There are few destinations in Puerto Rico as lovely as Cabo Rojo. And yet, legions of tourists visit the island without ever hearing of this place. Why? Part of the answer is that Cabo Rojo is about as remote as mainland Puerto Rico gets. Located on the southwestern corner of the island, it’s far more popular with locals than it is with visitors.
But those who make the journey (by car, as getting to Cabo Rojo any other way would be time-consuming) are rewarded with a cluster of spectacular beaches, a natural marvel that looks completely unlike anything else on the island, two unspoiled island jewels, and some of the freshest seafood Puerto Rico has to offer.
Start with the beaches. One of my favorite beaches in Puerto Rico has a name that would make most people turn the other way: but Playa Sucia, or “Dirty Beach,” is anything but! The beach is a wide crescent of golden sand framed at one end by the picturesque Cabo Rojo lighthouse, which was built in 1882 and is open to the public. The water here is a dazzling aquamarine and is generally calm, perfect for families. In fact, on any long weekend, you’re likely to find Playa Sucia full of local families. If you want to experience a quieter side of the beach, come during the week.
Not far from Playa Sucia, the town of Boquerón has one of Puerto Rico’s most beloved balnearios, or public beaches. This is a large beach with lifeguards, facilities, shallow waters and picnic areas. Like Playa Sucia, it caters particularly to families. And finally, we come back to unusually named beaches with Playa Combate, or “Combat Beach.” Named for a battle that once took place here, this is actually the longest beach in Puerto Rico, and also one of its most popular among locals.
Any one of these beaches will make you want to sink into the powdery sand, pitch a beach umbrella and take the day off. But if you’re feeling adventurous and want to see a truly unique side of Puerto Rico, head to Cabo Rojo’s untamed treasure: the Salt Flats. This barren, cracked and parched land is a total transformation from the pristine waters of Playa Sucia, which lies just a few minutes away. The Salt Flats are also a National Wildlife Refuge and one of the Caribbean’s major sanctuaries for migrating birds. In fact, over 245 plants and 145 bird species can be found here. And so can another treat: if you want a beach far from summer crowds, head to the salt flats. The reserve includes an isolated, pristine strip of beach that, while not as beautiful as the other three on this list, certainly makes up for it in privacy.
If that’s not enough beach for you, Cabo Rojo offers two island excursions that will appeal to the adventurer in you. The more challenging of these is the remote Mona Island, some 50 miles off the coast and an area of such incredible wildlife that it’s known as “The Galapagos of the Caribbean.” Closer to the mainland is Isla de Ratones, a tiny, scenic destination that has outstanding snorkeling.
Finally, I can’t leave Cabo Rojo without strongly recommending the food. You can find kiosks selling fresh conch, oysters and other fare in many places here, but for a true seafood immersion, head along Route 102 to Joyuda, where a string of roadside eateries will tempt you with their menus.
Cabo Rojo should be one of the most-visited destinations in Puerto Rico. The fact that it’s not only adds to its charm.