Though small, Puerto Rico is so diverse that it is generally divided into five general regions, each offering distinctive attractions and personal tropical charms. Use the map at the right to navigate through the tours.
Western Region Tour
(Porta del Sol)
Our trip starts in the town of Guánica, the ﬁrst of 17 towns which make up the Porta del Sol region. Located some 45 minutes west of the southcoast city of Ponce, Guánica can be reached from Route 2 by taking Road 116 and Road 333 around Guánica Bay (a two-hour drive from San Juan). Over 100 years ago American soldiers ﬁrst landed here during the Spanish American War, and a plaque commemorates the moment at a sea promenade along scenic Guánica Bay. The public beach is Caña Gorda, but Guánica is especially known for a lovely string of cays, Cayos de Caña Corda, and the absolute favorite, Gilligan’s Island, with its white sand, mangroves, and playful currents. A ferry makes regular trips to the island. The beaches border the dry hillside vegetation of Guánica Dry Forest. A U.N.-designated International Biosphere Reserve, Guánica shelters more than 700 types of plants and trees, and more bird species than in any other island forest. To the west of Guánica proper are the remains of one of the island’s largest sugarcane mills at Central Guánica and more lovely beaches, including the popular Playa Santa.
If you continue west on Road 116, you reach La Parguera, a sea-loving community with an unrivaled combination of ocean offerings. Once a ﬁshing village, La Parguera today is a vacation destination, with inviting inns and guesthouses, restaurants and water sports operators. The nearby bioluminescent lagoon, where moving underwater objects become instant glow sticks, has awed vacationers for decades, as have the mangrove channels and more than 30 offshore cays. The continental shelf that wraps around southern Puerto Rico is closest to shore here. Divers thrill to some of the healthiest reefs in the Caribbean, and aﬁcionados rank La Parguera Wall among the top dive destinations in the world.
Many of the more than 45 beaches in the Porta del Sol region are found in the large township of Cabo Rojo. Its dramatic Cabo Rojo peninsula features a lighthouse (El Faro), cliffs, crescent beaches and historic salt flats.. Heading north, you can detour to elongated beaches, bird-rich wildlife refuges and the resort beach town of Boquerón. Puerto Ricans also ﬂock to this region for its food, and more than 40 seafood restaurants are found in the coastal community of Joyuda along Road 102.
Heading inland from Cabo Rojo on Road 102, you soon reach the historic town of San Germán, Puerto Rico’s second oldest settlement. In the early 1600s Dominican priests built a convent and small chapel named Porta Coeli, “heaven’s gate," on one of the hills here. Today the chapel is a museum of religious paintings and statuary. The town itself has two picturesque plazas in its historic district as well as the Ramírez de Arellano Home and Art Museum and the original InterAmerican University campus. Nearby, the town of Hormigueros grew up around a shrine, known today as Basílica Monserrate, commemorating a miracle performed by Our Lady of Montserrat.
Farther north is the west coast’s largest city, Mayagüez. An important port for centuries, its historic central plaza honors the great seafarer Christopher Columbus. The beautiful campus of the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez includes an important tropical agricultural research station and behind the campus, the Juan A. Rivero Zoo, the island's only major zoo, showcases primarily tropical animals from around the world. Located halfway up the west coast, Mayagüez is a growing tourism center, and its lodgings make a good base from which to explore Porta del Sol.
Roads from Sabana Grande (120), San Germán (119) and Mayagüez (105) wind their way up the western edge of the island’s Cordillera Central to the lush coffee district of Maricao. Yesteryear coffee estates and coffee trees on hillsides wrap around Maricao, and a small plaza distinguishes the picturesque town. The nearby Maricao Forest features a ﬁsh hatchery, recreational center and views across the Mona Passage. Both Maricao and another mountain town, Las Marías, border the island’s Panoramic Route.
Northwestern Puerto Rico also encompasses beaches for every type of recreational taste – lounging, beachcombing, bathing, surﬁng, diving, windsurﬁng, kiteboarding, and kayaking. There’s even more to do on land, from horseback riding to hiking through hilly karst terrain. History was made somewhere along this coastline when Christopher Columbus landed here on his second voyage in 1493. The central plaza in Mayagüez and monuments in Aguada and Aguadilla commemorate this event.
The ﬁrst town you encounter north of Mayagüez is Añasco. Five hundred years ago Taino Indians, angered with the Spaniards but fearing they were gods, drowned a young colonist at the Añasco River to test his immortality. He died, and an uprising took place in 1511. Long and lovely Añasco Bay, site of a public beach and vacation center, rims the town.
Rincón, nestled in the westernmost corner of the island, has a magical combination of everything that makes the tropics so alluring. It has world-famous waves for surfers and calm seas for bathers, roads shaded by mango trees and beaches shaded by coconut palms, villas for affluent romantics and apartments for adventurous students, all brushed with a laid-back, down-island tropical charm. The shadowy island that looms like Bali Hai to the west is Desecheo, a heaven-on-earth for divers. Pristine coral reefs and large schools of reef fish surround the uninhabited cay, which is now a protected nature reserve.
For plain wading, swimming, ﬂoating, and occasional surﬁng, visit Espinar Beach at the end of Road 442 in Aguada. Nearby is Ermita de Espinar, the restored remains of a hermitage originally built by Franciscan missionaries in the 1500s. The Aguada Museum occupies the town’s former train station and showcases exhibits of the colonization of Puerto Rico, a sugar still, period dining rooms, and more.
