Planning Your Time
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. On the east side, Carretera 52 vertically bisects the island from San Juan on the north side through Cayey to Salinas on the south side. On the west side, Highway 10 runs south from Arecibo on the north coast to Utuado. Eventually the highway will continue farther south and connect with Adjuntas, but now travelers must take Carretera 123 to Adjuntas, where Highway 10 starts again, ending in Ponce on the south coast.
Ambitious travelers who want to travel the length of La Ruta Panorámica will want to reserve three or four days for the journey. Mountain roads can be narrow, twisty, and occasionally harrowing because of the steep ascents and descents, so travel proceeds at a fairly slow rate. Luckily traffic is typically light, and the roads are well maintained and fairly well marked. If you get lost, locals are usually eager to help you find your way, even to the point of jumping into their own cars and leading you where you want to go.
Starting from the eastern end of the mountain region, stop off in Cayey for a meal at one of the many lechoneras in the area, where whole pigs are roasted over an open fire, and then journey westward through the mountain towns of Aibonito and Barranquitas, between which is the lovely verdant San Cristóbal Cañon, where tour guides take thrill-seekers hiking and rappelling.
But the most spectacular sights are on the western end. Jayuya is the site of Toro Negro Forest, home to the island’s highest peaks; La Piedra Escrita, featuring a natural pool and large boulder covered in Taíno petroglyphs; and Museo del Cemi, a unique museum shaped like a Taíno amulet containing Indian artifacts found in the area.
The municipalities with the best options for accommodations are Cayey, Jayuya, Utuado, and Adjuntas. Note that it rains quite often in the mountains and can be cool at night, so pack accordingly. And keep an eye on the weather. Heavy rains occasionally result in mudslides and flooding, which could close some roads. Also watch out for livestock. It’s not unusual to see a cow or horse tied up to a house right smack beside the road, and chickens are forever crossing the asphalt.
© Suzanne Van Atten from Moon Puerto Rico, 2nd Edition