Though small, Puerto Rico is so diverse that it is generally divided into five general regions, each offering distinctive attractions and personal tropical charms. Use the map at the right to navigate through the tours.
Central Region Tour
Discover the beauty of Puerto Rico’s Cordillera Central and the hospitality of its mountain towns.
The heart of the island is the Cordillera Central, a lush region of mountain lakes and forests, limestone caves and hills, and towns wrapped in all the greenery. Many of Puerto Rico’s time-honored customs are still followed here, and local creole cooking is at its best in a mountain setting.
The lunarlike journey to the island’s interior begins when you turn off Expressway 22 from San Juan and head south on Highway 10, which connects Arecibo with Utuado. Cone-shaped hills and craterlike valleys line the road. This is limestone karst terrain, and Puerto Rico has some of the best examples of tropical karst in the world. At the intersection with Road 621, you can detour west to enter the Río Abajo Forest or east down the mountains and south on 123 to Dos Bocas Lake. Though it looks primeval, Dos Bocas (and all of Puerto Rico’s mountain lakes) is actually a reservoir. From the Dos Bocas Pier off 123 beyond the dam (an hour-and-a-half drive from San Juan) you can take boats, free of charge, across the lake. Lakeside creole restaurants open for weekend dining.
Long a center for growing coffee and other crops, Utuado (at the end of Highway 10) is the largest town in the mountains, and it boasts the island’s only agricultural college. West on Road 111 is the venerable Caguana Indian Ceremonial Park, built around 1200 A.D. by Taino Indians. The park showcases ceremonial plazas, stones etched with petroglyphs, and a small museum, all in a lovely mountain setting.
As the crow ﬂies (which unfortunately is not the route of cars), the renowned Arecibo Observatory and the dramatic Río Camuy Cave Park lie nearby, but since they are most easily reached from the north-coast towns to which they pertain, they are mentioned in greater detail in the San Juan Metro & Northern Region tour.
You’ll ﬁnd more attractions east of Utua-do. Drive east on Road 111 and detour north on 140 to view another hauntingly tranquil lake, Lago Caonillas. Continue south on Road 140 and north on 144 to the picturesque town of Jayuya. Its Cemí Museum Monument showcases Taino artifacts, while nearby a large rock in the Saliente River, La Piedra Escrita, showcases Taino petroglyphs. Casa Canales Museum represents a typical 19th-century wood home. Long-time producer of outstanding coffee, Jayuya is also known for its hand-carved wood crafts.
A short drive south from Jayuya along roads 144 and 149 takes you to the Toro Negro Forest, site of trails, mountain pools and the island’s highest peaks. This is the half-way point along the mountainous Panoramic Route linking the east and west coasts. West of the forest on Road 143, Hacienda Patricia harvests and processes its coffee using traditional methods. Farther west is the picturesque agricultural town of Adjuntas. Home to the environmental group, Casa Pueblo, where you can visit a butterﬂy garden and the nearby People’s Forest, Adjuntas marks the gateway to the island’s coffee country. Continuing west along the route, you pass the dammed Lake Garzas, remote Guilarte Forest with a peak of the same name, and the coffee community of Castañer before reaching Maricao and the western Porta del Sol region.
Traveling into the island’s interior from San Juan, you head south on Expressway 52. First stop is Caguas, the largest city in central Puerto Rico. Set in an interior valley, it is the island’s fastest growing urban center, with resort hotels, modern shopping malls, and entertainment centers. Yet is also dedicated to its criollo roots, with an historic district, a 60-acre botanical and cultural garden, and several cultural museums.
Beyond Caguas, Expressway 52 ascends into the Cordillera Central. One of several towns tucked into the surrounding hills, Cidra is known for its lovely Lake Cidra reservoir and the Treasure Island resort. Cayey, once a center for coffee and cigar production, now home to the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey, is set on a mountain plateau.
On weekends, sanjuaneros escape to lovely restaurants that hug the mountain slopes. Carite Forest off Road 184 showcases pools, views, and rainforest vegetation, a mystical mix of sierra palms and pearl-gray fog. Just north of the forest, in an area known as Guavate, restaurants and open-air eateries serve up lechón (spit-roasted pig) and other down-home cooking.
Several roads in the region form part of the eastern section of the Panoramic Route, and well-known route sites include the Degetau Rock Lookout in nearby Aibonito. Known for its cool temperatures and beautiful views, Aibonito showcases the annual Flower Festival at the end of June. Neighboring Barranquitas, birthplace of statesman and governor, Luis Muñoz Marín, hosts its prestigious mountain crafts festival in July. Between the two towns is the San Cristóbal Canyon, deepest canyon on the island: with its tangled vegetation and the island’s highest waterfall, it is a popular hiking spot for the ﬁt and adventurous. Farther west, in almost dead center of the island, the Central Mountains ascend and encircle the town of Orocovis, home of the Toro Negro Forest and Toro Verde, one of the largest ziplining parks in the hemisphere.
RÍO ABAJO FOREST
DOS BOCAS PIER
CAGUANA INDIAN CEREMONIAL PARK
CEMÍ MUSEUM MONUMENT
LA PIEDRA ESCRITA
CASA CANALES MUSEUM
TORO NEGRO FOREST
DEGETAU ROCK LOOKOUT
SAN CRISTÓBAL CANYON
TORO VERDE NATURE ADVENTURE PARK
CELESTINO AVILÉS MELÉNDEZ MUSEUM OF OROCOVIS
TORO NEGRO FOREST/DOÑA JUANA RECREATIONAL AREA
SALTO DE DOÑA JUANA
CAGUAS HISTORIC DISTRICT
HERMINIO TORRES TOBACCO MUSEUM
MUSEO DE ARTES POPULARES (POPULAR ARTS MUSEUM)
CASA AMARILLA, MUSEUM OF ART
CENTRO MUSICAL CRIOLLO
PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
WILLIAM MIRANDA MARÍN BOTANICAL AND CULTURAL GARDEN
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