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A WEEKLY COLUMN
Lounging on the beach, sipping a piña colada, snorkeling, just floating in the warm ocean water off the beach, feeling the hot sun on my face as I read my book or people watch – this is what makes a tropical vacation feel like paradise. In Puerto Rico, there are so many of these spots, you couldn’t possibly visit them all!
When I go to Puerto Rico every year, I stay near San Juan, so hitting the beach is easy. Here are some of my favorites spots. These are not the “tourist beaches” you can find in front of any resort. Enjoy those and then really come and explore.
Playa Escambrón is a balneario (public beach) that is between Condado and Old San Juan. You can walk from either place or drive, and park for $5 a car. This is a great family beach. There is a coral reef that keeps the swells down and allows for great snorkeling. The palm trees provide excellent shade for you to settle in for the day. There are bathrooms and a beach bar for snacks and drinks, as well as a man who walks up and down the beach selling tropically-flavored ice cream.
If you get really hungry and like hamburgers, walk on the main road towards Old San Juan for about a hundred yards. On the left is a true local joint that serves hamburgers, french-fries and beer. The only questions they ask is what kind of cheese you want. My advice? Sit as close to the bar area as possible since we’ve been forgotten when we sat in the back. The best part of Playa Escambrón, however, is the view! You can see Old San Juan in the distance, and there is a small rocky island just off shore that adds to the beauty.
El Alambique is a beautiful, white sand beach in Isla Verde, just down from El San Juan Hotel. This is a great people-watching spot. Young Puerto Ricans come and hang out, tourists from all over the world walk the sand, and people from the cruise ships who are in the know come to this beach when they only have time for one. There are usually surfers and wind surfers playing off shore. This is the beach where the adventurous can rent jet skis, go parasailing or be pulled at high speed on the banana boat. Rentals are near the El San Juan; just look for the flags. Tourists can rent umbrellas and chairs at the beach entrance on Calle Tartak. That is where we enter, as there is also El Alambique restaurant, where you can pick up drinks to bring to the beach. We park in the lot with Ponderosa and Burger King (there is a small charge) on Avenida Isla Verde and walk the short way down Tartak to get to the beach.
To take a walk on the wild side, visit Piñones beach in Carolina. Follow Route 187 along the coast heading west. Pass through a group of local restaurants and food shacks and you will see a stretch of beach on the left and colorful food shacks on the right (most of them are closed). But don’t stop here, as the beach is small and it can get very crowded. Just past this, there will be trees on your left and a wooden stairs. Park on either side of the road and climb the stairs to paradise. There is a breakwater that keeps out all the waves. You can walk out to these rocks and explore or just sit in the water, which is a beautiful, blue and warm. There are no facilities here, but you can buy drinks and all kind of bad-for-you fried food at the kiosks either on your way in or out. Go to the ones with the biggest crowds, as the food will be the freshest. Don’t be turned off by the run-down look of the area preceding the beach. The people are great and we have always felt safe. This is a real family area for locals.
About 30-40 minutes down Route 66 East and then Route 3 East is Balneario Luquillo, my favorite beach in the area. For me, it has it all. It is located minutes from El Yunque, the rainforest National Park, which is a must see. The waves are very mild to non-existent, which makes it easy to swim or float. There is a small charge to enter and then another dollar per person to get a pass to the locker rooms, which have clean bathrooms and showers. There is also my favorite beach snack shack, where we buy very inexpensive piña coladas and empanadas. You can rent chairs and an umbrella for very little money, as well. This is a local family beach with beautiful views of el Yunque and plenty of shade under the palm trees. Well worth the drive, especially when combined with a hike in the rainforest. Be sure to go to the Balneario, not the free beach behind the kiosks you will see on Route 3. The beach there is not as nice and is often full of garbage. Instead look for signs that say Balneario Luquillo.
I could keep listing more (last year we went to 18 different beaches in two weeks) but this is a good start at some great San Juan area beaches!
You can read about all my family adventures around the world on my blog.
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