Things to do in Fajardo, Puerto Rico
Clustered with island jewels and carpeted with rolling expanses of untouched, primal forests, Fajardo is the Northeast’s launchpad for adventures on land and sea.
Just over an hour’s drive from San Juan, (56km/35 miles), Fajardo, Puerto Rico combines accessibility with an exhilarating introduction into Puerto Rico’s signature landscapes and experiences. Just offshore, a scattering of islands connecting an immense web of marine life beckons snorkelers and divers. Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve is a treasure of biodiversity—pristine tracts of dry forest, virgin coast and mangrove swamp harbor endemic flora and fauna. Within the preserve, Laguna Grande’s bioluminescent bay conjures its mesmerizing nocturnal light show.
With seven marinas, Fajardo is a key link in the chain of Greater Antilles’ islands that extends from Vieques and Culebra to the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. A former fishing village and sugarcane center, Fajardo was founded in 1772. The busy town center is dotted with no-frills storefronts and bars serving inexpensive local Puerto Rican staples. For travelers, the action centers on Marina Puerto del Rey, the Caribbean’s largest marina. Myriad tour operators offer every watersport excursion imaginable, from island hopping via high speed catamaran and bio bay excursions to snorkeling and diving at the offshore reefs.
Getting to Fajardo
If you’re driving from San Juan, head east along the PR-66 and then follow PR-3 toward Fajardo—you’ll find a surfeit of tasty local-food restaurants and kiosks along the route.
Seven Seas Beach
Designated a Blue Flag beach, this picture-postcard crescent of powdery sand, shaded by almond and palm trees, is perfect for families. Crystal-clear, calm waters and a small reef just offshore provide prime conditions for beginner snorkelers. As one of the best balnearios (public beaches) on the island, amenities include picnic tables, parking ($5), showers and toilets. From Seven Seas Beach, a shady trail winds through mangroves to two secluded beaches—the orange-hued Playa Colora and then, after around 2.6km/1.6 miles, the aptly named Playa Escondida (Hidden Beach). During the week, you’ll likely have these two ruggedly beautiful stretches of sand to yourself. Note that Playa Escondido is not suitable for swimming; there are strong rip currents and pounding surf on occasions.
Laguna Grande Bioluminescent Bay
Of Puerto Rico’s three bio bays, Fajardo’s Laguna Grande is the second brightest. Part of its unique appeal is that it’s actually a lagoon, surrounded by an area of spectacular natural beauty. Laguna Grande can be visited on a day trip from San Juan—that’s a huge part of its appeal but you should expect large numbers of visitors, especially on the weekend and holidays.
Part of the Laguna Grande experience is the journey to the lagoon. Kayaks launch from a concealed opening in the mangroves at the northern end of the beach and then navigate a mile-long channel. The dinoflagellates put on their ethereal light show as they feast off the red mangroves that surround the water.
Kayaking Puerto Rico specializes in eco-friendly excursions. Two-hour bio bay tours depart from Las Croabas at 6:15pm and 8:30pm daily (price $55). Travelers short on time can combine a guided hike of El Yunque with an evening bio bay tour (price $149), including transportation from San Juan, a stop in Luquillo and dinner at a local restaurant.
Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve
Extending across Puerto Rico’s northeastern tip, Laguna Grande is part of Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve, one of the most gorgeous and ecologically important areas in Puerto Rico—seven eco-zones thrive within this compact area. A series of wooden walkways lead visitors to glistening lagoons, sandy and rocky beaches nestled between headlands, mangrove swamp and dry-forest areas. One of North America’s most biodiverse landscapes, the reserve is populated with over 100 species of bird and huge number of reptiles and amphibians, including endangered green iguanas. The final stop on the tour is the restored Spanish colonial lighthouse, in operation since 1883. The park is managed by the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico and guided tours with a naturalist are the only way to visit. Reservations can be made through the trust website: https://www.paralanaturaleza.org or tel: 787-722-5882.
A short drive north of Fajardo, life in the traditional fishing community of Las Croabas centers upon its central park and lively docks. As the launchpad for bio bay excursions to Laguna Grande and the full gamut of water-themed activities in the region, there’s an expectant and upbeat vibe to the unassuming town. Open-air restaurants serving fresh fish and seafood dot the oceanfront malecón and the entrances to Seven Seas Beach. Las Croabas is also the setting for the iconic El Conquistador Resort & Spa. Sitting on a promontory 300 feet (91m) above the sea, this luxurious mega resort has been a landmark since its circular casino was used in the final scenes of the 1964 James Bond classic, “Goldfinger.”
Snorkeling and SNUBA
Extending off the northeast coast, the chain of 10 islands that belong to Cayos de la Cordillera Nature Reserve are encircled by crystal-clear waters and an expanse of healthy coral. Populated with a rich array of marine life, snorkelers and divers can float among kaleidoscopic species of tropical fish, invertebrates, spotted eagle rays, green turtles and nurse sharks. From Fajardo and Las Croabas, daily snorkeling trips operate to Culebra, Vieques and Icacos Island—suitable for all levels and ages (over eight years old). Sea Ventures offers half-day snorkeling trips from Fajardo (from $69) and two-tank dives ($109). Fajardo’s waters are a great setting for the novel scuba/snorkeling hybrid, SNUBA diving—tanks attached to a raft on the surface are connected to the diver by a long hose. Scuba Puerto Rico offers 3-hour SNUBA tours (aged 8 years and over) at 9am and 2pm daily (from $110); the maximum depth is 15 feet (4.5m).
The poster child for the Cordillera Nature Reserve, gorgeous Cayo Icacos can only be reached by a short, 20-minute boat ride from Las Croabas. With pristine white sand beaches, calm azure waters and idyllic sandbars, it’s a halcyon island escape. The reef off the island’s leeward side is perfect for snorkeling—you can expect to see myriad tropical fish and, if you are lucky, manta rays and even octopus. An uninhabited island, there are no facilities so be sure to pack everything you’ll need. East Island Excursions offer half-day (5-hour) tours from Fajardo to Icacos (from $99/adults, $75/children under 12 years; includes lunch), departing at 9am daily, onboard a sailing catamaran. Hotel pick-ups are available from San Juan ($20).