DestiNATION Puerto Rico

Find Legendary Surfing and Sunsets in Puerto Rico’s Chillest Beach Town

Go whale spotting and food truck hopping in the Caribbean's surfing capital.

Marias Beach
Maria's Beach | Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Maria's Beach | Cole Saladino/Thrillist
If you're even thinking of being in Puerto Rico, check out the rest of our DestiNATION Puerto Rico travel guide. It's stacked with expert advice from locals on what to eat, where to go, and what to do on the Island of Enchantment.

Rincón’s Caribbean cred is strong, but juxtaposed against the “hang ten” vibes imported by surfers from all over the world, this tropical haven is beloved by waveriders, tourists and longtime locals alike. And it's no surprise why, as the majority of travelers to this laidback northwestern outpost are drawn to some of the hemisphere's best surf and sunsets -- like a ravenous horde to a feast.

The World Surfing Championships of 1968 put Rincón on the map, and it’s been an anchor of the international surfing scene ever since. On this quaint corner of Puerto Rico, you’ll experience the best winter surfing in the Caribbean (and arguably the world), but there’s so much more. Think some of the best humpback whale migration viewing spots during the winter, or incredible scuba diving off remote islands, or verdant tropical views everywhere you look.

Drive along the legendary routes 413 and 4413, and you’ll quickly see why Rincón is catching up to bustling San Juan in popularity: Surfboard-carrying dudes contribute a Boho feel unique to the island; lines of food trucks continue some of the best eating traditions in Puerto Rico aka casual, never-ending roadside noshing; and offerings for active travelers like world-class scuba diving and horseback riding.

Choose from dozens of beach bars to dip your toes in the sand while sipping refreshing coconut rum cocktails, and hey, maybe even try your hand at deep-sea fishing. Why limit yourself?

From pirates to nuclear tests, Rincón has a rich history worth exploring -- though small, the area deserves at least a few days to make the most of it.

Punta Higuero Lighthouse
Punta Higuero Lighthouse | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Picnic by the spectacular sea cliffs of Punta Higuero Lighthouse

Free
Centro Puntas
This lighthouse might be in the middle of a modest, verdant park, but it’s all about location, location, location, as they say. Situated at the edge of spectacular sea cliffs, this lighthouse delivers amazing views of the coast and incredible, shimmering sunsets. Picnic in the park with the historic lighthouse as your backdrop, and if you’re lucky, you might be able to see the whales pass during peak migration season, January through March. The lighthouse was originally built in 1892, but it was destroyed during an earthquake in 1918 -- the structure you see today is from 1922.

Go nuclear at the BONUS Reactor Facility

Free
Centro Puntas
The Boiling Nuclear Superheater (BONUS) Reactor Facility, also known as "Domes," is the Caribbean’s first nuclear power plant. Built in 1960, served as a nuclear testing facility -- and as precursor to modern nuclear facilities -- until 1968, when it was decommissioned. Today, it is known as the BONUS Technological Museum run by the local Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), which requires visitors to set up appointment to check it out. The quirky, curious (non-radiated) reactor is an oddity for the otherwise tropical climes, and plans are in the works to build out a more formal educational experience in the space.

Maria's Beach
Shredding the gnar at Maria's Beach. | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Catch waves in the Caribbean’s surfing capital

Free - $$
Centro Puntas
Rincón is known as the Caribbean’s surf mecca, and there’s no shortage of top-grade beaches where you can carve waves like a pro or test your novice skills. November through April is the height of surf (and tourism) season, where swells can reach as high as 6 feet tall, depending on the beach and weather conditions. Deep trenches offshore, strong trade winds, and cold fronts in winter months all contribute to the epic, churning swells, ideal conditions for hanging ten for sustained periods of time. Stay true to the rules of surf etiquette and you’ll probably make fast friends with the local pros. Maria’s Beach is among the most popular, great for safe, family-friendly surfing. For more consistent waves and mellow rides, hit up Domes, while at Tres Palmas, experienced surfers can enjoy more challenging conditions. For newbies, several schools and shops nearby will provide lessons or rent a board.

Scuba dive amongst gorgeous remote reefs

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Desecheo Island
Desecheo is a small, uninhabited island paradise located just 12 miles off the coast of Rincón, originally discovered by Christopher Columbus (love him or hate him) during his second voyage to the area. Today, it is a natural reserve housing a herd of wild goats -- not much to look at, that is, until you dive underwater. A kaleidoscopic reef bursting with diverse, colorful marine life --  sea fans, sponges, coral -- are only interrupted by sunken underwater caverns and even the occasional unexploded artillery anchored to the ocean floor. The island features over 20 diving sites, all boasting warm waters with high visibility, and in some cases, colorful shallows ideal for snorkeling. Some divers even claim these reefs are so alive that you can even hear them crackling. Popular tour providers like Taino Divers and Rincón Diving and Snorkeling.

Surfing lessons.
Surfing lessons. | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Learn about Puerto Rico’s surfing history

Free
Downtown Rincón
If you’re a surfing enthusiast and have some down time, spend a quick half hour checking the Surfing Museum (Galeria del Surfing) located in Rincón’s downtown. Here, you’ll find more than 100 vintage surfboards from the 1950s and 1960s, in addition to other surfing paraphernalia. Given that this is a small and very niche museum, it opens only sporadically, so schedule a visit by calling +1-787-823-1088.

