The East Coast Hawaii
Puerto Rico came to my attention in 1968 when the the World
Surfing Championships were held in a small town named Rincón on the
island's west coast. The waves were excellent that year
and the pictures in the surf magazines piqued my teenage surf crazed soul.
The town where the championships were held was called Rincón (pronounced Reen
cone') and I put it on my
list of "must visit someday," destinations. Over the years
several of my surfer friends brought back stories of their visits, the gist of
which was, 'it's friendly, cheap and way cool, like Hawaii back in the
1960's." Last week, my family
and I returned from a lengthy vacation in Rincón and I'm please to report that it's
every bit as nice as I'd ever imagined. The surf is still great too!
Las Playas de Rincón
As an introduction to this wonderful place, let me paint you a picture. It's
early morning and your eyes have popped open as the sound of a rooster
through the window. The instantaneous heat and brightness of the tropical
sunlight is still a few minutes away as the sun hasn't yet cleared the lush and
craggy limestone hills looming behind the beaches of Rincón. You
wander out to the wide sandy beach and find that the sand is cool and dry on
your feet. Sand comes in many varieties, some more "simpatico"
than others. Rincón's sand, like so much else about it, seems
somehow perfect; not so coarse that it hurts your feet to walk on, but
not so powdery and fine as to get into everything either.
There's a northwest swell running today, and glassy little waves are cracking
the stillness on the rocky reefs of Sandy Beach. No one is surfing yet
and the place has the unreal feeling of a set piece of theater being presented
to an empty house. The coconut palms hanging over the wide beach, the
clear warm water, the hint of offshore breeze are almost too perfect1.
There's a complementary breakfast, Puertorriqueño-style laid out under the
thatched roof of the Tamboo Tavern2. Fried plantains,
fresh mango and papaya, chicken empanadas, and that excellent island-grown
coffee. You've become friends with Clara in the last few days. She's
minding the bar and keeping the breakfast table stocked but there's plenty of
time to chat because no one is in much of a rush around here.
Clara is a local girl, raised in barrio Ensenada. She moved to Puntas
when her father inherited a little farm or finca, from his uncle back in the
1960's. She went to the local schools and has landed a pretty good job
here, so she's a happy camper. She and her husband plan to build on the
land her father gave them next year, then they'll have kids. Her English
is better than your Spanish, and you both laugh when an intractable bit of
vocabulary comes up. The perfectly bilingual expat Gregorio will resolve
any mysteries when he arrives to pick you up for the daily surf
Nothing is pressing, no hurry is hanging over head. You're in Rincón,
Puerto Rico and as Clara says, "la vida es muy rica."
Most people assume that Rincón got its name from the giant rugged point
that forms a corner (rincon in Spanish) on the western coast of Puerto Rico, but it is
more likely that it was named for Gonzolo Rincón, a Spanish landowner who established the
town in the 16th century. The history of Rincón stretches all the
way back to 1493, when Christopher Columbus is rumored to have visited during his
explorations in the area.
In the early 1800's, Rincón was a favorite hideout for the legendary Caribbean
pirate Roberto Cofresí Ramirez de Arellano3. His ship "La
Ana," was a
dreaded sight to the Spanish captains whose ships were laden with treasure from
the new world. The bold and dashing Cofresi was known for his daring raids
as well as his generosity in sharing some of his loot with the poor people in
the Spanish navy sloop "San Jose de las Animas" and Captain John
Sloat of the US Naval Forces, in command of the Schooner Grampus, cornered Cofresi in
the Bahia Boca de Infierno (mouth of fire) near Guayama. After a fierce battle, La Ana was
driven ashore and Cofresi and his crew were captured. At dawn on March 29,
1825 Cofresi and ten of his men were lined up against the walls of the El Morro
fortress and executed, ending the life of one of the Caribbean's most legendary
pirates. Most of Cofresi's treasure has never been found and many believe that
some of his treasure still lies hidden in the limestone caverns around Rincón.
In fact, some Spanish treasure has been recovered over the years in the local
During the late 1950's the Sea Beach Colony became the first of many low- key
vacation resorts to come to Rincón. Since that time, the town has
grown at a modest pace and managed to retain some funk and soul.
