Explore Puerto Rico, Starting in Salinas
by Rosie Burr
Halfway along Puerto Rico’s south coast is a place called Salinas. On first impression this sleepy bay might not look like much, but with the rolling Puerto Rican hills in the background and a calm protected anchorage where you can leave your boat, this bay a makes a wonderful place to stay. The water is not the most sparkling blue because of its mangrove inhabitants and it is nutrient rich so watch your anchor chain. (Letting five or so metres of chain in and out every so often deters all but the mightiest of barnacles.) What especially like these murky waters are the manatees, or seacows as they are commonly known. These large and gentle aquatic creatures inhabit this area and if you are lucky enough you will have them swim and frolic around your boat. Be mindful of them when you are in your dinghy and stick to the speed limit as fines are enforced to protect this endangered species.
You will find Salinas Marina, at the northwest end of the bay, very accommodating with a dinghy dock, water and fuel service, laundry, book swap, bar and restaurant. Every Friday night the marina puts on a barbecue with reduced beer and rum prices and great tasty food. Just outside the marina is a new bar opened by Jean called Sal Pa Dentro. He has a great happy hour, bar food and free WiFi on the waterfront. Up the road farther still are more restaurants and a panaderia (bakery) also with WiFi. The supermarket is just that bit too far away to make walking convenient but it is still manageable.
If you fancy a swim in clearer water take your dinghy past the entrance of the bay; between the islands of Cayos Ratones you will find a nice area to swim protected by the reef. If you fancy something a little more shoreside, listen carefully and you will hear the hum of racing cars — that will be Salinas Speedway, a two-straight-lane racing track. Visit www.salinasspeedway-pr.com to find out what is on.
One of the great things about Salinas is that it is a safe place to leave your boat and do a little exploring. Cars can be hired from US$35 a day (ask in the marina for Sidney). From there you can go anywhere, for example up Route 52 all the way to Old San Juan with its blue cobblestone streets and colorful colonial houses decorated with pretty latticed balconies and hurricane shutters that preserve the Spanish flavor of this walled city. Sculptures and statues adorn every square. Impressive Fort San Felipe del Morro dominates the shoreline and Fort San Cristobal guards the entrance to the city, which is actually an island joined by three bridges to the mainland. Free shuttle buses run from one end of the old city to the other to make sightseeing easier.
Once you have soaked up some Old World ambiance, visit Puerto Rico’s tropical rainforest at El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the US national forest system. Rising over 3,500 feet above sea level this rugged mountain range affords some spectacular views out across both the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Stop first at the visitors’ center to decide which one of the many walks or hikes you want to do. Everything has been made easy and accessible for you. Walks are marked out with how long they will take and what you will see. Don’t miss Coco Waterfalls on the road up to the first trails — you won’t even need to stop the car. Stop at Yokahu lookout tower at Mount Britton for the spectacular views of the ocean. The 28,000-acre tropical forest boasts more than 240 species of trees. If you listen carefully you can hear the “co-qui” of the small coqui frog or you might be lucky enough to spot the Puerto Rican Parrot. We chose the Mina Falls trail, with a 30-minute walk down a manmade path shaded under a tropical canopy to the pretty waterfall with pools to swim in below. This is a popular spot so be prepared to share with the crowds.
If you are feeling hungry after, you could try the many food kiosks at the “sun capital”, Luquillo, where the beach stretches for miles. Or stop in the hills at Guavate for a plate of succulent roast pork from one of the many roadside restaurants. Take a drive back through the small winding roads or take the coastal route.
For some more culture, head to Ponce for the day; the country’s second biggest city offers more Old World charm. Visit the tourist office at Plaza Las Delicias where you will find the conspicuous red and black building of Parque de Bombas or the Catedral Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. For art lovers, the Museo del Arte de Ponce is not to be missed, housing a vast collection from around the world.
Finally, on your way back to the marina stop at one of the many giant supermarkets dotted along the highways and fill your car full of provisions, readying yourself for the next part of your cruise.
Rosie Burr and Sim Hoggarth are cruising the Caribbean aboard their Corbin 39, Alianna. They have traveled through 23 countries and more than 17,000 miles in eight years. Visit their blog at www.yacht.alianna.co.uk.
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