Reel in the big fish out in deep ocean waters

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Various Locations
The warm, clear blue waters of the Mona Passage -- where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea -- are excellent for year-round sport fishing. It is so good that ESPN's Billfish Xtreme Release League rated Western Puerto Rico No. 3 in the world for blue marlin fishing. But, Rincón’s is not limited to this prize fish: Tuna, mahi-mahi, wahoo, and myriad other catch are top-notch as well. Several companies offer half-day and full-day charters with options for deep-sea, bottom, live bait, trolling, and kite fishing, among others. Among the most popular are Fathom and Makaira Fishing Charters, which is the longest running fishing charter in Rincón.

Drink a mojito at one of the best beach bars in the world

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Centro Puntas
Rincón boasts plenty of bars for relaxing with a drink, but Tamboo Tavern more than deserves a mention, regularly ranked among the top beach bars in the Caribbean. At this beachfront bar and restaurant, the horizon stretches to infinity, while the classically prepared mojitos -- featuring a local rum you may or may not have heard of called Bacardi -- are the perfect cure to the ills of the world. The kitchen’s menu doesn’t complicate matters; here, you’ll find cuchifritos alongside minimally prepared steak kebabs, mofongo baskets filled with salmon mousse, and the out-of-place-but-beach-perfect fish tacos. Kick up your heels lounging on the open wooden deck along Sandy Beach, while you plan your next session out on the waves.

Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Tuck into Rincón’s bustling food truck scene

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Stella
Food trucks are everywhere in Rincón, fueling the surfer community and tourists hungry from hours spent in the surf and sand. Dabble in the local fare by hitting up Gastropark@115, where a number of rotating vendors with different specialities -- think platanos, cocktail, and epic hot dogs -- feed ravenous hoards of beach bums. One food truck, CHRISin Limites (roughly translated to Chris without Limits), is worthy of a visit for its story alone, as chef Christopher González -- who is born with Down Syndrome -- challenges stereotypes with delicious fried “bowls” stuffed to the gills with chicken, pork or vegetable, topped with more vegetables and dressings. Depending on the season, you’ll also find housemade pastries. For a taste of the mainland, there’s always the Slider Shop, but for a unique experience, don’t sleep on Chef’s Garden. Founded in 2017, this mobile truck is parked next to a charming, well-maintained organic garden, which supplies the pescaterian kitchen with farm-fresh veggies.

Experience the quiet majesty of humpback whales up close

Free
Various Locations
Humpback whales are magnificent creatures that can grow up to 50 feet in length, and from December to mid-April, these gentle giants migrate to the Caribbean’s warm waters to mate and calve before heading back to the cold North Atlantic during the summer. Luckily for travelers, their preferred route cuts through Mona Passage, just off the coast of Rincón. To set expectations, humpback whales are known to be elusive creatures, but you can view them from many different vantage points on an almost daily basis. With luck, you could spot them from Domes and Sandy Beach, or any other beach facing the Mona Passage. The best time to see them is either early in the morning or during sunset. Some companies like Taino Divers, Katarina Sail, and Adventures Tourmarine offer sunset sailing tours year round, but during the height of whale watching season, they offer chances to see them up close.

 

Go horseback riding by the beach

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Downtown Rincón
In Rincón you can surf, relax, and pursue a number of watersports, but don’t count out horseback riding by the beach. Pintos “R” Us offers guided horseback riding tours along the area’s spectacular beaches, past the lighthouse and whale-watching park, and through several lush tropical trails that descend onto cliffs overlooking the historic Spanish Wall and beautiful beach behind it.

Feel like you own a private beach at the Spanish Wall

Free
Centro Puntas
Spanish Wall Beach is named after the old railroad built by the Spanish that used to run along Rincón’s coast. You can still see the remains of the railroad tracks and the wall that ran along it. This beach is not surfer-friendly, shallow and only accessible via a coastal trail from Domes Beach on the south or from Pools Beach on the north. All together, this translates to few crowds and wide-swathes of unspoilt sand -- it’s as close as you can get to having a remote paradise all to yourself.

Toast Puerto Rico’s favorite pirate at Villa Cofresí

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Stella
Nearly two centuries after his death, Roberto Cofresí is still Puerto Rico’s most famous pirate, inspiring folk tales and adventures to this day. Born into a poor noble family during Spanish occupation of the island, Cofresí had a reputation for evading colonial flotillas and taking part in Puerto Rico’s independence movements during his lifetime. These days, he’s also the namesake of The Pirate cocktail at Villa Cofresí. It is well-known that Cofresí loved mixing his rum with coconut, and this drink is appropriately a mix of four types with coconut and cocoa creams, served in a coconut. Cheers to you, buccaneers.

Head oceanside to chow down on fresh local fare


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Stella and Rincon
While you’re at it, head to one of the island’s oldest restaurants, also in Villa Cofresí. Since 1965, La Ana de Cofresí has been dishing up an iconic chicken, shrimp and lobster asopao, a classic PR comfort food of sofrito-scented broth and rice. For some sunset-soaked casual fine dining, head over to La Copa Llena (“the full cup”), where pork tenderloin, glazed with tamarind and crusted with coriander, is the star, though ocean-fresh catch-of-the-day offerings shouldn’t be ignored.

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Norbert Figueroa is an architect from Puerto Rico who hit pause on his career in 2011 to travel to all 195 U.N. recognized countries. He shares his adventures and other travel tips at GloboTreks.com.