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,
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
Nattysurf.com). 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
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
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
|HOTELS AND MORE|
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
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
For more information:
Vacations offers packages that fly into Mayaguez