Despite the tourist veneer, the former fishing community of LA PARGUERA has managed to retain a modicum of rustic charm, especially on weekdays, with its weatherboard housing and tightly packed streets. But the real draw lies along the coast: Parguera’s unique offshore environment, a patchwork of placid lagoons, extensive coral reefs and mangrove-smothered cays, is a water wonderland, known rather grandly as a “barrier reef-fringing mangrove ecosystem”. Beyond this lies some of the best diving anywhere on the island, a huge drop-off known as La Pared (“the wall”) that runs for 32km parallel to the south coast. A short drive to the east is the Bahia de Fosforescente, the island’s most accessible bioluminescent bay, though thanks to pollution, the least impressive. And at the end of the day, the ensemble of down-to-earth pubs serving hearty Puerto Rican snack food, and punchy local sangría makes for entertaining eating and drinking, especially on weekends.
La Parguera’s transformation has been rapid, even by Puerto Rican standards. In 1945 it was a tiny backwater of just 24 fishing families; the first hotel was built in 1955, but as recently as the early 1970s it was best known for its mud-spattered streets and cavorting feral hogs. It now welcomes over 100,000 visitors a year and, as elsewhere, flashy condo development has arrived on the outskirts. If you’re here in summer, try to catch the Procesión de San Pedro on June 29, honouring the local patron saint. Headed by an effigy of St Peter, the procession begins on foot before taking to a flotilla of boats and making a festive tour of the nearby cays.