On the rugged southwest coast of Puerto Rico, just past the savannah-like Valle de Lajas, lies one of the island’s best-kept secrets: La Parguera. A haven for local tourism, you won’t find any big-name hotels or mega-shopping malls here. Picture instead a close-knit seaside community where laid-back is considered much too fast-paced.
La Parguera’s longest held claim to fame has been its Bioluminescent Bay, which contains millions of luminescent dinoflagellates (microscopic plankton) that light up the dark waters on moonless nights. You can easily arrange tours to the bay from the village to witness this wonder of nature.
But La Parguera’s charms are far greater than aquatic fireflies. For starters, the fresh seafood is a quick way to any visitor’s heart. Restaurants here include La Casita, Aguamarina, La Pared, Agua Azul and El Caracol. But La Parguera is a fisherman’s village at its core, so informal eateries abound. I’m a big fan of the carrucho (conch), pulpo (octopus) or any of the daily catches you can find on the menu, which come in several preparations ranging from grilled to sautéed and everything in between.
Puerto Ricans know how to have a good time and build a makeshift party seemingly out of nothing, and La Parguera’s residents (and native visitors) are no exception. Live music and jukeboxes of yesteryear heat up the night in trendy bars and seasoned cafetines throughout the village.
To be fair, though, land attractions are only a less than sizable portion of La Parguera’s appeal. Civilization, for one, doesn’t end on the shore. Perhaps reminiscent of a tropical Venice, a number of quaint and colorful houses on stilts line the mangrove canals, providing a unique twist on suburbia with their flooded basements and dock/garages. A boat is your key to unlocking the charms of La Parguera and rentals are in ample supply here. Farther from the “urban core”, a series of mangrove islets are crisscrossed by sinuous canals that can be traversed by motorboat; just be sure to give the manatees the right of way.
Due south lie dozens of barrier reefs and cays that ensure the waters of La Parguera remain calm. Caracoles, for instance, is surrounded by warm, shallow waters teeming with tropical fish, and it’s an ideal place to spend a lazy afternoon. Larger cays like Enrique, Medialuna and Májimo are suitable for camping. While cay-hopping, there’s a good chance you’ll come across sea turtles and dolphins, while the aforementioned manatees graze the seaweed on the shallow gaps between the closest islets.
These cays form a 22-mile-long coral wall that plummets precipitously towards the Caribbean Sea floor. Several dive shops in town rent out equipment and offer daily excursions to La Pared (The Wall), where some of the deepest spots drop several thousand feet. Moray eels, stingrays and hammerhead sharks are some of the deep denizens you’ll encounter along the underwater cliffs and tunnels. Popular dive spots include Black Hole, Boya Vieja, Fallen Rock and Los Pináculos.
Other watersports have taken root in La Parguera. Kayaking is popular along the mangrove canals and the 15- to 20-knot winds that steadily blow in these parts have popularized kitesurfing. Fishing is also a given and local boat charters are available to aid you in your quest to bring back trophy catches like blue marlins, mackerels, wahoos, tunas, groupers or jacks, among many others.
King-sized fish notwithstanding, size doesn’t really matter here; whether your idea of a good time is soaking lazily on waist-deep, crystal-clear waters or partaking in adrenaline- inducing extreme sports, the tiny village of La Parguera truly has something for everyone.