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How the West Was Whaled

By Natalia de Cuba Romero

March 14, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Call me slow, but it took about seven years of visiting Rincón before it ever occurred to me to get on a surfboard. And it actually took ten years before I saw a whale.

It's neither the surfboards' nor the whales' fault; they were there the whole time. I must have been paying attention to other things - like rum punches at Calypso Café and whether my bikini was riding up my butt.

But finally two weeks ago, I saw the whales! After vowing that this would be my year, I heard that whales were frolicking, so I forgot about the bikini and took my butt over to Rincón's charming 1892 Punta Higüero lighthouse close to sunset and there they were, two of them less than a mile offshore.

Photo: Wolfgang Rakowsky

Granted, I didn't bring binoculars, so without at a hundred people hanging over the picket fences around the lighthouse telling me what those black things poking out of the water were, I might have thought I was seeing the Loch Ness monster.

However distant, I have officially seen humpback whales frolicking off the coast of Rincón and it was a moving experience. You have until the end of March to get your butt over to Rincón to see them too.

The whales, which play around the Mona Passage every year from January through March on their migration trail, are just one reason to visit Rincón. Another is the surfing; the winter storms blowing out of Canada and the Northeastern United States send massive Atlantic waves down our way to break on Puerto Rico's northeast coast and most particularly on the very point that the lighthouse is on. Rincón has been a winter mecca for surfers since it held its first World Amateur Championships in 1968.

But Rincón has moved beyond its surf dude reputation and is now a favourite escape for Puerto Ricans and visitors year-round. Which is why I still go there, even though I sold my board last year and haven't found a used longboard to replace it.

Photo: Puerto Rico Tourism Company

For the uninitiated, Rincón is the westernmost tip of the island, a triangular point sticking its nose out toward the Dominican Republic. Basically a huge hill that ends in the sea, on the northern Atlantic side you get huge winter waves and friendly guesthouses and restaurants with spectacular views. On the southern Caribbean side you have tranquil bathing beaches, offshore reefs for snorkeling and scuba and some mighty fine resorts.

In between, there is a mellow atmosphere more like the small islands in the Eastern Caribbean than bustling Puerto Rico. Plan on a 2.5 hour drive from San Juan. Arriving from the south (Ponce, Mayagüez) on Route 2, you'll take Road 115 north through a canopy of mango trees right into town. In summer, stop to pick up some mangoes - they're free and delicious! Arriving from the north (Arecibo, Aguadilla) on Route 2, make a right at Road 417 and drive 1.6 miles to the cemetery where the road forks. Take the left fork (Be careful crossing!). Go 1.5 miles and turn left at the T-junction onto Road 115 and you'll be in town soon. Continental has direct flights from New Jersey to nearby Aguadilla airport and PanAm begins flights from Orlando Sanford to Aguadilla in May.

Rincón Lighthouse
Photo: Puerto Rico Tourism Company

Once there there are numerous places to stay. Leave the kids at home when you go to the romantic and deluxe Horned Dorset Primavera (the only Relais & Chateaux property in Puerto Rico). Mahogany four-posters, hacienda-style Great House, dynamite no-holds-barred French restaurant - all-around yummy.

Oceanfront Casa Isleña Inn (1-888-289-7750) is a favourite for couples; The Lazy Parrot Inn & Restaurant (787-823-5654) is a hilltop funhouse with pool for families and surfers (great giftshop!); Rincón del Mar (1-866-274-6266) is a spectacular new resort; last week I stayed in a funky apartment at Pools (787-823-8135) where Sunday is sushi night; Rincón Surf & Board (787-823-0610) offers great deals on efficiencies; Parador Villa Antonio (787-823-2645) offers seaside efficiencies popular with families and snowbirds; the list goes on.

Dining has improved immeasurably over the years. One of my family's favourites for seafood criollo delights is the casual Rincón Tropical on the south end of Road 115. Johnny Q's Black Eagle is under new management and all my sources rave about the creole food, while Flamboyán on 413 is consistently good for criollo as well. Casa Isleña's wraps, pastas and burgers for lunch are gourmet. Lazy Parrot's continental menu is always yummy and the terrace dining is great.

Photo: Puerto Rico Tourism Company

Besides eating and drinking, there's the beach for swimming, sunning and - a Rincón fave - sea-glass collecting. Rancho del Mar (787-823-0358) offers horseback rides and dive shops will take you on underwater adventures. Head for Desecheo Island, visible about 13 miles offshore, for some of the best dives. I've seen sea turtles, baby sharks and heard, but not seen, whales underwater there.

And do something while doing nothing. The town's sunsets are considered the best in Puerto Rico and can be seen from just about anywhere. My preferred spot? Calypso Café near the lighthouse where the rum punches are refreshing, sweet and lethal in large quantities.

Natalia de Cuba Romero is a freelance travel, food and arts writer. Her column, "Sights, Sounds & Tastes of Puerto Rico", appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald. She can be reached at

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