Puerto Rico is one of the northernmost islands in the Caribbean region. The name speaks for itself – Puerto Rico means “rich port” in Spanish. Also, the country has a rich flora and fauna, not to mention their culture and gastronomy. We can choose from several routes to take in the region. Besides a large number of berths and ports, we can explore many brilliant islands here, but there are also notorious sea passages here that are challenging to navigate.
Examples include the northern part of the Dominican Republic, Mona Passage west of Puerto Rico and the Anegada Passage, located between Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands. Despite this – or maybe thanks to this – the Caribbean Sea is one of the most popular sailing destinations worldwide – it is definitely worth exploring the place.
Let’s get to know Puerto Rico
The island country is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean; the deepest trench of the Atlantic Ocean called Puerto Rico Trench is located on the boundary of the two. It belongs to an archipelago consisting of Vieques, Culebra, Cayo Luis Pena, Palomino and 28 other small uninhabited islands. The tropical heat, the marvellous sea and the beautiful islands and ports all make this area one of the most beloved sailing destinations in the world.
There are several ports of entry on the island, but we must be aware of the country’s unique status. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, but visitors arriving from the US still need to have the required permissions. If we arrive from outside the territorial waters of the islands, we are required to contact the local customs authorities no later than 24 hours before our entry. Non-American citizens must have a valid visa like in the case of entering the United States. When we arrive, we can arrange our clearance in most larger port towns (e.g. San Juan, Ponce, Palmas del Mar, Mayagüez).
Being a tropical area, the average temperature in Puerto Rico is 28° Celsius. The weather does not change drastically; the warmest month is June, but the average temperature is around 24° Celsius even in the coldest month, January. When planning our journey, we should definitely calculate with the hurricane season, which is typical in the area. This period is between June and November. If we are planning to go sailing during this time, we need to be extremely careful and cautious; the trip is definitely not recommended for beginners. The trade winds are present in the area – this means that the air moves continuously in one direction for a specific amount of time.
The dominant wind coming from the northeast is present from January to March; during the rest of the year, it is blowing in the east around October. The north-eastern wind has a velocity of 28–35 km/h. When it calms down, its velocity is reduced to 18–28 km/h. The mildest air movement is present in September and October. The so-called Christmas Wind is the strongest wind – its velocity may even reach 45–55 km/h. This period can take as long as weeks. The winds that are constantly present in the area make it easier to bear the hot weather on the boat, but it is still recommended to protect our skin from the sun. You should prepare with the proper types of clothes and make sure that you drink enough water and stay hydrated. Check the sailing conditions and wind rose diagram of Puerto Rico
Sailing to Puerto Rico – from the North
In case of a trip from the north to the southwest, it is recommended to leave from one of the Bahama Islands, navigating along with the Turks and Caicos Islands. This way, we can get to the northern corner of Puerto Rico through Mona Passage. As the northern part is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, navigating might be complicated if we get into the trade winds’ passages. It’s a convention among sailors to stop at Samana, located in the northern part of the Dominican Republic, and then continue their trip towards Puerto Rico. This can be a one-day rest, or we can wait a few days more until the weather conditions are more ideal.
Another option is to take a one-day break on Saona Island in the southeastern part of the Dominican Republic. We can wait for the suitable winds and for the sea to work for us here, making the conditions ideal to continue towards the east. Isla Mona can be found in the app. 70 kilometres from here; we can find protected anchorages inside the coral reef. Puerto Rico’s western shores can be found another 70 kilometres from here.
Mona Passage is a sea passage connecting the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Its depth varies between 4-500 metres. It has a northwestern-southeast direction and is one of the most important passages between the Atlantic Ocean and the Panama Canal. It is also among the most challenging passages in the Caribbean region as it is full of tidal waves, created by the surrounding islands and elongated sandy shores. The passage lies between the Dominican Cabo Engaño and the Puerto Rican Cabo Rojo. There are three islands in the passage: Isla Mona, Isla Monito, and Isla Desecheo.
Ports on the northern coast of Puerto Rico
San Juan, the capital, is a place that we must absolutely visit when we are in Puerto Rico. The city has a vibrant, charming atmosphere. The port is full of shops and sights to see, and one of the most beautiful parts in town, Old San Juan, can be found nearby. It is very easy to get to the port: there is an easterly natural passage which is also marked. We can find the San Juan Yacht Club and San Juan Bay Marina in an area of 2.5 kilometres inside the dock; the former on the left, the latter on the right side. The area designated for docking is on the west; the depth of water there is app. 9 metres. The port is very well-equipped: they offer temporary docking, fuel, and boat maintenance.
