Cruising the south coast of Puerto Rico offers something a little different from the usual blue seas and sandy white beaches of the Caribbean. Its coastline is 70-odd miles of historical Spanish lighthouses, small seaside towns, historic towns, mangrove habitat, protected anchorages and bioluminescent bays. There is local charm and big city splendour. The arid coastal plains are backed by the Cordillera Central, the mountain range which divides the north of Puerto Rico from the south. This coast is laced with mangrove anchorages and pretty green bays that offer plenty of gunk-holing and opportunities to explore.
Moving from east to west behind Punta Patillos is a small anchorage protected by reefs with verdant Puerto Rican hills in the background. It’s a picturesque spot if a little exposed to the winds, with a pretty public beach where you will find vendors selling local snacks. This stop makes a good staging point when you are making your way back east into the trades.
Twenty miles further to the west the Bahia de Jobos is a vast area of mangrove bays and creeks. They make a great place to tuck your boat into in the event of a storm and are maybe the best hurricane holes in Puerto Rico. We have explored some of the winding creeks with our six-foot draft and feel certain our boat would be safe tucked up in the mangroves here should the need ever arise. To enter the main bay you can go through the eastern end at Boca del Infierno and make your way in the protected waters all the way through to Salinas. Many of the fringing reefs form protected pools and warm shallow waters that are popular with the Puerto Ricans at weekends.
The bay is also home to a family of manatees, so keep an eye out for these docile creatures.
Salinas is a large well protected bay backed by the mountain range sprawling down towards the sea. It is a popular spot amongst many cruisers who use it as a base for touring the island. The marina is very helpful and friendly with transient berths, fuel, water, laundry and bar onsite. On Friday they have popular BBQ nights. Just outside the gates ‘Sal Pa Dentro’ is a cruiser-friendly hangout with good food and wifi. Not too far away you can find a bakers and other bars and restaurants. And slightly further still is a supermarket, hardware store (ferreteria) and a post office that accepts general delivery. The bay is also home to a family of manatees, so keep an eye out for these docile creatures.
Next stop and eight miles offshore is Isla Caja De Muertos (Coffin Island), a favourite spot and a nature reserve. It has beautiful beaches, clear inviting waters with good snorkelling, a neglected lighthouse built by the Spanish, a cave and great hiking throughout. Wear shoes or sandals with thick soles as there are plenty of cacti and thorny trees about.
Ponce is about halfway along the coast and is a port of entry. It is the second largest city and historic centre of the south coast. It is a place well worth a visit from a cultural point of view and also a good place to re-provision with large shops, malls and supermarkets. There are a couple of good marina options with transient slips available, though none offer dinghy access for those who choose to anchor. The Paseo Tablado La Guancha is a boardwalk seafront filled with different local eateries, it’s a great place to people-watch and enjoy the view and live salsa music.
Cayos de Caña Gorda (Gilligan’s Island) is a peaceful spot during the week. It is made up of tiny islets that are joined together by a mangrove canopy providing calm and clear water in which to kayak and snorkel. At the weekend it gets busy when the locals arrive by ferry to party.
The anchorage is to the southwest of Punta Jacinto and is protected from the Caribbean Sea by Cayos de Cana Gorda.
La Parguera is a small but bustling seaside town on the southwest corner of Puerto Rico. Colourful waterfront cottages sit right out on the water’s edge protected by the mangrove reefs. The town has a relatively new observation deck and plaza overlooking the Caribbean Sea. It’s a great place to grab a drink or something to eat at one of the many bars and restaurants or do a little provisioning at the mini market. The outer mangrove reefs are great for swimming, snorkelling or exploring in your dinghy or kayak. You can also visit the bioluminescent bay and watch it glow on a dark night.
Finally at Cabo Rojo you can anchor on the west side of the cliffs and the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse. Here, the spit of land divides two gorgeous beaches. If you get the chance, visit the lighthouse – which has undergone major renovation in recent years – and marvel at the pink salt flats to the east and one of Puerto Rico’s most photographed sights, El Puente Natural (natural bridge), to the west.
Rosie and her husband Sim Hoggarth have been cruising the Caribbean and North America full time for the past twelve years aboard Wandering Star. You can follow their travels at: www.yachtwanderingstar.com