One of the best things you can do with any trip is to leave a period of time without an itinerary, or at least not tie yourself down with reservations and deadlines.
This way you have some flexibility to pick up on things you discover along the way and create an opportunity for a little surprise and adventure. For our ten days in PR we only really had the first few days locked in. We knew we’d land in San Juan. We knew we’d head to El Yunque right away. And, we knew we’d then make our way onto the island of Vieques. That was pretty much it. The rest of our trip was summed up with, “Then I guess we’ll make our way around the island.” Pretty vague.
I don’t think we had even noticed the area of Cabo Rojo prior to our trip, but a girl working at the hotel in San Juan said that the southwest was her favorite part of the island. It seemed like a rather solid endorsement, so we made a point to head in that direction. We knew we had to make it somewhere before it got too late, so we pulled up the Orbitz app and looked for a room in Cabo Rojo. (The area discussed in this post is actually further south than it looks on the above map.)
1. Parador Combate Beach and Cabo Rojo Wildlife Preserve
Ultimately, we decided on the Parador Combate Beach Hotel. The rates were decent, and it was a last-minute decision so there wasn’t much room for being picky. Getting there in the dark was a little tricky, but the GPS didn’t lie, and it is pretty easy to spot once you get into town. Much like everything else in Puerto Rico, this hotel was a pleasant surprise. Although not incredibly modern, it is well maintained and offers everything you might need for a beach getaway. (There were considerable renovations under way during our visit) The staff was nice, bilingual, and super-helpful. There are a couple of restaurants within an easy, five minute, walk. (Check out Annie’s Place) But the best part is the beach! The hotel has direct access to the Cabo Rojo Wildlife Refuge and its corresponding beach.
This particular stretch of coastline is not notably diverse, but that’s okay. Sometimes all you really want from a beach is clean sand and shallow, clear blue, water. There were not many other people on the beach, and it seemed like this part of the island was more likely the destination of local tourists rather than anyone from off the island. This beach was also the longest, unbroken, stretch of beach we encountered in PR. The “official” swimming area was probably about a half mile, but you could easily have walked for much longer.
This corner of the island IS also a wildlife preserve.There were signs regarding sea turtle and other animals, but we didn’t see much action besides some crabs and birds. I’m sure you could plan a trip according to the local sea turtle season, but we were just passing through.
2. The Lighthouse: Los Morillos
This won’t be the only time you hear me say something to the effect of, “This part of Puerto Rico really caught us by surprise!” It happened quite a bit and the far southwestern tip of the island is no exception. As far as we knew there was a rather picturesque lighthouse that may have been recently restored. Worth a short drive, right?
Pretty much the whole drive from our hotel to the coast was a series of natural anomalies that we hadn’t expected. The first were salt flats. Up until this point we hadn’t even heard mention of such a thing in PR, but there they were. I should probably warn that you’ll likely smell the salt flats before you actually notice anything visually. Some of the treatment areas had a definite rotten-egg smell. As far as I could tell, it was the industrial areas that smelled a bit off, the natural salt flats were just barren and sandy. At the time I didn’t really realize what was going on. I wish I would have taken a picture of one of the rectangular reservoirs of strange, pinkish, water.
Once you get closer to the coast you’ll encounter another oddly barren stretch of land the leads right up to the lighthouse and the beach. My guess is that the area is an large tidal pool that only occasionally fills with extra-salty water. The water evaporates quickly and leaves a dead zone. (This is really just a guess. Please let me know if I’m wrong.) Although this part of Cabo Rojo isn’t “pretty” it still is very interesting to see.
From here on out things get a lot nicer, at least in the traditional sense. The Los Morillos lighthouse is the main attraction, and likely what draws most visitors to the peninsula. It has been recently restored and now features quite a bit of Puerto Rican artwork. It also requires a long walk up a moderately steep hill and a five dollar fee. Don’t let either of these discourage you, but don’t be caught off guard. Also keep in mind that the park gets packed on holiday weekends. (Puerto Ricans actually celebrate Emancipation Day. Come on America… Get with it!) We had to park pretty far away and park rangers were being quite liberal with tickets for anyone who did not park in a designated area.
Again. Don’t be discouraged. This is a “must” when you’re in the area.
3. Playuela / Playa Sucia: Amazing View!
Now for the good part. The part that was completely unexpected. A huge bay, with a huge beach, and one of the best vistas in Puerto Rico.
As you walk up to the lighthouse you can tell there are going to be some nice overlooks of the water, but not until you actually get past it do you come across this horizon. I’ve considered printing this exact picture as a three foot wide panorama. It’s just that hard to truly appreciate the scale of Playauela (Or maybe it’s called Playa Sucia. It seems to come up as both names.)
Like I mentioned earlier, it was a holiday, and the beach was packed. Because of this, we spent most of our time on the hillside enjoying the views, but not actually getting down into the water. From what we could tell it was clean, shallow, and very calm. If you had enough time you could also walk all the way around to the larger cliffs in the top-right of the photo.
Next time we’re in PR we’ll make a point to save some time and properly explore this bit of coastline.
Here’s my list of blog entries for Puerto Rico.
- Vieques: The Island We Couldn’t Leave
- El Yunque: Spanish for “The Yunque”
- Cabo Rojo: Southwestern Puerto Rico
- Lechon: You’ll have to be a stronger vegetarian than me…
- The Western Coast: Boqueron & Bacalaito, Mayagüez & Maize, and Rincón
- Bosque Estatal De Guajataca, y la cueva del viento: Guajataca State Forest, and the Cave of the Wind
- So, this guy has a waterfall in his backyard…
- Arecibo Observatory
- Old San Juan