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Puerto Rico: Four Great Ways to Make A Splash

In addition to the “Rich Port” for which it was named, Puerto Rico is blessed with rain-fed pools, sublime reefs, and calm bays. Puerto Rico also has a remarkably diverse shoreline that wraps around from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, featuring countless beaches on both coasts. That combination makes it a prime destination for swim fans who want to immerse themselves in the tropics. So dive in, the water is fine.

Go with the Flow (and the Glow)
Taking the plunge on a moonless night in a place called Bahía del Mosquito sounds like a Fear Factor stunt, especially when you consider that you’ll be accompanied by billions of bizarre sea creatures called dinoflagellates, which emit flashes of light when agitated. Biologists say it’s a defense mechanism. To the rest of us, it’s magic.

Though there are other bioluminescent bays, Bahía del Mosquito boasts the highest concentration of dinoflagellates: an estimated 720,000 per gallon of water. Moreover, its remote location on Isla Vieques, six miles off the main island, means there is no artificial light to detract from the ethereal glow.

That means reaching the site is a challenge, so it’s wise to hook up a with a reliable tour provider. Island Adventures will take you over hair-raising roads, through a dense tangle of mangroves, and out on the water in an electric boat (one that doesn’t pollute the environment). Tours, priced at $30 for adults, cover the scientific aspects and still leave ample time for swimming.

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Life’s a Beach
Whether you want to swim, surf, lounge or leer, Puerto Rico has a beach to suit your taste. Hundreds are open to the public, and a handful of the very finest are operated by the government. Known as balnearios, these facilities offer welcome amenities like lifeguards, lockers, and picnic tables, along with the expected expanse of Calgon-blue water.

If you must choose between them, opt for the local favorite, Playa Luquillo, one of the best maintained beaches in the Caribbean. It’s probably the most inclusive too, as it boasts a clever series of ramps and partially submerged platforms that give people with special needs an opportunity to sample “the life aquatic.” Trained staff and custom-designed equipment (including water-compatible wheelchairs and wheel-up showers) ensure the excursion is memorable for all the right reasons.

Rocky Mountain High
Looking inland from Luquillo, you’ll see the emerald mass of the Caribbean National Forest towering in the distance. The 28,000-acre reserve, dubbed El Yunque, is notable for its biodiversity, and a quick tour of the visitor center shows you why. Engaging displays inside, coupled with a walkway that threads through the leafy canopy outside, showcase 240 types of trees, 150 kinds of ferns, and 144 animal species.

More significant for H2O aficionados is the fact that a whopping 120 inches of water is dumped on El Yunque annually. Some of it cascades down the slopes into pristine natural pools that are ideal for a midday dip. Heading the swimmers’ to-do list is a trek to 35-foot-high La Mina Falls. Framed by orchids and overhanging vines, it has an exotic rain forest feel. Yet you won’t have to channel your inner Marlon Perkins to access it.

Just take your pick of two paved trails. The mile-long Big Tree Trail features scenic rest stops plus bilingual interpretive panels. The slightly shorter but steeper La Mina Trail follows its namesake river as it races downstream. Both ultimately lead to the base of the falls, where you can ease yourself into a boulder-ringed swimming hole, then dry off on a sunny rock ledge before hiking back.

Let’s Take a Dive
A sharp vertical drop in the Continental Shelf creates spectacular dive sites off the southwest coast. Coral gardens, sea caves and dramatic chasms beg to be explored. But you don’t need to be an experienced scuba enthusiast to find Nemo in this corner of the world. Snorkelers can simply change course for Fajardo, a harbor town poised on Puerto Rico’s eastern edge.

The surrounding region has easily accessible reefs as well as warm, aquarium-clear waters with temperatures hovering around 80 degrees year-round and underwater visibility averaging from 60 to 75 feet near the beach. Fajardo is also home to Puerto del Rey Marina, one of the largest marinas in the Caribbean, which makes it a convenient launch point for outings to the offshore cays.

From above, these sun-bleached islands may not seem particularly promising. Down below, where gaudy coral formations compete for your attention with tropical fish, it’s another story. A different world appears, one populated with blue tangs, red snappers, green-finned parrotfish, and angel fish sporting stripes of yellow, turquoise, black, and white.

East Island Excursions offers adventures on a 62-foot catamaran that comes complete with a water slide and glass-bottom viewing area. For $59 per person, the Fajardo-based company runs day trips that include walk-in snorkeling off a carefully selected cay, as well as snorkeling at anchor over an adjacent reef. Equipment is provided and instruction is available for novices.

Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb

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