophy the staff shares with locals and guests in ecological excursions available throughout the year.

“We take conservation very seriously at Bahia Beach, and [we’re] very fortunate to have such a wonderful variety of plant and animal life for the locals and guests to enjoy, being directly involved with all the remarkable things to do and see in this [Audubon International Certified Gold Signature Sanctuary],” says Marcela Cañón, natural resources director at The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort. “With an extraordinary location, we are fortunate to have the beautiful beach, the thriving rainforest and the estuary complete with migratory birds and additional wildlife to round out this amazing sanctuary.”

Sea turtles return annually to Bahia Beach.
Sea turtles return annually to Bahia Beach.

Resort guests have a unique opportunity to witness the miracle of life with an up-close view of nesting sea turtles on the beach nearby. Typically between February and August each year, more than 20 female leatherback turtles visit Bahia Beach to lay their eggs in the dark of night and, several months later, the young hatchlings fight to make it back into the ocean for their first swim. St. Regis naturalists are always eager to share this awe-inspiring spectacle with guests.

Each baby turtle that makes it back into the ocean gives hope to the species, which faces extinction with less than 25,000 worldwide. Leatherback turtles are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, but it will be a long road to recovery: The females lay 60 to 100 eggs each, but only two-thirds of those hatch and many don’t survive their first year. Those who make it to maturity are quite a sight to see—the mammoth creatures measure about 6.5 feet long and weigh up to 2,000 pounds.

Notably, turtles aren’t the only marine species making an appearance at Bahia Beach. As Cañón says, “An extra special treat for guests of the hotel is the sight of the endangered manatee among the bed grass—truly a magical sight.”

 

El Convento Beach

Another favorite for viewing the nesting sea turtles is El Convento Beach, and for good reason. This beautiful escape is just a few miles from Seven Seas Beach, between Fajardo and Luquillo. Certainly a bit removed from the everyday beaches of Puerto Rico, the exclusivity of this little piece of paradise makes it well worth the hike.

El Convento is a popular snorkeling destination. (Photo courtesy of Puerto Rico Tourism Co.)
El Convento is a popular snorkeling destination. (Photo courtesy of Puerto Rico Tourism Co.)

Just offshore is a treasured snorkeling location in Puerto Rico. An unspoiled coral reef is the ultimate destination to experience this marine habitat and the enchanting sea life that calls the reef home. Snorkelers can often find colorful tropical fish, sea turtles, docile nurse sharks and eagle rays around the reefs off of Puerto Rico’s coast. However, this area is for very experienced snorkelers and strong swimmers only; those who venture into the water must be wary of changing conditions—particularly in winter—as riptides can be extremely dangerous even when the surface appears calm. Those who wish to go snorkeling may want to consider going with a tour company and should always follow these safety guidelines: Never snorkel alone, stay close to shore and be aware of surroundings such as rocky shores or outcroppings that could be hazardous if the surf gets rough.

Even for those who stay on shore, the scenery is gorgeous on this expanse of largely untouched coastline against the backdrop of El Yunque National Forest, perfect for a picnic or an afternoon of solitude. While some development is in the planning stages for part of this beach, the only current structure on this stretch of sand is the governor’s official beach house standing quietly—an unpretentious log cottage that seems to simply fit the surroundings of quiet elegance.

 

Piñones Beach

Though not far from Puerto Rico’s capital, Piñones is a world away from the cityscape of San Juan. This unique area has all the charm and personality expected when arriving to a locals’ favorite beach. Piñones is an exciting experience anytime, but on the weekends, it becomes the place to see and be seen among the locals and visitors who are “in the know.”

Soleil Beach Club serves gourmet cuisine at Piñones Beach.
Soleil Beach Club serves gourmet cuisine at Piñones Beach.

