Watersports rule supreme in Puerto Rico, with swimming and surfing the most popular activities. The coral-smothered coastline is home to some of the Caribbean’s best diving and snorkelling, while the trade winds that pummel the north and east coast make for some magnificent windsurfing. The island’s rugged interior, great for hiking, is a potential gold mine for all types of adventure sports. Specialist operators have started to exploit the densely forested slopes and mountains, with canyoning, caving, kayaking and whitewater rafting all on offer.
Cycling and mountain biking
Given its hilly terrain, it’s surprising Puerto Rico hasn’t developed more of a mountain biking scene, but thanks to the Comisión Mountain Bike de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rican Mountain Bike Commission, an independent biking organization; wwww.cmtbpr.org) and a handful of hardcore enthusiasts, the sport is starting to take off. Hacienda Carabalí (t787/889-5820, wwww.haciendacarabalipuertorico.com) at PR-992 km 3 is a good place to start, a ranch near El Yunque offering a choice of four trails through the rainforest, helmets and instruction provided ($40/hr). The trails feature exhilarating downhill courses, some technical rock gardens and plenty of jumps and berms. Other easily accessible trails can be found in the Guánica dry forest, Bosque Estatal de Cambalache and along the more sedate Cabo Rojo Refuge Bike Trail, though in all cases you’ll need to bring bikes from elsewhere. Check out wwww.dirtworld.com or wwww.singletracks.com for a full listing of tracks or rental outlets, or contact Puerto Rico’s International Mountain Biking Association (wwww.imba.com).
Touring the island by bike is a bleak prospect, mainly because of the volume of traffic, though things are better in the mountains and parts of the southwest. Vieques and Culebra are far nicer and safer areas to explore by bike, with plenty of places willing to rent.
Diving and snorkelling
For the best snorkelling, aim for Culebra and Vieques, or take a charter out of Fajardo to reach the more secluded cays of La Cordillera. Though it’s theoretically possible to snorkel almost anywhere along the coast of Puerto Rico, the power of the surf in winter, the pollution and the large number of silt-carrying rivers flowing into the sea year-round make much of it inaccessible or unremarkable – beaches in the Porta del Sol are slightly better, but in general the cays offshore offer the brightest coral and fish life.
Divers should also head for Culebra, with the other major diving highlights being La Pared (the spectacular wall off La Parguera), Isla de Mona and Isla Desecheo on the west coast. Mona is best appreciated by taking a multi-day excursion planned long in advance – the waters here are unbelievably clear and teeming with exotic marine life.
Puerto Rico has been a light tackle and deep-sea fishing destination for years, especially known for its tarpon and blue marlin: the north coast is known as “blue marlin alley” thanks to the hordes of migrating fish that pass near its shores, especially in the summer, and the island plays host to an International Billfish Tournament (wwww.sanjuaninternational.com) each year. Fishing is excellent year-round, but winter (Oct–March) is the best time for dolphinfish (mahi-mahi or dorado), wahoo, white marlin, yellowfin tuna and the occasional sawfish and sailfish. Tarpon and snook thrive in the shallower waters of the island’s lagoons and bays, and make easier targets from smaller boats.
Charters are available from San Juan and the major resort areas: Culebra, Vieques, Fajardo, Palmas del Mar and all the west coast towns; see relevant chapters for details. You can expect to pay around $500 for a half-day, and up to $900 for full-day excursions.
Puerto Rico is justly regarded as the golf capital of the Caribbean, with 23 highly acclaimed courses designed by international stars Robert Trent Jones Jr, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arthur Hills, as well as the most successful Puerto Rican player, Juan “Chi-Chi” Rodríguez, who won eight titles on the PGA Tour between 1963 and 1979. Most of the courses are concentrated in Dorado or along the east coast, usually as part of luxury resorts such as Palmas del Mar, which offers one of the toughest courses in the world. Day rates are expensive ($100–160), but considering the standard of the courses, not a bad deal. Renting a set of clubs will set you back at least $60.
