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Voyaging

Destinations To Die For: The Spanish Virgin Islands

Rico Suave | February

Palomino Island is the private playground for El Conquistador resort guests.

When we met six years ago, little did I know how quickly I'd be bewitched. (Then again, good looks, charisma, and a cool persona, with just a hint of rascal, can do that to a girl.) We packed plenty of activity and equal doses of relaxation into a few days together: RIB-ing around tiny islands I didn't even know existed, a stone's throw from fishing villages, famous resorts, and historic cities; and enjoying anchorages all to ourselves. Even though we could see the glittering lights of other well-populated islands, they didn't interfere with the starry show above our heads. I was bewitched by Puerto Rico and her islands of Culebra, Culebrita, Vieques, and Palomino, collectively often referred to as the Spanish Virgin Islands. While Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and quite close to St. Thomas and the other U.S. Virgins, it has a rhythm all its own that'll captivate you the way it has me.

One of the things I like best about Puerto Rico is that you can be as busy or as laid back as you wish. San Juan, north along the Atlantic coast, is world-famous for its historic Old San Juan district. I have dozens of photos of the colonial architecture, great plazas, and the fort El Morro from an entire day I spent exploring the district on foot. If the thought of sharing the streets with plenty of tourists, particularly from the nearby cruise-ship terminal, doesn't float your boat, then head southeast to hike through the rainforest of El Yunque National Forest. All you'll hear are chirping birds and occasional warbles of "ko-kee" from the island's indigenous coquis (tiny frogs).

The imposing El Morro is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Vieques is quiet, too. Ever since the U. S. Navy left the island in 2003, resorts and hotels have been popping up, but thankfully much of it is a wildlife refuge. Its famous bioluminescent Mosquito Bay is also fiercely protected by the government and local residents from motorized craft. And still-sleepy Culebra has a wildlife refuge that includes a nesting site for giant sea turtles, while Culebrita boasts white-sand beaches. As for Palomino, it's owned by the El Conquistador resort on the island of Puerto Rico, but you can still explore its waters and drop anchor in your own boat as I did aboard a friend's boat (shown above, in fact) six years ago. And all of the Spanish Virgin Islands are ideal for snorkeling, swimming, and fishing.

Like a schoolgirl with a crush on a muchacho macho, I'm smitten with Puerto Rico. I've been there three times now, and can't wait to go back.

Destinations To Die For

January: Plymouth Harbor, Dominica
February: The Spanish Virgin Islands
March: Mazatlan, Mexico
April: Man-O-War Cay, Bahamas
May: Southport, North Carolina
June: Greenport, New York
July: New York, New York
August: Penobscot Bay, Maine
September: Block Island, Rhode Island
October: Panama City, Florida
November: Key West, Florida
December: Staniel Cay, Bahamas

This article originally appeared in the December 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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