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Planning Your Time on Puerto Rico’s West Coast

For many decades, the west coast of Puerto Rico has been a mecca for surfers and divers.

The rocky coast—with its craggy points, protected lagoons, big swells, and underwater walls—is a nature-lover’s wonderland. During surf season, from December to April, the population explodes, and a solid seasonal infrastructure of low-budget crash pads and burger bars has built up through the years to serve the seasonal visitors.

Recently nicknamed Porto del Sol by the tourism authority, the west coast is beginning to be promoted as a destination apart from San Juan. Thanks to the former Ramey Air Force Base, which once occupied much of Aguadilla, the infrastructure existed for the birth of Rafael Hernández International Airport, which now services flights from New York City, New Jersey, and Orlando, Florida. As a result, tourism has flourished, and more upscale resorts and restaurants are beginning to crop up in idyllic little spots along the coast to serve the leisure traveler.

Parque Recreativo Cristóbal Colón. Photo © Suzanne Van Atten.
Beach at Parque Recreativo Cristóbal Colón. Photo © Suzanne Van Atten.

The west coast has so much going on that it’s worthy of an extended stay. It encompasses a huge range of environments within just a 50-mile range. Aside from the party-hardy surf towns of Isabela, Rincón, and Aguadilla, it includes the colonial city of Mayagüez, the fishing village of Boquerón, the phosphorescent bay in La Parguera, the salt flats of Cabo Rojo, and the 10,000-acre subtropical dry forest in Guánica.

Most important to some, the west coast is about as far away as you can get—both literally and figuratively—from San Juan. The fast-paced, high-stress urban environment in the island’s capital is replaced by a slow-paced, nature-loving vibe that west coasters embrace.

Planning Your Time

The entire west coast could be driven from tip to tail in less than two hours, but who would want to? There’s so much to do and see, you could easily bypass San Juan and the eastern side altogether and spend an entire month on the west coast. In a pinch, though, a long weekend will suffice.

There are two main reasons you want to plan on spending as much time as possible on the west coast. For one, most of the charms are to be found by taking up some form of water sport, and that takes time. Whether it is mastering the art of surfing on the beaches in Isabela, Rincón, or Aguadilla; taking a scuba-diving expedition to Desecheo Island or Mona Island; or paddling a kayak through the mangrove channels, taking a stand-up paddleboard tour, or kayaking through the Bahía Fosforescente in La Parguera, you’ve got to get in the water to appreciate all the west coast has to offer.

Travel map of West Coast, Puerto Rico
West Coast

The other reason you’ll want to linger here is that there is a laid-back, easygoing rhythm to life on the west coast that compels you to slow down, take your time, have another beer, and watch the sunset. And if you don’t let yourself be a part of that magic, you’ll miss the whole reason for visiting.

To fully explore the west coast, a car is essential. If you’re arriving via San Juan, it’s about a 100-mile drive and takes 2-4 hours, depending on time of day and road construction projects along the way. It’s also possible to fly into Aguadilla and rent a car.

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