Hang gliding and skydiving
Xtreme Divers (t787/852-5757, wwww.xtremedivers.com) is a skydiving school based at Humacao regional airport, offering parachute jumps for beginners (with forty seconds of freefall) during the first two weeks of every month: tandem jumps for up to four people are $210 per person. The maximum body weight permissible is 240lb (17 stone or 109kg), and jumpers must be 18 years of age. To try hang gliding, contact Team Spirit Hang Gliding (t787/850-0508, wwww.teamspirithanggliding.com), based southwest of El Yunque.
Contrary to the widely held images of sea and sand, much of Puerto Rico is covered by tropical wilderness that offers some of the Caribbean’s most scintillating hiking possibilities, enhanced by hundreds of tropical birds, scurrying green lizards and a chorus of chirping coquis (frogs). The most accessible reserve is El Yunque National Forest, managed by the US Forest Service and laced with well-maintained trails: highlights include the trek up El Yunque itself and the tougher climb up El Toro.
Elsewhere on the island, the DRNA maintains reservas forestales or forest reserves, also latticed with trails in varying states of upkeep. Toro Negro, which sits astride the Central Cordillera, is the most rewarding, close by the island’s highest peak, Cerro de Punta (1338m), but you’ll find the best-maintained trails in the Bosque Estatal de Guajataca and within the very different landscapes of the Guánica dry forest. One hike that you should attempt only with a guide is the spellbinding traverse of the Cañon de San Cristóbal.
In all cases elevations are not high, removing the need for serious advance preparation or above-average fitness. Your biggest problems are likely to be rain and cloud cover, and the lack of signs: always plan your route in advance, with local maps if possible, and avoid the mountains altogether during heavy rain.
Puerto Rico has long attracted equestrians for the chance to ride its unique Paso Fino horses, lauded for their imperious, luxuriously smooth walk. Several ranches offer guided trail rides, one of the best being Rancho Buena Vista on the east coast, which offers excursions from $45 for one hour.
Kayaking is often the best way to experience the raw beauty of the Puerto Rican coastline – the island’s bioluminescent bays are especially magical by kayak. You can also explore the tangled mangrove lagoons of La Parguera and Guánica, while the pristine waters and cays off Culebra are ideal for leisurely paddling.
The east coast of Puerto Rico is a sailing paradise, with massive marinas such as Puerto del Rey and Villa Marina home to charter yachts that ply the waters all the way to the Virgin Islands. You’ll also find operators in Culebra, Vieques and in all the major southwestern resorts, but although the south and west coasts are also popular with yacht owners, unless you have your own boat it can be hard to get on the water, and it’s unusual to find anywhere in Puerto Rico that rents single- or two-person boats to tourists.
Puerto Rico is the Caribbean version of Hawaii, and surfers have been coming here since the 1960s to enjoy some of the hardest and most consistent waves in the Americas. After the World Championships were hosted at Rincón in 1968, the island was firmly established on the international surf circuit. Rincón is still at the heart of the Puerto Rican surf world, though the beaches around Aguadilla on the northwest coast offer just as much action, while the scene in San Juan is developed and easy to get into. You’ll also find plenty of great beaches along the north coast (Jobos), around Luquillo, and off PR-901 in the east; the calmer, Caribbean south coast doesn’t see as many waves. The best time to surf is during the winter (Oct–Feb), when northerly swells slam into Puerto Rico.
Abseiling, canyoning and caving
The overgrown gorges and caves around Parque de las Cavernas del Río Camuy are prime territory for abseiling, caving and canyoning. More adventures await within the forests of the Central Cordillera and the Bosque Estatal de Toro Negro. Unless you have lots of experience, you’re better off working with established companies to make the most of these sites – access is often difficult and conditions can be precarious. See individual chapters for operators.
Since the windsurfing World Cup was held here in 1989, the local scene has grown rapidly, centred on the San Juan beaches of Ocean Park and Isla Verde – the shops here are the best places to get oriented (see Watersports in San Juan). Other hot spots are northwest beaches such as Playa Crash Boat and Jobos, while beginners are better off at El Conquistador, or the calmer west coast waters around La Parguera and Boquerón. Check out wwww.windsurfingpr.com before you go.