A little Spanish goes a long way in Puerto Rico, both in helping to decipher
the sometimes confusing roadside signage, as well as breaking the ice with a new
friend. Puerto Rico is predominately a Catholic country, but religious tolerance
is general. Family ties are strong and young people have a natural respect
toward their elders that is both refreshing and surprising. In general, a
feeling of formality and politeness governs most interactions initially, but
friendships develop easily with these warm and open people. Most Puerto
Ricans are pretty conservative in their clothing and manners as well as their
The subject of Puerto Rico's political destiny is a hot button on which
opinions vary widely. Several referendums on political
independence from the U.S. have failed over the years, and most
Puertorriqueño seem content with the current status quo. Many of the people you meet will be very familiar
with America and have traveled to the U.S. or had friends and relatives who have
done so. They are justifiably proud of their homeland and have understandable
concerns about preserving their unique culture against the onslaught of American
marketing and economic development.
Despite the obvious signs of economic development one sees along The
Parrot Highway between San Juan and Rincón, there's still a lot of poverty in the
country. I was told that over 80% of the students at the local high school
were from families receiving some form of financial assistance from the U.S.
Federal Government. Puerto Rican families are very cohesive and tend to
take care of each other. So, even though many people are relatively poor
by U.S. standards, the familial safety net combined with easy
access to welfare monies, a mild climate and a relatively low cost of living
moderate the problem. As my friend Gregorio remarked, "If you
have to be poor, this isn't a bad place for it."
Living in Rincón
The vegetation is lush and tropical, graceful coconuts palms and breadfruit
trees, punctuated with the iridescent orange blossoms of the tropical tulips. The
humidity is remarkably low for a tropical island and over the
course of the year the temperature varies between 75° and 90° Fahrenheit
32° Centigrade). A nearly constant breeze helps keep things
comfortable. The rainy season runs from June through the end of
September. During this period you can expect at least a little rain each
day as the moist air of the Bermuda High passes over the island and deposits
it's load of precipitation along the way. Hurricanes are a possibility, but most
of them hit the eastern end of Puerto Rico. The rare hurricane that makes
a landfall on the west end of the island tends to cause wind-related damage
rather than flooding.
In an act of far-sighted governance, the lawmakers in San Juan recognized
the beaches of Puerto Rico as a national treasure and ruled that they would all
be publicly owned. Bolstering this ruling are zoning laws ensuring that
development along the coastline must be set back a generous distance from the
beach. The net effect of this is that you can walk for miles along the white sand beaches, admiring the clean turquoise water or stopping for a picnic
under the shade of a palm tree. The beaches to the south of town are protected
from the predominant swells, so they don't tend to have large waves and are good
for children. The beaches to the north, in the Ensenada and, especially,
Puntas catch the brunt of the swell and produce waves that are excellent for
Visitors can choose from a wide range of accommodations,
with sleepy inexpensive guesthouses ($25 - $75 U.S. per night) on one end and
the world famous Horned Dorset Primavera resort4 ($250 U.S. and up per
night), the only Relais & Chateaux property in Puerto Rico, on the other
end of the decadence scale.
Dining in Rincón is a treat. I prefer sampling the local
Puertorriqueño restaurants and there are plenty to choose from. The fare
generally centers around rice and red beans (habichuelas) with pork, beef and
chicken, seasoned with adobo, a traditional marinade made with garlic and
oregano. Cooking bananas or plantains are a local specialty and are prepared in
dozens of ways including tostones (fried like potato chips) and amarillos (baked). For a quick snack you can try the empanadas, deep fried turnovers
stuffed with all kinds of goodies. Fresh seafood is also a mainstay in Rincón,
and dining on a burrito filled with lime-baked dorado (Mahi Mahi) on the porch at
a sublime experience. There's a fully stocked supermarket it you feel like
cooking your own meals.
For a day or two, just decompressing on a warm sandy beach with a friendly
waiter to bring you umbrella drinks is bliss. But once you've gotten the
pro forma slacking out of the way, you'll want something interesting to fill your
days. Happily Rincón has a wealth of activities to choose from from
sightseeing to X-treme sports.
