The Wild West Coast

Clients find unspoiled adventure on Puerto Rico’s Porta del Sol

By: Reed Glenn

Stars above and stars below. For a moment I didn’t know which way was up. This is what happens when you go swimming in a bioluminescent bay on a dark, starry night. I watched with awe as greenish-white sparkles sheeted off the watery arms and faces of my swimming companions. They looked like enchanted beings playing and splashing like kids in the liquid stardust.

All this magic comes from tiny light-emitting microorganisms called dinoflagellates. When disturbed, these living animals produce a spark of chemical light. In southwestern Puerto Rico, near the lively little town of Lajas, the bay at La Parguera is home to this phenomenon.

Paradise Scuba & Snorkeling Center in Lajas offers night swims and kayaking in the Phosphorescent Bay. By day this area is known for world-class diving, snorkeling, small-boat trips, kayaking and bird-watching in the Boqueron Forest mangroves and La Parquera Nature Reserve.

“Bio Bay” is just one of the many adventures on Puerto Rico’s West Coast, known as Porta del Sol or “Doorway of the Sun.” Most tourists visit Old San Juan and the East Coast beaches and rain forests. Few realize there’s another world of nature, adventure and culture on the island’s wilder West Coast, which is less visited and more pristine. Travelers in search of an active vacation will find it here in abundance. In addition to the activities mentioned above, there’s surfing, hiking, horseback riding on stunning deserted beaches and even whale watching.

Villa Montana Beach Resort is a good place to start. It’s about five minutes from the Aguadilla Airport or a 90-minute drive from San Juan. Located near Isabela on the northwestern corner of Puerto Rico, this 30-acre resort is a great choice for weddings, romantic getaways or meetings with its plantation-style villas and lush, secluded setting.

Horseback riders of all levels will enjoy the adjacent Tropical Trail Rides. I was a bit dubious as we trotted through shady forests, but suddenly we emerged onto an empty golden-white sand beach lined with trees and a high, rocky promontory at one end. Aquamarine waves crashed on the shore as we ambled up the beach, letting our steeds cool their hoofs in the water.

Porta del Sol straddles the turbulent Atlantic Ocean and tranquil Caribbean Sea. The West Coast swells have drawn surfers since the 1968 World Surfing Championships held there. So it was that the next day, on a nearby beach we joined Alida Chacon and Zoraida Pagan for boogie board and surfing lessons. Chacon is a champion boogie boarder and Pagan is not only a champion surfer, but also a designer with her own line of swimwear (check out The water was warm and the waves just right, but the trick was catching them at the perfect moment.

“Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!” Alida shouted over the breaking waves as I frantically flailed my arms in the water to propel my board forward or backward. Usually, I was all washed up, either bobbing over the roller or taking the breakers face first.

After an exciting morning of mostly missed waves, lunch at the stunning Horned Dorset Primavera was the perfect thing turning us from drowned rats to elegant diners at this impeccable, Mediterranean/neo-colonial hacienda on “the Amalfi Coast of the Caribbean,” according to the brochure. Italian granite floors, Ravello porcelain and Roman statuary complete the effect. This Relais & Chateaux property perches atop a seawall just a sigh from the gentle waves that lap its shores.

The formal dining room is a virtual arboretum with hand-painted leafy murals climbing the walls and ceilings. We were even graced with the presence of Tim and Nina Zagat of the famed “Zagat Survey” savoring a haute cuisine hamburger in the inn’s more casual luncheon cafe.

Our final destination for our last two nights was Copamarina Beach Resort, a former private family retreat in the 1950s, transformed into a lovely 20-acre getaway. The hotel is adjacent to the Guanica State Forest, a designated United Nations International Biosphere Reserve, which has been called “perhaps the best example of subtropical dry forest in the world.” (Only 1 percent of the planet’s original dry forest remains.)

“Most people just hike on their own here,” said Jose Padin general manager at Copamarina Resort. “There’s a ranger station and guides for hire but the trails are well marked and very easy to follow.”

Some call Porta del Sol the new hot spot and best kept secret in the Caribbean. For sunny, adventure-filled days and starry nights even underwater Puerto Rico’s unspoiled West Coast is hard to beat.


Copamarina Beach Resort, Guanica

Offers a 10 percent discount for all European Plan rates and packages. All-inclusive packages also available at $165-$400 per night.

The Horned Dorset Primavera, Rincon

$600-$1,490 per night. Package plans available.

The Lazy Parrot Inn & Restaurant, Rincon

$95-$135. Eleven rooms, pool, garden and a charming cafe.

Villa Montana Beach Resort, Isabela

$160-$940 per night.

Paradise Scuba & Snorkeling Center, Lajas

Night snorkeling and swims in the Bio-Bay cost $25 per person (minimum six persons for the trip).

Travel agents get 10 percent commission for all hotels listed here.

For more information:

American Airlines
offers packages that fly into Mayaguez