The most popular spectator sports in Puerto Rico are American imports: baseball, basketball and boxing. Cockfighting and horseracing hark back to the island’s Spanish roots, and remain important elements of island culture.
Puerto Rico’s national sport is baseball, and the island has produced some of the US mainland’s greatest ever stars, including Roberto Clemente.
Baseball was introduced to the island with the arrival of the Americans in 1898, and though the sport is played fanatically at school and amateur levels, Puerto Rico’s professional league has struggled in recent years, with low crowd attendance and reduced income leading to the cancellation of the 2007–2008 season (games are played over the winter to avoid overlap with the US Major Leagues). In 2008 the league resumed and currently features five teams: Criollos de Caguas, Gigantes de Carolina, Indios de Mayagüez, Leones de Ponce and Senadores de San Juan. Champions normally take part in the Caribbean Series in February to face teams from Venezuela, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
Games can be an entertaining and cheap way to see some explosive talent close up. Ballparks are generally modern, with covered seating and parking (small fee charged). The upper seats are unreserved; the lower palcos cost more. Ticket prices have varied wildly over the years, depending on the team and importance of the game (sometimes reaching as high as $85), but the cheapest should be around $10.
Basketball is played avidly on the island, with the Puerto Rican national squad becoming only the second team in history to defeat the US “Dream Team”, at the 2004 Athens Olympics. The national league (Baloncesto Superior Nacional; wwww.bsnpr.com) comprises ten teams, with San Juan’s Cangrejeros de Santurce playing well-attended games at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico (wwww.coliseodepuertorico.com) in Hato Rey (in San Juan), which can be reached via the Tren Urbano. Tickets range from $6 to $25. The Vaqueros de Bayamón and Atléticos de San Germán are the all-time championship leaders (14 each), and the Ponce Leones are also worth checking out.
Puerto Rico has an impressive history of championship boxing: Héctor Camacho (who hails from Bayamón) held several world championship titles in the 1980s and 1990s, while Félix Trinidad (from Cupey Alto) was the world welterweight and then middleweight champion between 1993 and 2001. However, it’s rare to see major fights on the island, as most of the action takes place on the mainland (screened to massive audiences via cable TV).
Football (fútbol), or soccer, is slowly catching on in Puerto Rico, with its main professional team, the Puerto Rico Islanders (w www.prislandersfc.com), founded in 2003. The Islanders are a member of the North American Soccer League, and currently play between April and September at Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium in Bayamón, near Deportivo Tren Urbano station. For tickets, check online agents wwww.tcpr.com or wwww.ticketpop.com.
The domestic Puerto Rico Soccer League or PRSL (wwww.prsoccer.org) was established in 2008 and now has nine teams in its first division with big plans to expand.
Introduced to Puerto Rico in around 1770, cockfighting (peleas de gallos) was legalized in 1933 and remains the island’s most controversial pastime, regularly condemned by animal rights activists all over the world. If you have the stomach, cockfights offer a vivid insight into traditional Puerto Rican culture and can be atmospheric, raucous affairs – for the best introduction check out the Club Gallístico de Puerto Rico in Isla Verde.
Despite regulations limiting time spent in the pit, fights should be strictly avoided by animal lovers: contests are extremely vicious, with beaks used to literally peck the opponent’s head into a bloody mess. Fights stop when one of the birds is too exhausted to continue, and watching them stagger around for one last desperate attack can be disturbing. Even worse, fights sometimes end quickly when a rooster makes a strategic or “lucky” hit, cutting nerves to its opponent’s brain. When this happens the hapless victim loses all control of its movements, lying frozen on the ground, running around in circles or even cartwheeling around the pit. Nevertheless, supporters defend the sport as a key aspect of Puerto Rican culture.
The only racecourse in Puerto Rico is the Hipódromo Camarero, in Canóvanas at PR-3 km 15.3, 22km east of San Juan. The atmosphere can be electric during races, which take place on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 3pm, usually wrapping up by 6 or 7pm. The Clásico del Caribe, the Caribbean’s richest race, is held here every December. Gambling on all races is legal and big business on the island.