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The Hartford Courant

Boquerón: The Key West Of Puerto Rico, Without The Glitz

By Daniela Altimari

October 13, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Hartford Courant. All rights reserved. 

BOQUERÓN, Puerto Rico -- The salsa band is finishing its sound check, and the rum and Cokes are flowing. It's Friday night in Boquerón, a funky fishing village tucked in Puerto Rico's southwest corner, and residents and tourists alike are celebrating the dedication of an attractive new plaza.

From the corner of my eye, I catch some commotion. A small band of protesters has gathered, waving signs and chanting, "Boquerón is for the people." The government, it seems, wants to tear down the ramshackle buildings between the main street and the sea, and these boisterous locals are resisting.

Spending a few days here in February, I couldn't shake the feeling that this was a town on the verge of a major makeover. Long a favorite port-of-call of the yachting crowd and a popular weekend getaway for families from San Juan, Boquerón has a festive yet slightly scruffy feel, like Key West without the glitz.

The T-shirt shops are still here, as are the bars, the pool hall and the pushcart vendors selling fresh local oysters with homemade hot sauce. But evidence of gentrification is everywhere, from the new marina to elegant condominiums rising near the beach.

One constant is the public beach, viewed by many as one of Puerto Rico's loveliest. Picture a wide crescent of velvety, white sand dotted with seashells and stretching languidly for more than a mile. The turquoise water is clear and warm. Overhead, coconut palms rustle in the fragile breeze. The postcard-perfect vista is completed by sailboats nodding gently in the distance.

Don't look for big waves, though. This sheltered bay is as tame as a wading pool, making it just right for young children but a bit dull for those who prefer some surf with their sun and sand.

During our stay at the end of February, the beach was essentially deserted. But come late spring, a lifeguard told us, Boquerón becomes busy. Some summer weekends, more than 5,000 people, most of them denizens of Puerto Rico's urban centers, crowd onto this stretch of sand.

Boquerón boasts several small, moderately priced hotels and inns close to the beach. However if you want to stay just steps from the ocean and don't mind somewhat spartan surroundings, do what we did: Rent a cabana on the beach. Administered by the government of Puerto Rico, the cabanas aren't listed in most guidebooks. We learned of them from a friend who has been staying here since he was a child.

The cinderblock bungalows, which can accommodate as many as six people, have two bedrooms, a living room, a tiny kitchen and a bathroom with a shower. Luxurious they're not. The furniture is utilitarian, the mattresses are lumpy and the burners on the stove are inconsistent, at best. Plus everything, from bed linens to pots and pans, has to be schlepped from home or purchased, at a premium, from local stores.

But the cabanas have their charms, not the least of which is the price: About $50 a night during the week, $60 on weekends.

Each cabin features a large, palm-shaded patio, complete with outdoor shower, picnic table and oversized grill.

We spent our days on the beach, sampling homegrown grapefruits and pineapples offered by one of the lifeguards, and our nights sitting on the terrace with friends, eating fish caught by a local fisherman and watching the sun set over the ocean.

Surrounding Sites

If you can peel yourself off of your beach towel (no easy feat), Boquerón is the perfect base from which to explore Puerto Rico's southwestern coast. The Cabo Rojo Lighthouse, built in 1881, is a 20-minute drive. No longer in use, the elegant sun-bleached lighthouse is perched precariously on limestone cliffs that drop 200 feet into the sea. Needless to say, the views are spectacular.

Also nearby is the lively village of La Parguera, home to one of Puerto Rico's two bioluminescent bays (the other is on the island of Vieques.) Thanks to millions of micro-organisms that produce a flash of light when stirred, the water seems to glow. Boats leave the town dock nightly, taking tourists out into the bay to get a good look at the phenomenon.

But Boquerón's biggest draw remains its great beach and laid-back style.

After a few more days of relaxation, we swept the sand from our cabana, packed up our pots and pans and headed back to San Juan.

As we drove past the palm trees and the blue Caribbean, past the new marina and the chichi condominium complexes, I couldn't help thinking that maybe Boquerón would look different the next time I saw it.

Trip Tips

If you go...

Boquerón is on Puerto Rico's southwest coast, about a two-hour drive from San Juan.

To reserve a cabana on the beach, call the Boquerón Centro Vacacional at 787-851-1900. Rates are $52.32 Monday through Thursday and $65.40 weekends. You will need a credit card. Each of the 158 apartments sleeps six and has a kitchenette and bathroom. You must bring your own pots and pans and sheets (sheets are available for rent). The complex includes a small convenience store, and there are several large supermarkets within a 15-minute drive.

For those who prefer less sparse surroundings, Boquerón has several nice hotels. The Cofresi Beach Hotel (; 787-254-3000), situated in a pastel-colored art deco style building five minutes from the beach, features apartments with kitchenettes and living rooms. A one-bedroom apartment rents for $119 per night. The hotel has a small pool.

For posher accommodations, check out the Bahia Salinas Beach Hotel (787-254-1212). The handsome, one-story hotel is about 25 minutes from Boquerón on Highway 301, near the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse. The hotel has a pool, a Jacuzzi and sea kayaks for rent. Each room has an ocean view and covered porch. The village of Boquerón boasts several good restaurants. Don't look for gourmet cooking and high prices, though. Most places are casual, affordable and kid-friendly.

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