Aguadilla to the north is a pleasant hillside city, extending in a narrow curve along a large bay. Its historic past is commemorated at Parque Colón (Columbus Park), where there are playgrounds, a banyan tree house, and areas for passive recreation. Also along the bay is the Aguadilla Ice Skating Arena, with public skating daily. Up the hill and off Route 2 is Las Cascadas Water Park. Open from April to August, it features snakelike water slides and other aquatic thrills.
A large peninsula marks the northwestern corner of the island. Known as Punta Borinquen, borinquen being the Taino word for Puerto Rico, it was once home to Ramey U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command Base. Today this is a favorite vacation playground, home to the Rafael Hernández Airport, Punta Borinquen Public Golf Course, an 18-hole oceanside course; and several hotels, casual restaurants, and water sports shops and operators. A century-old lighthouse edges oceanside cliffs, which become a favorite whale-watching site in winter months.
Some of the best surﬁng in the Caribbean is found here: in winter months waves can top 20 feet, providing challenges for experienced surfers. Keep in mind these are surﬁng beaches with strong currents and tricky undertows: they are not for bathers or novices. One of the most popular swimming beaches is Crashboat. Set between usually calm waters and coastal cliffs, Crashboat is distinguished by colorful wood ﬁshing boats and an old Air Force pier.
Around the corner on the north coast, Isabela offers a natural coastal playground. It has its own surﬁng beaches, the best known being Jobos. Protected by offshore sand dune rocks, Montones Beach provides calm waters for bathing. Just off Bajuras Beach, a network of caverns and coral forms a magical underwater playground, outstanding for both snorkeling and scuba diving. Next door, Shacks hosts some of the best windsurﬁng and kiteboarding on the island. If you are a conﬁrmed landlubber, arrange for a horseback riding tour of the coastline west of Shacks. Inns and resorts reinforce the relaxed casual lifestyle of the region.
Traveling eastward on Route 2, you’ll notice a most unusual mansion, with spires and long French windows, rising above a former sugarcane ﬁeld to the south. This is Los Moreau Palace, built by a French Basque plantation owner and now a municipal museum. Nearby lies the rural town of Moca, long a center for the lovely craft of mundillo (bobbin lace). A small mundillo museum on Barbosa Street showcases the lace. Continuing on Road 111, you reach the mountain town of San Sebastián, where artisans weave hammocks using techniques little changed from the time of the Taino Indians. To view the greatest variety and meet the artisans, head for Barrio Robles at the intersection of roads 446 and 447, where some 30 hammock-weavers live. On Fridays, farmers in the region take everything from ornamental plants to local fruits to sell at the farmers’ market in town.
Hikers head into the karst terrain, where hills look like haystacks and sinkholes resemble craters. Guajataca Forest protects 2,357 acres of subtropical karst vegetation, crisscrossed with 25 miles of well-marked trails. It is a user-friendly forest; just stop at the information hut at the northern entrance of the forest on Road 466 for a map. The forest is packed with 186 species of trees, of which 156 are native, and 45 bird species. Freshwater ﬁshing enthusiasts should visit the nearby Lake Guajataca Wildlife Refuge.
Continuing on Route 2 east, you’ll pass one of Puerto Rico’s most dramatic seascapes, known as Guajataca for the river of the same name which empties into the Atlantic. Pull into a nicely landscaped lookout east of the valley for a leisurely view. Road 4484 to the east along the cliffs leads to an historic white railroad bridge and several restaurants. After the lookout and before you reach the town of Quebradillas, on Route 2, you’ll see on your right La Granja, a popular spot for locally made quesitos de hoja, a variety of desserts, and souvenirs. Taking 484 north beyond the town, you’ll reach Panadería Los Cocos, the island’s oldest bakery where bread is still baked in wood-burning ovens.
GUÁNICA DRY FOREST
BALNEARIO CAÑA GORDA (PUBLIC BEACH)
GILLIGAN’S ISLAND/CAYOS DE CAÑA GORDA
LA PARGUERA’S CAYS AND BIOLUMINESCENT LAGOON
PORTA COELI CHAPEL
RAMÍREZ DE ARELLANO HOME AND MUSEUM
MARICAO FOREST AND FISH HATCHERY
ERMITA DE ESPINAR
AGUADILLA ICE SKATING ARENA
LAS CASCADAS WATER PARK
PUNTA BORINQUEN (RAMEY)
PUNTA BORINQUEN PUBLIC GOLF COURSE
SHACKS, BAJURAS BEACHES
JOBOS, MONTONES BEACHES
LOS MOREAU PALACE
LAKE GUAJATACA WILDLIFE REFUGE
PANADERÍA LOS COCOS
CABO ROJO SALT FLATS INTERPRETIVE CENTER
CABO ROJO LIGHTHOUSE
CABO ROJO/CARIBBEAN ISLANDS NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
BOQUERÓN PUBLIC BEACH
LOS PRÓCERES MUSEUM -
ISLA DE RATONES. OFF JOYUDA
CLUB DEPORTIVO DEL OESTE
EUGENIO MARÍA DE HOSTOS MUSEUM AND MULTIPLE SERVICES CENTER
TROPICAL AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH STATION
JUAN A. RIVERO ZOO
LOS PRÓCERES PARK
FRANCO’S BRAZO GITANO
PUNTA HIGÜERO LIGHTHOUSE PARK
TRES PALMAS BEACH
RINCÓN PUBLIC BATHING BEACH
AÑASCO PUBLIC BEACH AND VACATION CENTER
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