Piñones offers a taste of local culture with traditional foods served at roadside stands and gourmet waterfront restaurants such as Soleil Beach Club. Try ceviche, Caribbean spiny lobster in beurre blanc sauce or chicken “mofongo” (fried plantains mashed with garlic) served with Creole sauce, along with an exotic cocktail or glass of wine while enjoying the gentle ocean breezes.

“Piñones is not only one of the best spots to get local seafood made to culinary perfection, but you can also find the best spot to dance rumba on Sunday [at] El Balcón del Zumbador,” says Daniel Santiago-Díaz, business development manager for Puerto Rico Tourism Co., the island’s official tourism agency.

For those seeking a little adventure, there’s also a bike trail that runs around the mangroves and ends up at the most beautiful beach in the area called La Pocita. Bicycles and kayaks can be rented from local businesses to explore the Piñones State Forest and nature reserve.

 

Playa Colora

When looking for a true level of exclusivity rarely found in the Caribbean today, Playa Colora is one beach that can still deliver an ultimate secret getaway. Beach-goers will have to put some effort into reaching this escape, however. Located at the far left of Seven Seas Beach, allow 25 minutes to walk from the Seven Seas “balneario” (a seaside resort town) area in Fajardo.

At low tide, visitors may walk along the shore; otherwise, they must veer into the mangroves where wildlife and tropical plants can be admired along the way (insect repellent is recommended). The small investment of time and energy is well worth the reward: a secluded beach, soft sand and blue water. In the distance, a historic lighthouse can be seen on clear days.

Allow 25 minutes to reach Playa Colora on foot. (Photo by Joe Baur)
Allow 25 minutes to reach Playa Colora on foot. (Photo by Joe Baur)

As tempting as the sea may be along this mostly private beach, swimming is not allowed. There are always those who choose to take a dip despite the warnings, but several of the area’s beaches experience riptides, making the water here extremely dangerous for swimmers. And, of course, Playa Colora doesn’t come with the luxury of beach butlers, so visitors must bring everything with them as they most likely won’t see another person on the beach, let alone any kind of services.

However, the tranquil setting—with nothing but the crashing of small waves along the beach and the occasional bird overhead—makes for a magical experience just minutes away from Puerto Rico’s bustling towns.

 

La Pared Beach

Traveling about 30 minutes to the east of San Juan leads to the town of Luquillo, known as the sun capital and Puerto Rico’s riviera. Many claim this is the must-visit surfing destination when visiting the island. For a late afternoon getaway on the water, or a place to learn to surf, La Pared is ideal. Most know Luquillo Beach for its plush, white sand beaches lined with coconut palms set against the mountains of El Yunque in the background. Though many locals will venture elsewhere for the bigger waves, the convenience of La Pared is simply unmatched.

Waves are ideal for afternoon surfing at La Pared. (Photo by Angelo Cordero)
Waves are ideal for afternoon surfing at La Pared. (Photo by Angelo Cordero)

The popular getaway is a surfer’s delight for this very reason. It’s close to the main road, so most surfers use it as a daily spot to catch some waves, and then plan their weekend trips to the west, where they can be tested with larger surf.

“The beach has an eclectic crowd between the locals and the visitors that pass by for the surf,” Santiago-Díaz says. “The beach is very close to the kiosks in Luquillo, which is another of Puerto Rico’s culinary gems with any seafood imaginable.”

While some of the kiosks may appear a bit ramshackle, the often family-run operations have an array of authentic snacks from “pinchos” (grilled meat kabobs) to fried foods such as “pastelillos” (deep-fried pies packed with savory fillings) and “tostones” (fried plantains), as well as Caribbean fusion dishes, pina coladas and ice-cold beer, perfect for enjoying with a view of the sparkling water.

Puerto Rico’s beaches provide visitors with a completely magical experience, from tasting the island’s authentic cuisine available beachside to surfing alongside the locals, viewing marine life and simple luxuries like walking hand-in-hand with a loved one along the miles of pristine white sand. These exclusive beaches are just waiting to be explored—one of many ways to experience the enchantment of Puerto Rico.