The west side of Puerto Rico, known for its idyllic beaches and pristine natural environment, is rich in offerings for anyone who loves the outdoors. The Porta Del Sol, or “Gateway to the Sun,” stretches from Aguadilla in the northwest to Cabo Rojo in the southwest. Drive west along Puerto Rico’s Rt 22 to discover the colorful region, which marches to its own beat: bohemian surfer crowds in Rincón, Aguadilla, and Isabela; indolent sunbathers from Playa Sucia to Playa Crash Boat; and the stark natural beauty of places like the Cabo Rojo Salt Flats and the Guajataca State Forest.
Pick up a road map and rental car in San Juan or at the airport, and head west on PR 22/Rt 2. Isabela is about two hours by car from San Juan and the last town going west along the north coast. You’ll see an amazing Amerindian face carved into the stone face of a mountain as you turn off Route 2 into Rt 113, which goes toward town. Take a break in this little town known for being one of the best biking areas on the island because of its designated paths along the ocean. With three miles of coastline, Isabela’s beaches range from Jobos (popular with surfers) to Pozo Teodoro (perfect for families because of its natural pool).
If you have time, stop at Guajataca Forest Reserve (Bosque Guajataca) and walk the interpretive trail through the woods to the Cave of the Wind (Cueva del Viento). The park is off Rt 2 on PR 446, less than a half hour drive from Isabela. Fishing, kayaking, and paddleboarding are popular at Guajataca Lake, which is about three miles southeast of the forest reserve near the town of San Sebastian.
Next stop is Rincon, a little town known for great surfing and lovely beaches that are speckled with sea glass after a storm. The safest beaches for swimming are north of town at the island’s western tip. Sandy Beach is one of the most popular.
Lunch is at La Cambija Bar & Grill on Sandy Beach or Shipwreck Bar and Grill at the Black Eagle Marina.
Check into your hotel in mid afternoon in time for a nap by the pool. The Horned Dorset Primavera is at the high end of the resort price range, and well worth it. But, if you’re looking for a pleasant moderately priced room, and you plan to be in the area for two or more nights, try to snatch one of the eight rooms at Blue Boy Inn.The best bet on a budget is Rincon Inn, which offers economy rooms and hostel accommodations.
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In addition to super surfing, Rincon is known as “The Town of Beautiful Sunsets” because of its advantageous location on the west end of the island. One of the best places to watch the sun go down is Rincon Lighthouse Park (Punta Higuero Lighthouse and El Faro Park). The views from the lighthouse stretch along the coast and out to sea. In the winter, you’ll see surfers riding the waves and, if you’re lucky, you may spot a whale in the distance.
Rincon beaches cover eight miles of the coastline, but there’s no long stretch of sand. Each beach is small and has a unique charm. Water conditions vary from summer to winter with the most powerful surf break in the winter at Tres Palmas Beach. Waves have been reported to top 25 ft/ 7.6 meters, so this is for experienced surfers only. Sandy Beach and Antonio Beach are better for beginners and less skilled surfers.
Surfing is the main draw, but other thrill seekers can try parasailing or scuba diving. Beach yoga, massage, and horseback riding also are on offer. Seaglass collecting is another popular activity, especially after a storm. These pieces of glass, which usually start out as trash, have been polished and etched into colorful treasures over time by the ocean.