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going somewhere: puerto rico

a nylon-approved spring break itinerary.

by: rebecca willa davis

March 01 2013

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Though a born-and-raised New Yorker, somehow year after year the cold weather gets to me. By the end of February, I'm sick of my down jacket, bored with all my sweaters, and annoyed at the thought of yet another Friday night spent bundled up in a cacophony of thermals, layers, and scarves. So this year, I decided to do things differently. To steal a line from Spring Breakers, I was going on spring break, bitches. But instead of the keg stands, pool parties, and vomit-stained hotel rooms that populate most undergrad destinations, I decided to do spring break the NYLON way. What does that mean? Surfers, coconut stands, cactus and air plant forests, and nary an all-hours club in sight. My destination? Rincon, Puerto Rico--the surf capital of the Caribbean, and one of the most laid-back spots you can find that doesn't require a passport. (Remember, PR is a US territory, so you don't need to go through immigration or customs at the airport--score!) It was a blissful 36 hour trip--yes, you can do this in a weekend--and I'm already making plans to go back next year. Spring break 2014, anyone?

DAY ONE

10:30am: Fly in to Aguadilla--which is just a 30 minute drive from Rincon, rather than the two hours from San Juan, and Jet Blue flies there direct from New York City. Pick up your rental car (yes, you'll need one), and head west towards the northwestern point of Puerto Rico.
 12pm: After checking in to your hotel--if the Lemontree Oceanfront Cottages are all booked, try the lovely Coconut Palms Inn, which has an outdoor kitchen on the freaking beach--pick up a six-pack of Buye (the local brew), and set up on the beach. Trust me when I saw you'll want to spend a few hours there; the water is warm enough for swimming, snorkeling, paddle boarding, or boogie boarding. Lying on the sand all day is cool, too.
 6pm: Make sure you're set up on the beach by this time--some people rave about the coconut drinks at Villa Cofresi, but definitely get it to-go--and watch the sunset. You're facing due west, so the views are incredible.
 7:30pm: Turn on the GPS when you're heading to Tamboo Beside the Pointe, one of the few on-the-water dinner options in town. The grilled fish wrap was delicious, but make sure you order tostones (that is, mashed friend plantains) instead of fries.
10pm: Mix your own rum and coke back at the hotel and hang out on the beach--Coconut Palms Inn has torches that you can keep burning all night.

DAY TWO

9am: We know it's vacation, but you'll want to get an early start today. Pick up breakfast at EC Bakery in Rincon--there's an egg breakfast special for $2, plus donuts the size of your face and coffee way better than anything you'd ever get at a corner deli back home--and then hit the road, heading south.

11am: Make a quick stop in Boqueron, one of the many beachside towns that dot the western coast of Puerto Rico. Grab lunch to-go from the grilled fish and fresh oyster stands that line the street next to the water. If you're feeling parched, get someone to cut open a coconut for you. Then back in the car and continue heading south towards the Cabo Rojo lighthouse. Pick up a bag of chips and some beach-appropriate drinks before you hit the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge.

1pm: After finding a parking spot--which is easier said then done, my advice is take the first spot you see and be OK with walking--bring your beach gear to Playa Sucia, a half-moon, white sand beach where you can lie for hours (trust me, I did). As far as public beaches go, this one's pretty mellow--though get yourself an ice cream cone if the old man scooping coconut and ricotta comes by.

4pm: Get back in the car and head east, towards La Parguera. This is the closest you'll get to the Coney Island or Jersey Shore of Puerto Rico--there are lots of fried food stalls and frozen drinks stands, but it's worth a visit because of its bioluminescent bay. That's right, there's water that glows in the dark at night, thanks to microorganisms that call it home. The boats head out around 7:30 (don't spend more than $7 on a ticket, and make sure you're riding out with someone who will let you jump in to swim around for a few minutes), so grab your ticket before getting a bite to eat in town. Walk up the hill just a block from the port to Moons Bar and Tapas, which serves up crunchy, tangy tacos and huge pitchers of sangria.

9pm: After dinner, head back towards Rincon--it's an early morning to catch the waves.

DAY THREE

8am: Wake up early to get some surfing in. There are a handful of surf schools in Rincon, but Puntas Surf School is the only one run by a woman, Melissa, who teaches lessons (Nolan, who is also a Puntas instructor, is pretty awesome, too). So cool.

1pm: After a morning of riding waves, you'll need to refuel--try Rock Bottom Bar and Grill just up the road from the beach for mouth-watering burgers. 2pm: Time to hit the road once more--this time head south to the Guanica Dry Forest. On one side of the road there is white sand, blue water, and palm trees; on the other side, spindly cactuses and rocky terrain. Find a spot to park and go for a hike--then keep an eye out for air plants, which are hanging everywhere and make the perfect souvenir to bring home (just, shhh, don't tell US customs that).

5pm: Before the sun sets, spend a few more moments on the beach before getting back in the car and heading north again, this time towards Joyuda, a one-lane town perched on the water that, though small, has perhaps the highest concentration of restaurants in the entire western side of the country. They may all look alike, but Vista Bahia Restaurant not only serves up delicious local grilled fish, bowls filled with rice and beans, and a flan that will stay in your mind for days, but serves it all with a smile. Cheesy, I know, but when you've spent the day surfing you're all about the good vibes.

8pm: Back to Rincon once more, this time to pack up before driving back to Aguadilla--the flight times to New York City are at the strangest hours, but with a tan on your face and a bag filled with farmstand bananas and avocados, there's nothing to complain about. Also, you'll sleep like a baby on the flight after that surf lesson, I promise.

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