View of the southern mountains along the road at Coamo. Photo © Elizabeth Aguilar, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

View of the southern mountains along the road at Coamo. Photo © Elizabeth Aguilar, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

The town of Coamo is a modest little village in the hilly terrain just south of the island’s majestic Cordillera Central mountain range. The compelling reason to venture here is not for the town but for its nearby claim to fame, the Coamo Baños, a natural hot springs reputed to have restorative powers.

Coamo is 103 kilometers or 64 miles south of San Juan. Take Highway 52 south to Carretera 153 north to Carretera 14 north.

Map of Puerto Rico's South Coast

South Coast

Sights

Baños de Coamo (end of Carr. 546, daily 8 a.m.-6 p.m., free) may well be Puerto Rico’s very first tourist attraction. The hot springs, which retain a constant 110°F temperature and which are rich in minerals, were first discovered by the Taíno Indians, who shared their find with the Spanish colonists. By the mid-16th century, visitors were making their way here in a steady stream, and in the 17th century a resort was built that operated until the 1950s. Wealthy visitors from all over the world visited Coamo, including the most illustrious U.S. proponent of hot springs himself, President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The Coamo hot springs look very different today than they did then. The water has actually been contained in two places. One, which looks like a small standard swimming pool, is on the private property of the Hotel Baños de Coamo and is reserved for its guests. The public bath is an easy half-mile hike down a dirt road behind the hotel. Unfortunately, despite the size of the hotel parking lot, visitors to the public bath are forbidden to use it, so it’s necessary to park alongside the dead-end road, where local farmers sometimes sell produce from the backs of their trucks.

Until recently the bath was contained in a stone pool, but that structure has since been replaced by a square ceramic-tile enclosure that looks a lot like a giant bathtub set down in the great outdoors. Families with small children and many elderly folks gather here to relax for hours, bringing with them picnics (no alcohol allowed) and folding tables on which to play dominoes and cards. Whether the springs are truly healing can be debated, but that doesn’t stop the clearly infirm who are drawn to the waters.

Dips are limited to 15 minutes at a time, and there is a small rustic changing room on-site.

Sports and Recreation

Coamo Springs Golf Club and Tennis Club (Carr. 546, km 1, 787/825-1370, daily 7 a.m.-7 p.m.) is an 18-hole course designed by Ferdinand Garbin in a residential community that will challenge your ability to golf in the wind.

Maratón de San Blas de Illesca (787/825-1370) is an internationally renowned half marathon held in early February.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.