Visit Beautiful Isla Cardona
Update- Nov.30, 2017- The trips to Isla Cardona with Waterland Adventures have restarted after the hurricanes! They are open and operating their trips as usual.
While I love the main island of Puerto Rico, sometimes just a short boat ride brings you to some of the prettiest little out-islands. Isla Cardona is just an 8-minute boat ride off of Ponce, but it offers a beautiful beach, nice snorkeling, some trails to explore, and a lighthouse. Unless you have your own boat or jetski, the trip offered by Waterland Adventures is your best way to get there.
Isla Cardona is a tiny island located just over one mile south of La Guancha in Ponce (on the south coast). This dry island offers visitors a few diversions besides a beautiful white sand beach. There are trails for exploring, a lighthouse you can enter, and beautiful coral reefs right off shore for snorkeling. The island is administered by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources (DRNA).
We met the Waterland Adventures boat at 8am on the far west side of La Guancha boardwalk. After an initial scheduling glitch, they kindly fit us in on this trip. They take a maximum of 20 people on their boat (“Blackbeard”), so there’s plenty of room for everyone. The boat has benches under a covered roof, to keep the sun off, but that is really a non-issue as the ride to this island takes less than 10 minutes.
Once you get to Isla Cardona, there is no dock, so they anchor just a few feet off-shore, and you have to jump in the water (waist-deep) and walk up to the beach. They also ask that you participate in a “bucket brigade” — a line of people standing in a line from the boat to the beach — to help pass everyone’s stuff for the day from boat to the beach. It all worked well, everyone helped, and our stuff stayed dry.
On the tip of the island, there is a large covered area with picnic table. This is were the crew sets up the lunch spread, the snorkel gear, chairs, and tables. They have info on their snorkel tour here, and it’s the meeting place for the guided tours to the lighthouse. Lunch, snorkel tour, snorkel gear is all optional. If you bring your own stuff, you can set up anywhere you like.
We brought our own gear, so we set ourselves up on a lone stretch of beach at the coral fringed cove. We did a little exploring of the island, found the lighthouse trail, and checked out the lighthouse. We saw where the snorkel tour went (outside the outer reef), and then back inside in the cove. The guides took about 10 people out at a time. They gave a brief educational talk about the coral reef, what you would see, and how to protect it. People seemed to enjoy it.
As experienced SCUBA divers, we felt comfortable going out to snorkel on our own, without a guide. The snorkeling was nice. There were some beautiful fans, coral, and some different varieties of fish.
The outer reef is deep. The waves were a bit rough and visibility wasn’t the greatest due to a coming storm, but it was still pretty good. If you don’t own snorkel gear and/or want to go with a guide/lifeguard, they offer a snorkel tour for just a few bucks more. Probably a good idea for most people.
The crew also takes everyone to the lighthouse, and gives information about the lighthouse. This 1889 Spanish-designed lighthouse is still in operation, and it is listed in the US National Register of Historic Places. You can get some decent photos of and around the lighthouse.
Later in the day, we had our picnic lunch, and just enjoyed the sun, beach, and water. There are no faculties on the island, but the boat remains docked at the beach, and it has a marine head (toilet) if you need it. The island is open to anyone, so as the day progressed, lots of people with jet skis and boats came to enjoy the island. It wasn’t crowded-feeling, but I bet that it does become crowded on summer weekends. We all decided we should depart the island a little earlier than scheduled to avoid the coming storm. It was a really enjoyable day. And they posted some photos of our day on their Facebook page!
I have to give props to the crew for going around the island and picking up the trash that was left behind by the other visitors. They made a big difference to help the environment and to make our surroundings prettier. They say their trip is educational and environmentally focused, and they showed that it is more than just a marketing pitch.
Waterland Adventures offers different packages. Their “basic package” includes only transportation to/from Isla Cardona. They have a “snorkel package” (for adults and kids over 6 years old) that includes everything on the basic package, plus use of snorkel gear, life jacket, orientation to snorkeling, the guided snorkel tour, and guided tour to the lighthouse. They have an “all inclusive package” that includes everything in the snorkel package, plus light lunch (sandwiches), soda, water, beach chair, and beach umbrella for the day. Regardless of the package you choose, you are allowed to bring whatever you want (cooler, chairs, etc), and you rent beach chairs and umbrellas for $5 each. Check their website for current prices. $3.00 DRNA fee included in the price. Basic Day Trip to Isla Cardona starts at about $23.00 per person 13 years and up, discount for kids under 13 years old. Snorkel Package starts at $50.00 per person 13 years old and up, discount for kids 6 to 12 years old. All Inclusive Package starts at $65.00 per person 13 years old and up. Discount for kids under 12 years old.
Waterland Adventures has general trips scheduled on weekends. The will go any day with a minimum of 6 people. Their boat holds a maximum of 20 people.You need to be at the dock to check-in at 8am. The boat leaves at 8:30am, and returns at 3:30pm.
The island has no facilities, so you need to bring everything you need for the day — sunscreen, hat, food/water, towel, camera, etc. They allow you to bring whatever you want — BBQ, chairs, etc. Just make sure you bring all your own trash back on boat with you when you leave. Bring decent shoes if you want to explore the island. Most of it is sandy, but here are some trails, and sharp corals.
To get there, take exit 104A from Route 52, then follow Route 12 south. You’ll have to drive through an industrial/port area … just follow the road to the parking area, where there is plenty of free parking. Waterland Adventures departs from La Guancha public boat ramp.
Allow at least 90 minutes drive to La Guancha from the San Juan area.
We are in the process of updating the maps we use on our web site. While we're working on that, you can click on the GPS coordinates below to view the location on Google Maps ...
- Isla Cardona: (17.957931, -66.636252)
- La Guancha public boat ramp: (17.966938, -66.616071)
- La Guancha Waterfront Area, parking: (17.965228, -66.614072)
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