Suzanne Van Atten

Planning Your Time in Puerto Rico’s Cordillera Central

It’s hard for some visitors to wrap their heads around the idea of spending their time in Puerto Rico not in the water but in the mountains. That’s what makes the Cordillera Central, Puerto Rico’s central mountain region, one of the island’s greatest hidden gems. One of the great things about the Cordillera Central is that it’s possible to get a taste of its charms on a day trip from just about anywhere on the island.

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Sights in Caguas and Cayey, Puerto Rico

The Puerto Rico’s eastern mountain towns of Caguas and Cayey don’t boast the dramatic peaks and valleys of Jayuya and Utuado, but they have plenty to offer in the way of attractions. Caguas is home to the impressive botanical gardens at Jardín Botánico y Cultural de Caguas, and many locals make a day of visiting the area to dine at all-you-can-eat buffets, dance to the live bands, and shop at roadside vendors.

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Mountain Scenery and Taíno Culture in Jayuya, Puerto Rico

If you visit only one place in Puerto Rico’s Cordillera Central, go to Jayuya. Go to experience the gorgeous mountain scenery and some of the highest peaks on the island, where it’s possible to see both the Atlantic and the Caribbean, as well as vegetation thick with sierra palms, bamboo, banana trees, and brilliantly colorful impatiens. This is also the place to soak up the rich Taíno culture and explore other historic sights.

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Puerto Rico’s Coqui Tree Frog

There is one sweet sound unlike any other that you can hear throughout the island of Puerto Rico at night, and that is the song of the coqui tree frog. Rarely seen but often heard, these tiny translucent amphibians are the beloved mascot of the island.

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Things to Do in Vega Alta and Vega Baja

The highlight of the Vegas is definitely Punta Cerro Gordo, a gorgeous piece of coastline that boasts one of the island’s best publicly maintained beaches and a great camping area, but remember to take time away from the surf and sand to explore the history, culture, and beautiful sights of the area. Expert author Suzanne Van Atten talks festivals, cultural hotspots and exploring the outdoors in Vega Alta and Vega Baja.

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Mona Island’s Colorful Past

Oh, the tales it could tell if Mona Island could speak. Its past is a drama full of marauding pirates, thriving Taínos, and many a shipwreck. Today, in addition to enjoying the island’s great hiking, diving, and bird-watching, visitors can explore the faint remains of the Taíno civilization and mining operations. Petroglyphs, stone walls, cabins, and graves are enduring reminders of Mona’s colorful past.

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Historic Churches in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Old San Jan is the cultural center of Puerto Rico. Many of the island’s must-see sights are in Old San Juan; among them are these beautiful and beloved old churches. One is the second-oldest in the western hemisphere, another has two origin stories, both a tragic and triumphant version, and one is a truly excellent example of 16th-century Spanish Gothic architecture.

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Spending Time in Manatí

For years most visitors to Puerto Rico blew right past the town of Manatí on their way west from San Juan to attractions in Arecibo or the west coast. Though the town of Manatí proper isn’t much of a draw, the surrounding area is home to excellent scenic drives, beautiful treasures of nature, a quiet preserve with quite a bit of history, and plenty of outdoor activities.

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The History of Ponce, Puerto Rico

Ponce’s rich cultural life gave birth in the mid-1800s to a unique form of romantic classical music called danza, and from there the good times kept rolling. By the turn of the 20th century, the tides began to turn for Ponce, leading to struggles that continue to today; lately, things are looking up. Learn about Ponce’s truly colorful history and the city’s revitalization.

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Discover Culebra

As laid-back as Vieques is, it’s practically Las Vegas compared to Culebra. Culebra has yet to be discovered by the tourism industry, but experienced divers know it as one of the best diving spots in the Caribbean. Home to 1,568 acres of land preserved as a National Wildlife Refuge and one of the last vestiges of pre-tourism Puerto Rico, visitors are advised to embrace the island’s quirky inconveniences and sleepy pace of life to fully appreciate its many rare charms.

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Moon Guides Author Spotlight

Moon author Jason Frye

Jason Frye (Moon Great Smoky Mountain National Park)

Raised deep in the mountains of West Virginia, Jason Frye first fell in love with North Carolina as a kid during family vacations to the Outer Banks. In 2002, he swapped his mountains for sand dunes and his river for an ocean when he moved to Wilmington to pursue a master of fine arts in creative writing. There, his love for North Carolina deepened into a longing to stay, settle, explore, and be a part of the people, culture, and history of the state.

Along with his wife, Lauren, Jason has kayaked the marshes and waterways near his home; hang glided off the Outer Banks; explored the cityscapes of Charlotte, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem; and wandered the woods and wilds around Asheville.

A member of the Society of American Travel Writers, Jason has contributed stories to VisitNC.com, AAA’s Go Magazine, Our State magazine, Southern Living, Salt, the Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer, and acts as a culinary critic for the Wilmington StarNews.

Keep up with Jason on Instagram @beardedwriter.