The best Puerto Rico beaches and where to stay

Melding Caribbean shores with rainforest landscapes and Latin flavours, Puerto Rico is the tropical hideaway you’ve been searching for. Expect your vacation to come carpeted in white sand and edged by emerald waters, diving the reefs surrounding Culebra and Isla de Vieques, testing the surf in Rincon or kayaking through bioluminescent lagoons on the east coast. Ask for more and the capital city of San Juan can provide, particularly in the lively Condado District where the rum flows and Miami party scene comparisons ring true. Discover the best Puerto Rico beaches and where to stay below.

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Puerto Rico | Photo: Alexis Antonio

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Where jungle meets coast, Playa las Picuas is a delightfully undeveloped spot just 15 minutes outside of El Yunque

1. Luquillo Beach

Located less than 50 kilometres east of San Juan, Luquillo Beach is easily one of the prettiest shores on the northeast coast, its golden crescent-shaped bay lined with palm trees and lapped by calm waters. As well as being in easy reach of El Yunque National Forest, there are a fair few amenities along the beach and a camping area, with kayaks and fly-boarding equipment also available to rent.

Where to stay: A nice way out from the beaches in Luquillo lies St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, boasting direct access to beaches of its own as well as a golf course, tennis school and water sports centre. Slightly closer to the action is Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort just 7 kilometres from Luquillo Beach, offering guests a choice of 13 tennis courts, 10 restaurants, 3 pools, 2 golf courses and a spa and wellness centre, as well as a 1.6 km beach where seasonal activities like sea turtle nesting and iguana feeding take place.

Luquillo, Puerto Rico | Photo: Harry B

Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort | Photo: Marianna Smiley

2. Playa las Picuas, Rio Grande

Where jungle meets coast, Playa las Picuas is a delightfully undeveloped spot just 15 minutes outside of El Yunque. Apart from a handful of private houses scattered along the shore, the entire bay remains wholly natural, with perfect waves for bodysurfing and golden sand for bathing on. Drive one hour out of San Juan to Playa las Picuas and make a day of it with a riverboat ride down Río Espíritu Santo, alternatively getting some ATV action in the jungle at Carabali Rainforest Adventure Park. Otherwise opt for horse-riding or biking in the park, refuelling afterwards at Verde BBQ or Ritchie’s Café.

Where to stay: Margaritaville Vacation Club by Wyndham can be found just 2 kilometres from Playa las Picuas, coming with its own private beach, water sports facilities and bike hire in an area known for its golfing and snorkelling opportunities.

Río Grande | Photo: Alexis Antonio

Photo: J. Rodriguez

3. Playa Flamenco, Culebra Island

Around 27 kilometres off the east coast of Puerto Rico, Culebra Island has everything a tropical paradise should have; white sand, calm turquoise waters and pristine natural landscapes. The horseshoe-shaped Flamenco Beach is most picturesque, marred only by two US military tanks abandoned in the 70s. The island’s protected coral reefs make Culebra a great place to dive and snorkel while hiking down to Resaca Beach comes a close second on the itinerary. Other islands worth considering include Culebrita Island with its remote Tortuga Beach, accessible only by water taxi.

Where to stay: Some 3 kilometres outside of Culebra Pueblo town centre, Club Seabourne Hotel woos guests with an on-site rum bar, poolside hammocks and tropical gardens all overlooking the tranquil Fulladoza Bay. Alternatively, snap up Villa 15 Flamenco on Airbnb, a fully-equipped private lodging right on Flamenco Beach.

Culebra, Puerto Rico | Photo: Alejandro Ortiz-Mendez

Culebra, Puerto Rico | Photo: Michael Cox

4. Sun Bay Beach, Vieques Island

Another of the best beaches in Puerto Rico can be found this time on Isla Vieques, a Spanish Virgin island just 12 kilometres from the mainland. Sun Bay Beach is an ever-popular choice on Vieques, offering all the amenities and wide stretches of sand for bathing. Alternative spots on the island include Mosquito Bay, a prime area for night kayaking and boating made memorable by waters lit up with bioluminescent dinoflagellates, or Playa Caracas, a well-preserved cove within Vieques National Wildlife Refuge on the dramatic south coast.

Where to stay: Out of the island’s best B&Bs, we’ve chosen the farmhouse style inn and yoga retreat Finca Victoria for its hillside acreage in view of the Caribbean Sea, as well as two from Airbnb’s Encantada Vieques estate – Tropical Cabin Paradise and Eco-Luxury Villa – both offering star appeal, the latter complete with its very own infinity pool bordering the ocean.

Vieques, Puerto Rico | Photo: Ethan Jameson

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5. Playa Borinquen, Aguadilla

Harder to get to but all the better for it, Playa Borinquen lies outside the town of Aguadilla on the northwest coast. Here you’ll discover ultimate seclusion and lesser-known attractions such as an Air Force plane crash site, the Punta Borinquen lighthouse ruins and the Survival Beach cave system. While in the region, try your hand at surfing the strong swells or for more adventure, go cliff jumping from the end of Sugar Mill Pier. Culture is also a lure in Aguadilla, thanks to the Cero Cabrera’s multi-coloured mosaic installation, supplemented by creole flavours and sangria at the famed ZaZones restaurant.