Club Nautico San Juan can be found right next to San Juan Bay Marina. The place is world-famous for the events they organize and for the hospitality of the locals. Visitors who dock at other places are also allowed to use their establishments. In the case of all the places listed above, we can get everything we may need for our boat, from parts to accessories. The fort of Castillo San Felipe del Morro is also towering here. It was built to provide protection for the bay from the invaders arriving on the sea; it has a rich history. If you are enthusiastic about history, you will find this building very exciting. The fort, which is several hundreds of years old, commemorates several sea battles of the past; it also functioned as an American military base in the 20th century.
If we feel like walking, we can go to the top to admire the wonderful view. If we don’t have time for that, we will definitely see the place when passing by during our entry to the bay of San Juan.
Arecibo is located app. 40 kilometres from the western corner of Puerto Rico. If we happen to face the roaring trade winds, we can find shelter here, even though the area doesn’t provide full protection on the windswept sea. If the draught of our boat doesn’t exceed 2 metres, we can anchor at Arecibo Yacht Club. The town itself is beautiful – rich in architectural and cultural treasure. Many consider it the northern equivalent of Ponce in the south.
2 weeks from the Bahamas to Puerto Rico
On this route, we can get to Puerto Rico from the north and the west. We can leave from Turk and Caicos Islands or extend our trip by leaving from the Bahamas, Nassau, or Exuma. We can get to any of the islands on a plane. This is a very challenging trip, being on the bucket list of many sailors. We almost always have to do greater distances during the trip; the southernmost Caicos Island is almost 150 kilometres away from the Dominican Lupero. This passage is difficult since besides the trade winds, we also have to face the equatorial currents and the enormous sea. The section between Lupero and Santana is not easy either.
Also, there aren’t many good anchorages in the northeastern part of the Dominican Republic. Most of the time we will navigate towards the east, which means that we have to fight the trade winds and the different currents here as well. It is indeed a difficult route, but it’s definitely worth doing it!
Day 1. Providenciales (Turks- és Caicos islands) Turtle Cove Marina – Mangrove Cay 10,80 km (6,71 mi) Day 2. Mangrove Cay – Cockburn Harbor 70,10 km (43,56 mi) Day 3. Cockburn Harbor – Big Sand Cay 45,00 km (27,96 mi) Day 4. Big Sand Cay – Luperón Harbor (Dominican Republic) 148,30 km (92,15 mi) Day 5. Luperón – Puerto Plata 30,20 km (18,77 mi) Day 6. Puerto Plata – Sosúa 20,15 km (12,52 mi) Day 7. Sosúa – Playa el Valle 142,95 km (88,82 mi) Day 8. Playa el Valle – Puerto Bahia Samaná 62,70 km (38,96 mi) Day 9. Samaná – Miches 35,05 km (21,78 mi) Day 10. Miches – Cap Cana (Punta Cana) 102,30 km (63,57 mi) Day 11. Cap Cana – Isla Mona (Puerto Rico) 65,00 km (40,39 mi) Day 12. Isla Mona – Mayagüez 71,70 km (44,55 mi) Day 13. Mayagüez – Boquerón 26,90 km (16,72 mi) Day 14. Boquerón – Isla Giligan – Guanica 48,40 km (30,07 mi)
Sailing to Puerto Rico from the East
When sailing from the east, it is best to navigate from the direction of the British Virgin Islands. We will find the American and the Spanish Virgin Islands (Saint Crox, Saint John, Saint Thomas, Vieques, Culebra) on this route. Its main advantage is that there are several docking places and rest areas on these islands. This is also a popular route, as there are many tiny and beautiful islands located after one another in a relatively small area, offering marvellous landscape, nice beaches and of course great docking places.
Ports and islands on the east coast
Cayo Obispo (Isleta Marina)
Cayo Obsipo lies near Fajardo; it is easily accessible from all directions. Thanks to the apartments, it is easy to spot the island even from a greater distance. We can anchor in the local port as well as a bit further to the east. They have a full service including Wi-Fi and boat towing services. It is very popular among sailors. There is a beautiful passage behind Cayo Ahogado, leading from the western side of Isleta Marina almost all the way to Isla Pineros. Although it is not marked, it is still a pleasant route definitely worth trying.
Fajardo is located in the easternmost part of the island, offering more than 5 docks. There are many well-equipped, clean and comfortable berths at Sun Bay Marina. There is also an established marina for smaller boats, in case somebody prefers to anchor a bit farther. Villa Marina and Puerto Chico Marina will also satisfy all our needs. We can get fuel, water, and there is a restaurant and a bar here as well. Puerto Del Rey is among the largest ports here; it is also accessible easily. The port is surrounded by a marvellous natural bay, and its giant dock provides shelter from winds and hurricanes.