Rincón has excellent waves and lots of them. It's not considered good
form these days to be very explicit about someone else's surf breaks, so I'm
just going to advise any surfers reading this to put it on their list of
destinations not to miss. Once you get there check in at the West Coast
Surf Shop5 to jack into the local conditions.
Other activities include excellent diving on the surrounding coral
reefs (snorkeling and tank dives are both excellent6), sport fishing, horseback riding, biking,
watching, and expeditions to the nearby islands of Desecho & Mona7.
If you only do one day trip, the drive up to the Arecibo Observatory is well
worth the effort. Suffice it to say there's plenty to do in and around Rincón
no matter what your preferences.
Around and about
Geographically, Rincón is a sandy coastal plain
surrounded by steep limestone hills. The town center is a compact business
district situated around the Catholic church and a small plaza. The two
police stations, library, primary and secondary schools, supermarket etc. are
all within walking distance of the plaza.
The majority of Rincón's
15,000 residents live in the nine villages or barrios surrounding the town
proper. Each of the barrios has its own character, with those lining the
beaches (Puntas, Ensenada, Pueblo, Calvache and Barrero) attracting most of the
tourist-oriented businesses, while the barrios up in the highlands (Rio Grande,
Cruces, Jaquey and Atalaya) are utilized for farming and other more traditional
Driving in and around Rincón can be a little tricky
for first time visitors. The roads aren't very well marked and it's
difficult to obtain a detailed roadmap8 of the area. Faith and patience
will reward the intrepid motorist however and the locals are friendly if you
need to ask directions.
All of Rincón's major roads come together near the
center of town. Route 115 runs north from the center of town through
the barrios of Ensenada and Rio Grande before passing through the nearby town of
Aguada and connecting to Highway 2. To the south, Route 115 traversing the
barrios of Pueblo and Calvache. Route 412 proceeds southeast from downtown Rincón
and passes through the eastern barrios of Pueblo, Cruces, Jaquey and Atalaya.
Route 413 is a loop road that exits off of Route 115 on the edge of Rincón
and circles the Ensenada and Puntas areas before rejoining highway 115 in Rio
Getting to Rincón
Many major airlines fly to San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. From
Boston, a round trip ticket is currently about $450 U.S. Once you land in
San Juan, the car rental companies all have busses that will transport you to
Driving instructions from San Juan to Rincón:
From San Juan Airport, follow Route 26 in the direction of San Juan. Exit at Minillas tunnel, change to Route 22 in the direction of Bayamón / Arecibo (also known as the Parrot Route). Follow the Parrot Route signs to the second intersection with Route 115 in the direction of Rincón and turn right.
Follow 114 all the way to Rincón. The trip will take approx. 2 hours from San
If you want to save some time, it's not much more to take a commuter flight
from San Juan to Mayaguez, the closest airport to Rincón. In this
case, the driving instructions are simpler:
From Mayagüez Airport, Take Route 2 North 1.5 miles to the Anasco Intersection. Turn left onto Route 115
and follow it all the way to Rincón.
Living the dream
Rincón has a large and growing population of expatriate Americans9, drawn by
the prospects of living inexpensively in paradise. To a large extent
their dreams are coming true. Real estate is cheap, along with the other
necessities of life, and there are no visa or passport problems because legally,
Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. The people are friendly, the living is
easy and the surf is great. Oh yeah, no Federal taxes either. What's not to like?
Wasting away again in Margaritaville
Searching for my lost shaker of salt
Some people claim that there's a woman to blame
But I know that it's my own damned fault...
- Jimmy Buffett
1 Beside The Pointe Inn & Tamboo Tavern: http://www.besidethepointe.com/links.htm
2 Beautiful photos of the area by Chantik: http://www.chantik-photo.com
3 The Dread Pirate Cofresi: http://www.solboricua.com/pirata/Cofresi.htm
4 Deluxe accommodations: http://www.horneddorset.com
5 The friendliest surfshop anywhere: www.westcoastsurf.com/
6 Rincon Dive shop: http://www.tainodivers.com/
7 Adventures and X-Treme Sports: http://expedicionespalenque.com/
8 Rincon area maps: http://www.besidethepointe.com/map.htm
9 Expatriate extraordinaire 'De Island Mon': http://www.islandmon.com/