Where to stay: The Nest at Crash Boat is a waterfront studio apartment found on Airbnb, boasting utmost solitude and its own beachfront deck (with hammocks and lounge area) in full view of the ocean.

6. Balneario de Boquerón, Cabo Rojo

The southwest coast of Cabo Rojo is where the local favourite Puerto Rico Beaches can be found. On the weekends you’ll find families out in full force to enjoy the golden sands and palm tree shade, so arriving early for the best pitch is a must. Balneario de Boquerón lies within the national park where there is limited entry, meaning early arrivals can sunbathe away from the crowds. Stay the night at one of the beachside cabins or head on south to the old lighthouse at Faro Los Morrillos de Cabo Rojo, 10 minutes from the shoreside restaurants and bars at Combate Beach.

Where to stay: Enticing us with just its name, BOHO Beach Club is an easy sell just one kilometre from Boquerón Beach. Offering 4-star comfort and convenience in view of the ocean, the club’s other selling points are the pool, restaurant and bar.

Salinas de Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico | Photo: Sergio Ortiz

Punta Jaguey, Boquerón | Photo: Sergio Ortiz

7. Condado Beach

Condado Beach is easily one of our favourite San Juan beaches, moments from the old city’s Condado District where boutique hotels, stores and bars line the seafront. Explore the area and people-watch from the shade of an umbrella, warming up for a lively game of volleyball or brisk swim in the afternoon.

Where to stay: Not short of a Boutique hotel Puerto Rico is a delight for frequent travellers. Of the many around the Condado neighbourhood, O:live Boutique Hotel stands out for its Mediterranean vibe and stylish suites, just ten minutes from the old town. Alternatively, Condado Vanderbilt Hotel wins over guests with luxury services, a spa and wellness centre moments from the Condado Lagoon, while Condado Ocean Club boasts all you could need plus a cool terrace area close to Escambrón Beach.

Condado beach, Puerto Rico | Photo: Ethan Jameson

8. Isla Verde

Isla Verde Puerto Rico is actually a beach resort area in a suburb of San Juan, maintaining an island allure with its fair share of sun-drenched shores and calm-ish seas made for decent surfing, jet skiing, flyboarding and banana boating. Though on the busy side, the sheer amount of activities on offer will win you over, plus, who doesn’t love watching attractive people play volleyball over beers at sundown?!

Where to stay: Two classic luxury resorts in Isla Verde go by the names of Hampton Inn & Suites San Juan and Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde Beach Resort. The Hampton Inn comes equipped with a swim-up bar and grill restaurant, while the Courtyard goes extra with a 24-hour casino, cocktail lounge and ice cream parlour, alongside all the top-notch facilities you’d expect.

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Modelled on Miami Beach back in the 1950s, Ocean Park was originally the main tourist zone of San Juan, now winding down to become a less-developed local favourite with offshore reefs and breezy climes

9. Ocean Park Beach

A quieter alternative to Condado Beach lies towards the east edge of the Condado District, known as Ocean Park Beach. Modelled on Miami Beach back in the 1950s, Ocean Park was originally the main tourist zone of San Juan, now winding down to become a less-developed local favourite with offshore reefs and breezy climes.

Where to stay: One for LGBTQ grownups is the Coqui del Mar Gay Hotel Adults Only, an exclusive selection of equipped studios and apartments featuring two shared pools and a hot tub just 400 metres from the coastline and 10 minutes’ drive from Old San Juan. Then there’s the Cozy Beach Apartment, found within a gated community between San Juan and Isla Verde, complete with a fully equipped kitchen and its own private beach.

Photo: Juan Burgos

Photo: Ketut Subiyanto

10. Dorado

And finally, we reach Dorado, with beaches of golden sand in place of a city of gold. Less than an hours’ drive from San Juan airport, Dorado Beach lies on the northern karst coast near the town of Manatí, in a region known for its nature reserves and limestone cliffs that drop off dramatically into the Atlantic. While Dorado Beach itself is kept pristine with luxury facilities by the Ritz-Carlton Reserve, other beaches in the area such as Playa Mar Chiquita are equally worthy, with the added benefit of empanada and piña colada vendors lining the sand. Avid golfers should also note that Dorado is famous for its champion-standard courses, hosting as many as five surrounding the urban sprawl of El Dorado.

Where to stay: There’s only one place to stay while in Dorado and that’s Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, a luxury resort with its own golf course, several swimming pools, a fitness centre and a handful of elegant restaurants to compliment the stylish suites – some of which come with plunge pools and ocean views.

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Puerto Rico | Photo: Roberto Lee Cortes

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