We pick up the vacation review on the West side of the island, in Rincon. Rincon is famous for being named in The Beach Boys song Surfin' Safari. Rincon is a sleepy, laid back beach town that traditionally has had a bit of a hippie vibe to it. However, there are signs of gentrification as yuppie surfers from the states have discovered the town. I wouldn't at all be surprised to see it become a bit of a boomtown over the next decade. Our host in San Juan referred to Rincon as Gringcon, due to all the gingos calling it home. It's an apt description. I don't think we had a single waiter or bartender there that was a native of the island. Everybody was from the states originally. You don't need to speak Spanish to visit either San Juan or Rincon. The big space in between the tourist areas? Spanish helps.
Our accommodations in Rincon were a 2 bedroom / one bath apartment that may have been recently renovated as everything seemed very new. It was tucked behind a couple of condo complexes on a quiet dead-end road, about 100 yards from the ocean. Well, the neighbors were quiet, the neighborhood roosters not so much. There was maybe a dozen roosters wandering the neighborhood yards and the streets. They woke me up the first morning, but after that they became background noise. However, contrary to what city folk may believe, roosters don't crow just at sunrise. They pretty much go at at it all night.
Beach at the apartment
We got into Rincon on a Saturday, and after checking out the beach by the apartment and finding a grocery store it was time for dinner. Our AirBnB host had left a list of local restaurants that he thought were good, so we picked one and went to dinner. Whereas in San Juan most places have a real Puerto Rico feel, most restaurants in Rincon could easily exist in any beach town in the world. In fact, 80% of the other customers were American, whereas in San Juan we were often the only Americans in the place. Dinner that first night was at the Shipwreck Bar & Grill, an open air place with great seafood.
On Sunday morning I had the brilliant idea that me and the kids should take a surfing lesson, at a major surf resort, during the high surf season. 4+ foot waves may not be the best environment to learn. I think I would have done better with a kiddie pool approach, instead of getting thrown into the deep end after 15 minutes of on the beach instruction. It was a fun 90 minutes in the water, even if none of us accomplished anything that would be recognized as surfing. I'm typing this 10 days after the lesson and I still have the coral cuts and several bruises as a reminder.
It seemed so easy on the beach
Can you see the blood?
After limping home and cleaning up we headed out for lunch. As we were stuck in a backup trying to get into Rincon I noticed that it looked like people were setting up roadside to watch a parade. I also saw a parking lot where a pop up roadside BBQ stand was in business, so I pulled in and parked as that seemed like a great time to try roadside food in Puerto Rico. After the best $2 lunch I'll ever have (skewer of BBQ chicken (pincho) and a piece of bread) we decided to leave the car there and walk, as traffic was a disaster. Sure enough, I had been right and there was a parade, as the weekend before Christmas is Caravana Yunta de Bueyes, or Festival of the Ox. Leaving the car was a good call as it was going to be hours before we could drive again. They don't close the roads for a parade in Puerto Rico. A two lane road has normal traffic on one side, and a parade led by 50+ oxen in the oncoming lane. You can imagine what that does to traffic!
We stayed pretty low key on this day, partly because some clouds blew in and it wasn't really a beach day, and partly because I was sore from bouncing off the coral in my surfing lesson. Dinner that night was at Tamboo - a deck almost hanging out over the water. This place had actually been recommended by our waiter at the pizza place in San Juan, as well as the surfing instructor. Amazing location, good food. I had fried grouper and friend mofungo, IIRC.
Town square lit up for Christmas
Mondays are a little bit weird in Rincon. Just about everything is closed. The oceanfront beach right at the apartment was fine, but there was only about 12 - 15 feet of sand, and at high tide, most of that was under water. So we went into Rincon to the main public beach, which is fabulous. Being a workday for the locals, and also their winter, there were only a few visitor families there, so it was great. Lunch was at a pizza joint in town - nothing special. We also went out to the Rincon Lighthouse, which has a great view of Domes beach, which is one of the major surfing beaches. Delaney commented that if we had been learning in the waves we saw that day we might have done better. The dome is leftover from a decommissioned nuclear power plant. After an afternoon session at the beach we went back to the apartment and enjoyed sunset from the apartment beach. I could sit on a beach with a beer watching the sunset every day for the rest of my life and never get bored with it. Dinner that night was at Villa Cofresi, which is a hotel that was about 1 mile from the apartment. The food was good, the waiter was the best waiter we had in Puerto Rico. Luis was born in Cuba but grew up in FL before settling in Puerto Rico 20+ years ago. Anyway, the bar at Villa Confresi is known for the Pirate, a 3 rum mixture with coconut milk and cinnamon that is served in a hollowed out Coconut. It's good, but really rich. Not something you would want to drink all night, especially if you are driving as they don't cut corners on the rum in it.
Rincon Public Beach
So far, the vacation has been perfect, which of course means it is time for something to go wrong. The plan for Tuesday was to drive about an hour to the south coast of Puerto Rico to catch a ferry to the unfortunately named Gilligan's Island. The island is a nature preserve about 1 mile offshore, known for mangroves and snorkeling. Several web sites said that it was easy to rent snorkel gear when you got to the ferry. Several websites were wrong. So I improvised, having remembered reading something about a lighthouse with an awesome beach in the southwest corner of the island. It turned out we were about 40 minutes from it so we headed that direction. It turned out just fine as the beach was amazing, as were the views from the lighthouse, that basically guards the confluence of the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. So we spent the afternoon there and then headed back to Rincon later in the afternoon. Dinner that night was at Playa Beach Bar. Playa is Spanish for beach, so it translates to Beach Beach bar. It's right on the beach at the north end of the Rincon public beach. It was completely dead that night, but it was Dec 22, and a weeknight. Food and drinks were good though. That night Michelle and I went back to Villa Cofresi to hang out at the beach front bar and have a couple of drinks, because we hadn't actually gone out on a date sans adult children the whole week in Puerto Rico.
Yes, that is a cactus. The SW side of the island is arid, very different than the environment just 60 miles north or east.
Cabo Rojo Lighthouse
Beach below the Cabo Rojo lighthouse
Wednesday was go home day :( We did spend the morning at the beach before packing up for the 2.5 hour drive back to the San Juan airport. You can fly direct from FL into an airport about 30 minutes from Rincon, and I imagine we will take that approach when we return. Notice I said when, not if!
Last day at the beach
I fell in love with Rincon. San Juan is great, but once you get beyond the history and beaches, it's a big city with all the usual big city issues. Rincon feels like something out of a movie, a remote tropical hideway populated by a lot of Americans that have checked out of the big city rat race. It's a little rough around the edges, showing signs of neglect from limited public building and road budgets, and an ailing economy, as Puerto Rico hasn't recovered well from the 2008 crash. The year round population is only about 15,000 and there are no, I repeat no, chain hotels there. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Panama City Beach (FL) circa 1979. That said, with direct flights from FL and NY into nearby airports, 365 day a year beach weather, decent infrastructure (we had cable Internet at the apartment), and prices about 1/2 what you'd pay for similar property near San Juan, Rincon feels to me like it's on the precipice of a renaissance.
I may or may not be having nightly dreams of buying a place there; that I pay for in the short term by renting out when we aren't using it, until we are ready to move there permanently. I also refuse to answer any questions related to whether or not I have bookmarked any Rincon real estate web sites :)
6th grade through 12th, minus one year in Utah, I lived on the beach. I think I'm ready to move back.