Culebra is a member of the Spanish Virgin Islands. It is located 27 kilometres from the east coast of Puerto Rico. The island is really peaceful, with no restaurant chains, big crowds or giant hotels – only smaller, quiet restaurants and beautiful beaches. There are several great berths in the southwestern corner of the island and also in Ensanada Malena. The latter is close to Punta del Soldado, which is a great scuba-diving spot. Ensenada Honda is among the most popular ports on the island. It is protected from all directions, and the stiff sand on the sea bottom is ideal for anchoring. Most boats usually dock in the northwestern part, but it is recommended to keep searching for the ideal anchorage.
Another beautiful island east of Puerto Rico is Vieques. There are many amazing ports here. Sun Bay, for instance, is a wonderful bay offering free berths. Puerto Mosquito is also unique since it is a bioluminescent bay. The depth of water is only 2 metres – or even less during low tide – in the narrowest part of the port’s entrance. However, the anchorage is perfect even in case the presence of strong winds. It is forbidden to use the engine of the boat here – we should use the designated attachment points. The other bioluminescent bay nearby is Puerto Ferro. The entrance of the bay is indicated by limestone formations and a few caves – a large amount of limestone is a wonderful sight. We can find the docking area east of the centre.
A week sailing trip from the BVI to Puerto Rico
This might be the easiest one among the Puerto Rican routes. We can leave from Tortola, from the port of Nanny Cay, which is part of the British Virgin Islands. Near Nanny Cay, on Beef Island there is an airport 20 kilometres from the port. We can go almost all the way towards the west, and then change the direction to the north at Puerto Rico. After that, we can get to San Juan navigating along the northern shores of the island country. From here, we can get to Tortola on a direct flight.
Day 1. Nanny Cay, Tortola – Frenchman’s Cay, Soper’s Hole 8,60 km (5,35 mi) Day 2. Frenchman’s Cay – Hans Lollik Island 21,00 km (13,05 mi) Day 3. Hans Lollik Island – Santa Maria Bay, Saint Thomas 10,10 km (6,27 mi) Day 4. Santa Maria Bay – Culebrita – Dewey, Culebra 32,10 km (19,95 mi) Day 5. Culebra – Sun Bay Marina, Fajardo, Puerto Rico 46,40 km (28,83 mi) Day 6. Fajardo – Cayo Icacos 6,70 km (4,16 mi) Day 7. Cayo Icacos – Loíza – San Juan 56,30 km (34,98 mi)
Sailing to Puerto Rico from the South
Venezuela is a southern “neighbour” of Puerto Rico. We will not find any land for hundreds of kilometres after Curacao and Aruba, in the northern part of Venezuela. So if we want to travel to Puerto Rico from the south, we should go along the Lesser Antilles. Grenada is fairly close to the northeastern corner of Venezuela and is followed by other islands, so it is a great starting point. However, since we have to do longer distances, we should leave from a closer island; for example, Antigua. The combination of the winds typically has an eastern or southeastern direction, so it is recommended to go straight towards the north, and then turn west at the Leeward Islands.
If we navigate on this route, we will not face any serious obstacles except one unmarked island. Isla Aves lies 180 kilometres from the southwestern corner of Guadeloupe. We must be careful here: since this is a small area, it is easy not to spot it, and the place might not show up on our navigation either.
Ports and islands on the southern coast of Puerto Rico
Bahia de Jobos
We will find this port southeast of the entrance between Cayos de Barca and Cayos Caribes. The area consists mostly of mangrove swamps and ports. The part west of Cayo Puerta is very well-protected – it is often used as a shelter from hurricanes. There are several great anchorages in Bahida de Jobos. It is a perfect place for those who are only looking for a protected, quiet port instead of preferring to go to the beach.
Jauca is a small town south of Puerto Rico. There are great anchorages, but they are not always fully protected from the western and southeastern winds. We can find the town’s port on the southern side of Bahida de Rincon.
The southern town is really unique, so we must definitely visit it. It has a giant port, and is protected well; there are also great anchorages after Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club. Here are some free berths at the club from time to time, and there is also a marina for small boats that can be used for a daily fee. There are shower cabins and restaurants here, and we can also get fuel. People are very nice and hospitable. The place has a disadvantage, though, if we want to explore the downtown: it is quite far from the dock.
Isla Caja de Muertos
The island of Caja de Muertos can be found near Ponce, in the southwest. The scary name “Coffin Island” comes from a pirate attack that took place here hundreds of years ago. The place is completely safe today – there is only a friendly turtle colony living here. Despite its tiny size, the island can easily be spotted from a larger distance. We can find great anchorages on the southwestern coast. The stiff sand on the sea bottom is ideal for anchoring; the depth of water here is 3 metres.
