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Mayagüez lies in the middle of Puerto Rico's west coast, a major fun-in-the-sun zone, but it lacks its own quality beach.

Yet Puerto Rico's third largest city is close enough to several world-class beaches to make it worth a stay. And it can offer guests different visions of the Caribbean vacation.

To the north, along the northwest coast that stems from Rincón to Isabella, lie the Caribbean's best surfing beaches, which compare favorably to those of California when conditions are right. These are the beaches we'll focus on in this chapter. And to the south are equally attractive beaches with among the calmest waters in the Caribbean, offering excellent snorkeling, scuba, and sailing opportunities.

The city is not as renowned for its historic sites, architecture, and attractions as San Juan or Ponce, but it has all three.

Mayagüez is also close to the western mountains, especially Maricao, perhaps the prettiest of the mountain towns in Puerto Rico. You can stay here in a renovated coffee plantation house, or just have lunch on its charming veranda. Or rent a cabin at the Monte del Estado national park, or just spend the day in its swimming pool fed by mountain streams.

Throughout the northwest beach towns, there are a few top-level properties, several modestly priced and attractive hotels and guesthouses, and a few noteworthy paradores, privately operated country inns approved by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company that choose to participate in its joint promotion program.

This western part of Puerto Rico contains the greatest concentration of paradores, along the coast and in the cool mountainous interior of the west. They're a wonderful escape from pollution and traffic on a hot day.

Mona Island can also be explored from the coast near Mayagüez. It's one of the island's biggest adventure jaunts in Puerto Rico, and shouldn't be missed.