Puerto Rico // El Yunque and the east coast //

The beaches

Luquillo’s town centre lies around Plaza Jesús T. Piñero, just off PR-3, but other than a few places to eat, contains little to see and the beaches are spread out for several miles either side of here. If you’re coming from San Juan the first is Balneario de Luquillo, the main beach and one of Puerto Rico’s most beguiling strips of sand, formally known as Balneario de Monserrate. Look for the brown sign to “Balneario” and “Kioscos” on PR-3, just after you pass the line of kioscos on the left (if you reach the Luquillo exit on PR-3, you’ve missed it).

With a wide swathe of honey-gold sand, plenty of palm trees and El Yunque for a backdrop, it’s definitely one of the top beaches on the island, best enjoyed on weekdays when you’ll avoid the crowds (and the rubbish). As an official public beach, it has a vast car park, toilets, changing facilities, showers and clear, calm water, perfect for swimming. It even has a staffed ramp for wheelchair users known as the Mar Sin Barreras (“sea without barriers”). Luquillo itself is 1km east of the balneario on the other side of a headland and quite separate from it – you have to rejoin PR-3 and take the next exit to reach the centre (you can follow one-way PR-193 in the other direction).

The northern half of Luquillo town is almost completely given over to condos and known as Vilomar or just “Condominio” – it backs Playa Azul, a narrow but reasonably clean beach where you can park for free on the street and doze under the palms. Central Luquillo lies beyond the small headland (“La Punta”) further along, a slightly shabby, sleepy place fronting the rougher beach of Playa La Pared, popular with surfers. To the southeast you’ll see the sand stretching away into the distance: known as La Selva, this is hard to access by car and often sprinkled with debris, but almost always deserted. Conservationists managed to get the undeveloped stretch of coast between here and Balneario Seven Seas (dubbed “the Northeast Ecological Corridor”) designated a nature reserve in 2008, but just over a year later Governor Fortuño rescinded the decision. With turtle nesting sites threatened by the construction of mega resorts, the area has attracted a coalition of various groups campaigning for its protection: see wwww.sierraclub.org/corridor for more details.

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