Cordillera Central. Photo © 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.

Monumento al Jíbaro Puertorriqueño. Photo © Ulises Jorge, licensed Creative Commons usage.

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.

Museo del Cemí is devoted to artifacts of the Taíno Indians. Photo © Suzanne Van Atten.

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.

Coqui tree frogs. Photo © Panachai Cherdchucheep/123rf.

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.

Vegas Alta and Baja are on the north coast of Puerto Rico. Photo © Suzanne Van Atten.

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.

Higo Chumbo Cactus on Mona Island. Photo © U.S. Fish & Wildlife Southeast Region, licensed Creative Commons usage.

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.

A barred gate covers the entrace to Capilla del Cristo chapel in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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.

Ocean waves meet petrified sand dunes at Cueva del Indio, on Puerto Rico's northern shore.

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.

The Casa Armstrong Poventud was built in Ponce in 1899. Photo © Suzanne Van Atten.

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.

The canal in Dewey, Culebra. Photo © Suzanne Van Atten.

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.