Luquillo attracts visitors from far and wide for two reasons. One is its beautiful public beach, commonly referred to as Playa Luquillo, although its proper name is Balneario La Monserrate. Many consider it one of the finest beaches on the main island. The other reason is for the Luquillo Kioskos, more than 50 food vendors serving some of the very best street food available in Puerto Rico.
Luquillo’s town center has an uncommonly large plaza with very little charm, so there’s little reason to tarry here. Instead, head over to the coastal side of town along La Pared, the seawall. On the street side is a cluster of restaurants and bars. On the sea side is a popular surfing spot.
Las Pailas (Carr. 983, Barrio Yuquiyu, Luquillo) is about as off the beaten path as you can get. This natural water slide is formed by a mountain stream cascading over a smooth but rocky descent that bottoms out in a chest-deep pool of crystal-clear water. Locals come here on weekends to mount the “horse,” a saddle-shaped rock at the top of the descent, and slide down the rocks, landing in the natural pool below. If you’re lucky, you’ll see expert showboaters slide down on their bellies, face first, or even on foot.
This is not an official tourist site. There are no signs, facilities, parking, or rules, although visitors should be mindful of respecting the property and not leave any trash behind. Although it’s primarily a locals’ spot, visitors are welcome, especially if they prove their mettle by taking a ride. To get here from San Juan, take Carretera 3 east. Turn right on Carretera 992 and go toward Sabana, and then turn right on Carretera 983. Las Pailas is behind the homes that line the right side of the road. The best access is behind house number 6051, distinguished by a cyclone fence. Homeowners along this stretch allow visitors to park for $5 and will point you toward a well-worn path that takes you to the nearby shoals. If you get lost, just ask.
Although Balneario La Monserrate gets all the accolades and attention, it isn’t the only beach in Luquillo. La Selva Natural Reserve (Carr. 193, just east of Luquillo), a designated nature preserve, is a 3,240-acre tract of land comprising wetlands, mangroves, coastal forest, and pristine beaches ideal for swimming and surfing—just beware of the reefs. This is an important nesting site for leatherback turtles.
In the town of Luquillo, along Carretera 193, is Playa Azul, a sandy crescent beach great for swimming and snorkeling. Parking is limited, and there are no facilities besides a few street vendors selling snacks. Farther eastward on Calle Herminio Diaz Navarro is La Pared, a great surfing spot adjacent to a picturesque seawall, just one block from Luquillo’s central plaza.
La Pared is a popular surf spot in Luquillo.
Balneario La Monserrate
Balneario La Monserrate, or Playa Luquillo (Carr. 3, east of San Juan, 787/889-5871, daily 8:30am-5:30pm), is the kind of place people dream of when they envision an island paradise. A thick grove of tall, shady coconut palm trees sways in the breeze over a mile-long wide crescent of pristine sand gently lapped by the Atlantic Ocean. The only signs of civilization are a clean modern complex of bathrooms and showers, some covered picnic shelters, and a couple of snack bars serving fritters and piña coladas. Camping (787/889-5871 for reservations, $10, $17 with electricity) is permitted in a grassy area with picnic tables and grills on the western side.
The only drawback to this idyllic spot is that it gets packed with beachgoers on weekends, holidays, and during the summer, when beach chairs and umbrellas are available for rent and lifeguards keep an eye on things. If you want solitude, visit on a weekday during the low season, and you’ll practically have the place to yourself.
On the far eastern side of the beach is Mar Sin Barreras (Sea Without Barriers), a staffed, wheelchair-accessible beach that caters to visitors with disabilities. In addition to a system of ramps that permits those in wheelchairs to roll right into the water, there are accessible bathrooms, showers, parking, and picnic shelters. The facility also rents special wheelchairs for entering the water.