Beautiful beaches and bays rim Puerto Rico. Yet, when water-loving families want to cruise away for the weekend, it’s La Parguera to which they often head. Located on the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico, west of Ponce and east of Boqueron, La Parguera is a quaint fishing village that offers a boatload of water sports activities – and you don’t even need to own a boat.
We, for example, didn’t have a vessel of our own when we set off on the lay day of last summer’s Optimist North American Championships in Ponce to explore this destination. But, within a half hour of parking along the quiet bed-and-breakfast and small hotel-lined main street, we were casting off in a small rental with outboard from Johnny’s Boats. By day, the big attraction here is the nearby mangrove cays. Families on everything from jet skis and kayaks to 60-foot Hatteras cabin cruisers raft up, then eat, drink and party.
The most popular of these cays is Mata de la Gata. It’s about a 15-minute boat ride from La Parguera. If you don’t rent a boat, there are several ferry-like vessels that make the round-trip on a regular basis between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and charge $5 per person. Rustic bathroom facilities, barbecue pits, a beach and pier are here, as well as a boardwalk that takes you through the mangroves where you can see thousands of small fish.
To the west you’ll find The Canals, an area that’s formed by more than 30 cays and small islands. You do indeed feel like you’re cruising through canals as you voyage through the slim waterways that flow through these landmasses, but I do think a better a name for this area might be the Mangrove Maze. The area is definitely ‘must-see’ gorgeous, but it’s easy to get lost. Take a guide or just venture a short way into this labyrinth.
By night, La Parguera is known for its Bioluminescent Bay. In fact, this area came into international prominence back in 1960 when National Geographic magazine published an article by Dr. Paul Zahl titled, ‘Sailing a Sea of Fire’. Zahl dramatically described the light produced by the living organisms in the bay and identified these colorful critters as single-celled dinoflagellate. When disturbed by sudden movements, like swishing of hands through the water, these microorganisms emanate their own light. This sight is really spectacular on a moonless night. Boats, ranging in size from those that hold a family to large catamarans for more than 100 folks, leave the dock in town beginning at 7 p.m. The trip lasts about an hour.
There are lots of other water sports to enjoy in La Parguera. If you’re a scuba diver, check out the La Parguera Wall. It runs for over 20 miles at an average distance of six to seven miles from shore. The Wall drops from about 60-feet to over 1500-feet and visibility is excellent to 150-feet. If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, there are over 20 other dive sites to choose from in the area. Either way, there’s a great variety of marine life, deep-water gorgonians and rare black coral to see, and several local dive companies that can provide everything from equipment rental to a full charter expedition.
If you’re an angler, this is the spot for dolphin or mahi-mahi as well as blue marlin and wahoo. Dolphin caught in La Parguera’s waters typically range from 25 to over 50 pounds. Local charter operations offer half day and full day trips with tackle and beverages provided.
If you’re a kite-boarder, the desert-like landscape on the south side of Puerto Rico creates consistent and strong thermal winds everyday along the waterways off La Parguera. That said, the generally lighter winds in the morning are enough to power kites in the 16 to 20 meter size and the bigger blows in the afternoon will have you putting up kites in the 8 to 12 meter range. The conditions here for kite boarding are so idyllic that the folks from Kite Boarding magazine have come down to profile the area and several tour companies offer packages for weeklong kite boarding vacations.
Finally, for your time on land, you’ll find several neat places to eat and stay in La Parguera. Small stalls that line the waterfront boardwalk-style sell pinchos – basically chicken, pork, beef and even shark, grilled on a stick with barbecue or hot sauce. Several of the small inns, or paradores, boast restaurants that serve fresh seafood and Sunday brunch. Some of the most popular places to stay are Parador Villa Parguera, which often offers weekend getaway packages; Posada Porlamar, the home of Parguera Diver’s; and Torres de la Parguera, which overlooks the bay as well as serves up gourmet cuisine.