Walkway at Jardín Botánico y Cultural de Caguas.

Jardín Botánico y Cultural de Caguas was once the site of Hacienda San Jose, a sugar plantation and rum distillery established in 1825. Photo © chispy2, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

As enticing as Puerto Rico’s beaches are, there are plenty of reasons to spend time in the Cordillera Central, the island’s interior mountain range. Gorgeous tropical jungle, hiking trails, natural pools, and indigenous culture are just some of the attractions.

Gorgeous tropical jungle, hiking trails, natural pools, and indigenous culture are just some of the attractions.It’s possible to get a taste of Cordillera Central’s charms on a day trip, but four days allows travelers to fully explore this mountain getaway. You’ll need a car and plenty of time for travel (allow one hour for every 30 miles when traveling mountain roads). Try to stay on main roads whenever possible.

Day 1

Fly into San Juan, rent a car, and drive 20 miles south to Caguas. Tour the lush grounds and historic ruins at Jardín Botánico y Cultural de Caguas. Head 14 miles south to Cayey and dine on juicy pit-roasted pork and other local delicacies at one of the lechoneras. If there’s time, walk it off on the 0.5-mile hike in Reserva Forestal de Carite, a subtropical humid forest. Camp overnight at Area Recreativa Guavate or drive 31 miles south to Coamo for the night and relax in the hot springs.

Day 2

From Coamo, drive 13 miles north to Aibonito, stopping by Mirador Piedra Degetau to take in the amazing panoramic view before following the scenic route along La Ruta Panorámica for 10 miles to Barranquitas. Visit the town square and tour Museo Luis Muñoz Rivera, the former home of the poet, journalist, and politician. If you want some adventure, drive 20 miles north to Orocovis and go ziplining, rappelling, and mountain biking at ToroVerde. Dine on-site at Restaurante ToroVerde, then drive 30 miles west to Jayuya. Stay the night in Hacienda Gripiñas, a former 19th-century coffee plantation.

Day 3

In Jayuya tour Museo del Cemí, a museum shaped like a Taíno amulet and featuring excavated artifacts from the island’s indigenous culture. Stop by Casa Museo Canales next door to tour a traditional criolla-style house. Next visit La Piedra Escrita, a boulder covered with Taíno petroglyphs located in Río Saliente by a large natural pool where you can take a cool dip. Have lunch at nearby El Lechón de la Piedra Escrita. Take a two-mile hike to Torre Observación in Bosque Estatal de Toro Negro and admire the view from one of the highest points on the island. Camp overnight or return to Hacienda Gripiñas.

Torre Observación lookout tower in Bosque Estatal de Toro Negro.

It’s a three-kilometer trek to Torre Observación lookout tower in Bosque Estatal de Toro Negro. Photo © Tito Caraballo, licensed Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike.

Day 4

From Jayuya, drive 18 miles west to Utuado and explore Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Caguana, an archaeological site dating back to AD 1100 featuring bateyes (ball courts), monoliths, and petroglyphs left behind by the Taíno. Head 10 miles north toward Arecibo and stop for a 15-minute hike to Cueva Ventana for breathtaking views of the island’s northern karst country. Take the highway 50 miles northeast to San Juan.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.