A long row of tall coconut palm trees along the coast announces what is one of Puerto Rico’s best known and most popular public beaches, El Balneario de Luquillo. The crescent-shaped beach has many facilities that make it particularly appealing for family outings. Coral reefs abound and help keep the waters calm. The balneario also features an extensive “Sea Without Barriers” program, providing many services to visitors with special needs and facilitating access around the beach and to the ocean. And then there’s the food…
Going to the beach usually involves throwing one’s cares to the wind. At Luquillo Beach there’s no way around becoming a cuchifrito addict – tourists with high cholesterol need not apply. Cuchifrito is the slang umbrella term for all kinds of typical Puerto Rican fritters. Tradition holds this was the way most African slaves ate in the island, magically reinventing the scraps and leftovers given to them by the Spaniards into a delicious meal. The fritters consists of an outer covering made from cornmeal, plantain, or potato (among many possibilities), and almost any kind of meat or seafood filling imaginable. A row of about 60 small food kiosks line the road in front of the beach, selling long lists of fun-sounding, delicious foodstuffs like bacalaitos, sorrullos de maíz, and empanadillas.
For those in search of a more active beach experience, there’s also Playa La Pared. La Pared means “The Wall”… Considering that it is where many local surfing competitions are held, one can imagine that the waves can be challenging (Note: on average the waves here are considered medium-range). At yet another public beach, Playa Costa Azul, smaller crowds make for better snorkeling.
In 2007, Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá acknowledged the pleas of concerned citizens and environmentalists, signing an order to preserve 3,240 acres of land that stretch across the northeast of Puerto Rico. A significant amount of this so-called Northeast Ecological Corridor lies in Luquillo. The campaign was fronted by the newly-opened local chapter of the Sierra Club, which also supports the annual Festival del Tinglar, to raise awareness about the endangered Leatherback turtles, the largest in the world, which inhabit the shores of the island.
The governor’s order does allow for the development of small ecotourism ventures. Luquillo could become a standard-bearer in leveraging the economic viability of tourism to raise awareness and preserve natural resources.