Letting it All Hang Out In Rincon, Puerto Rico
By Kent E St John
Route 314 is filled with early morning zombies, all carrying boards that sparkle and catch the light that has just started breaking over the mountains to the east. There is little doubt that sleep has played no part in this early ritual; the restaurants have all just been scrubbed clean, ready for another busy day.
Soon you recognize the face of the guy with the longboard. “The dolphin is super fresh,” he said at the restaurant. He was right.
The guy looks as confident with his longboard choice; there are two things he knows well, restaurants and waves, especially the waves down Rincon way. He is home for the winter once again. Don is a third-generation East Coast rider with Rincon Puerto Rico on his yearly surf itinerary.
The kid’s name is Don and since 1968 and the first World Surfing Championship, this grandfather has worked in Montauk in summers and then headed down to the Caribbean Pipeline to work winters. He now lives most of the time running a business and riding waves.
The number of wait staff and kitchen crew serving you from Maine to the Carolinas who catch some of Sept. and early Oct. East Coast hurricane hits and then head to Rincon is amazing.
It is then down to Rincon where they assume their restaurant roles and spend the winter balancing trays and boards with equal skill. Forget the Beach Boys, Springsteen rules.
Today Rincon caters to more than just wave riders. Now there is whale watching, snorkeling and soaking up some PR Latino lifestyle that brings visitors from all over. Sitting on the beach with some great food while staying in some very reasonable digs make Rincon a place to check out.
The great food served from small catering trucks lined up towards the south end of town, a reminder that you are in PR. If you don’t eat roadside you’re missing the island’s best eating tradition. Eventually, when I hit a town that has magic, I am reminded that I should have been there years ago. I usually am just grateful that I’m there now. I got that feeling immediately in Rincon.
Rincon is spread over eight barrios and each has its own feel and character that seem to blend, modern intrusion not yet blight. Nearby I see a place that has roaring surf and not far away a beach calmer than a tub, pick your style, all are beautiful.
Lodging choices spread just about as far and while one of Puerto Rico’s most expensive hotels is here, a beachfront rental is well within most budgets. The other hotels seem to be back in time a bit but not in a bad way. Yes, my timing seems just right.
Five Steps to Heaven
It wasn’t easy but I eventually found my first lodgings right on the beach south of the main part of Rincon, next to a small public beach amidst local homes. Sunset Paradise Villas is the largest structure in the area and contains six separate units.
The public spaces all have hammocks and a wonderful rooftop pool and lounging area.
My unit on the ground floor was nicely laid out with an open deck right on the edge of the beach, five steps down and it was sand in the toes. A full modern kitchen, air conditioning and three bedrooms off a living room rounded off the offerings.
The amazing view of the sunsets was inspiring and grilling on the deck made dinner time a great beach lifestyle, table full of seafood and the sound of small waves right at your feet.
The water off of the villa was of the calm variety perfect for swimming and child-friendly. My nightly walks in the neighborhood past families sitting in yards playing dominoes while riders on horseback cruised by gave me the feeling of actually living like a local.
The sound of roosters in the morning punctuated the thought. It’s a nice area for a family or quiet retreat and the location to Rincon’s center makes it easy.
Never Enough Waves
North of Central Rincon runs the Surfer’s Route the legendary 413, past surf beaches such as Tres Palmas, Dogman’s, the Steps and the Indicators. Instead of urban iPhones, everyone here seems to have a surfboard in hand.
Nestled below hills are beach spots filled in with beach bars, restaurants, and small inns, and rentals, a community all its own. One that once settled you will rarely want to leave.
Rentals run weekly, monthly and seasonally at some pretty good rates, think a simple style with Bohemian overtones. An afternoon beer at Tambo’s or a Thursday night movie shown outside at the Treehouse often brings a gathering of the tribe.
Perhaps what was most surprising is the fact that even non-surfers get some cred for just hanging out in such a sweet spot. This part of Puerto Rico has the most Caribbean feel found on the island. From El Faro Lighthouse whales can be spotted breaching and as all of Rincon faces west the sunsets will captivate.
Tucked Amongst the Traveling Palms
My lodgings just off 413 was the Traveling Palms Villa, located in Puntas and down in a hidden valley was the perfect place to be near the action yet secluded, brand new and swank. The outside pool and field with horses were delightful.
In fact, the owner Clemente runs one of the best surf shops right from the place. Chances are after a few days you may just want to give a try to Rincon’s main and very challenging sport.
Rincon has plenty of activities to keep a visitor busy such as deep-sea fishing, diving, and exploring. But it is the feel of Rincon that I found to be most important. Whether lying in a hammock as the sun warms or strolling beaches, each with different characteristics one is just as lifted. Relaxing here is just plain easy!
It doesn’t take long for one to fit in and soon find meeting locals eager to share ideas and advice. Or even invite you to a party or event. Over some tapas at Casa Elena with toes in the sand that I did indeed run into a chum with a bottle of rum.
Things may change with time but one has the feeling that in Rincon the important things remain.
To get the best feel and ideas for a visit to Rincon is a wonderful website, Rincon online besides some history and basic info, lodgings and Rincon’s restaurants are well covered.
Hang Ten: There are no shortages of sites dedicated to surfing in Rincon, many with up to date wind and tide movements.
Both the Traveling Palms Villa and the Sunset Paradise Villas were perfect for a stay in Rincon, though both very different in style and geared to a certain vacation type.
Make sure you decide what you are looking for in a visit before you pick your lodging. Finding a rental is easy at sites like Vacation Rental by Owner or HomeAway.com or Airbnb.
Other great Rincon sites:
Kent St. John was GoNOMAD’s Senior Travel Editor since the website was founded in 2000. During that time he circled the globe many times, visiting more than 80 countries. Sadly, he passed away on Thanksgiving Day in 2012. He had an appreciation of subtleties, always finding a way to capture the nuances and essences of a destination, whether he was whale-watching in Nova Scotia, riding the rails in Australia, bungee jumping in China or worshipping the sun on a beach in Brazil.