Unlike its eastern islands of Vieques and Culebra, which have drawn rave reviews and droves of zinc-nosed gringos, Puerto Rico's wild west coast has managed to remain (refreshingly) off the radar. New direct flights to Aguadilla amount to a speed pass to some of the best surfing, diving, and, yes, driving in the Caribbean. Granted, some roads lack signage, and many are white-knuckle narrow, but the rewards of getting behind the wheel—a bucolic cruise along La Ruta Panorámica, "the scenic route," the chance to climb the island's highest peak—are, as the locals say, vale la pena (well worth it).
DAY 1: Surf Rincón
Rincón is no secret to surfers: The World Surfing Championships were held here in 1968, there are 14 breaks within two miles (three kilometers) of town, and flights to Aguadilla deposit you a mere 30-minute drive from a wave. For nonsurfers, however, it's a revelation. Sign on with Rincón Surf and Board for a full day of instruction, then dive into a plate of anise-dusted sea scallops at the Spot, an inventive local seaside eatery.
DAY 2: Dive the Wall
La Pared, or "the wall," is a 20-mile-long (32-kilometer-long), coral-reef cliff that drops some 90 feet (27 meters) off the southwestern coast of the island. Paradise Scuba and Snorkeling Center in La Parguera runs two-tank wall dives down to a hundred feet (30 meters) amid octopuses, giant sponges, and sea turtles. Not in the mood for nitrogen narcosis? Paradise's Discover Scuba course offers newcomers a two-tank dive in shallower waters among manatees and mangroves.
DAY 3: Island-Hop
Water, water, everywhere. Except, that is, in the coastal Guánica Dry Forest Reserve, 16 miles (26 kilometers) east of La Parguera. Tour the eerily beautiful cactus-covered reserve on foot via the one-mile (1.6-kilometer) Camino Ballena or 19 other short trails within the park. For a cooldown, kayak the half-mile (.8 kilometers) from Copamarina Resort (a mile from the reserve's visitors center) to uninhabited, snorkel-ready Gilligan's Island and Ballena Cay.
DAY 4: Drive La Ruta
La Ruta Panorámica is an assemblage of 40-plus roads that cuts through the island's lush Cordillera Central. Here, a good map means the difference between a pleasant drive and an interminable one. Pick up the latest from International Travel Maps (www.itmb.com) and head to 4,389-foot (1,338-kilometer) Cerro de Punta. From the parking lot at kilometer 17, it's just a one-and-a-half-mile (two-and-a-half-kilometer) hike to Puerto Rico's rooftop and an ovation from crooning tree frogs.
Do: Rincón Surf and Board ($89 for a full-day surf lesson; www.surfandboard.com); Paradise Scuba and Snorkeling Center ($80 for a two-tank wall dive, $125 for Discover Scuba course; +1 787 899 7611)
Eat: The Spot (www.rincononline.com/spot)
Sleep: Rincón Surf and Board ($65); Copamarina Beach Resort ($300, all-inclusive; www.copamarina.com)
Grammy-winner José Feliciano picks his homeland's greatest hits.
Gilberto Santa Rosa "Perdoname"
Salsa singer extraordinaire.
Rafael Hernandez "El Cumbanchero"
The Puerto Rican Bob Dylan.
Daniel Santos "Virgen de Media Noche"
The definitive Puerto Rican love song.
Bobby Capó "Piel Canela"
The music of the forties and fifties would never be the same.
Antonio Caban Vale "Verde Luz"
Ode to the beaches and forests of Puerto Rico.
Sylvia Rexach "Olas y Arena"
My favorite female composer.
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