14 days catamaran tour from Antigua to Puerto Rico – one-way
Antigua is a perfect starting point with its ragged bays and reefs. There are amazing ports and anchorages all around the islands. Travelling there is quite easy: several airlines offer direct flights from the airport near St. John. The biggest challenge along the route is navigating through Anegada Passage – it is very popular among sailors. The sea is often rough with strong currents, but we can still find a time when the conditions are suitable. It is recommended to leave early at dawn. When we have made it to the British Virgin Islands, it will be much easier. There are beautiful white sandy beaches here and the water is deep blue. Even the trade winds won’t cause us much trouble, we can find mooring buoys in almost every bay and there are several yacht ports in the area as well.
Day 1. Antigua, English Harbor – Nonsuch Bay 18,30 km (11,37 mi) Day 2. Nonsuch Bay – Barbuda, Low Bay 69,00 km (42,88 mi) Day 3. Low Bay – Saint Barthélemy, Gustavia 102,05 km (63,41 mi) Day 4. Gustavia – Saint Martin, Philipsburg 26,15 km (16,25 mi) Day 5. Philipsburg – Marigot 26,10 km (16,22 mi) Day 6. Marigot – Peter Island, Sprat Bay 158,60 km (98,55 mi) Day 7. Sprat Bay – Norman Island, Bight Bay 8,70 km (5,40 mi) Day 8. Bight Bay – Saint John, Coral Bay 10,95 km (6,81 mi) Day 9. Coral Bay – Cruz Bay 20,15 km (12,52 mi) Day 10. Cruz Bay – Saint Thomas, Long Bay 17,55 km (10,91 mi) Day 11. Long Bay – Saba Island 10,35 km (6,43 mi) Day 12. Saba Island – Culebra, Ensanada Honda 30,65 km (19,05 mi) Day 13. Ensenada Honda – Isla Palominos 34,70 km (21,56 mi) Day 14. Isla Palominos – Puerto Rico, Fajardo Puerto, del Ray Marina 10,00 km (6,22 mi)
Sailing to Puerto Rico from the West
The only challenge we will face if we arrive from the western part of the Caribbean region is the trade winds. They should not be a serious problem though, due to the presence of catabatic winds coming from the mountains of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. (These are freezing onshore breezes that blow down the slopes at night). They are able to alleviate the impact of the strong trade winds within a radius of 5-8 kilometres of the island. If we are lucky, we can navigate towards east more easily on the port tack, with the help of these winds. However, if the conditions are less ideal, we must use the engine of the boat due to the flat sea.
Ports and islands on the west coast of Puerto Rico
Mayagüez is located on the west side of the island. It is the third-largest town in Puerto Rico. It is surrounded by a large bay, and unlike many western basins, its port is well-protected. This is also the point of entry where we can arrange our clearance at the local customs office.
This tiny island is located in the northeastern part of Mona Passage. It is about halfway between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The entire island is an uninhabited natural preserve. There are nearly 200 caves here preserving the traces of ancient aboriginals and Spanish conquerors. There is also a lighthouse on the island which is more than a hundred years old; it looks just like the Eiffel Tower. The docking area is fairly small, but we can still find anchorage quite easily as the dock is long enough. The lagoon is narrow and is barely 2 metres deep. Isla Mona is a popular spot among divers as well, thanks to the colourful and exotic sea life of South Gardens.
1-week sailing itinerary from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico
If we decide to sail to Puerto Rico from the Dominican Republic, it is recommended to leave from the easternmost point of the island: Punta Cana. The town’s airport is just 10 kilometres from the port of Cap Cana. We should expect larger distances on this route, as between the western shores of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, we can only dock at Isla Mona. We should prepare for the trip carefully or we might have to face large swells, giant waves, and strong winds – navigating this area definitely requires experience and extreme carefulness. When we make it to Puerto Rico, we should navigate all the way to Ponce along the southern coast. There are more great anchorages and islands there.
Day 1. Punta Cana, Marina Cap Cana – Isla Mona 63,75 km (39,61 mi) Day 2. Isla Mona – Bahía Salinas, Cabo Rojo 75,05 km (46,63 mi) Day 3. Bahía Salinas – Isla Caya de Muertos – Ponce 75,15 km (46,70 mi) Day 4. Ponce – Isla de Gilligan 26,95 km (16,74 mi) Day 5. Isla de Gilligan – Boquerón 51,65 km (32,10 mi) Day 6. Boquerón – Isla Mona 71,60 km (44,49 mi) Day 7. Isla Mona – Punta Cana 63,75 km (39,61 mi)
More information about Puerto Rico sailing
In conclusion, if you sail to Puerto Rico, you can live your passion for sailing in a unique and exciting way. The countless islands, reefs and deepwater passages all make this island country and its neighbouring area a real paradise for sailors. Everyone can definitely find a way to make their holiday an unforgettable one here, regardless of how experienced they are. Find more Puerto Rico sailing routes or choose from other Caribbean sailing destinations.