If you want to see thick, virtually uninhabited tropical jungle as far as the eye can see and travel so high up in the mountains that you can see both coasts, Toro Negro Forest (along Ruta Panorámica on Carr. 143 south of Jayuya) is the place to go. From these heights you can see clouds drift between the peaks below you and you’re surrounded by tangles of wild bamboo, banana trees, hibiscus, enormous ferns, impatiens, elephant ears, flamboyan trees, and miles of sierra palms, distinguished by their long straight trunks and pale green foliage towering 30-50 feet high. The roads are steep and twisty, putting a strain on small engines and inducing dizziness or—worse—motion sickness. But it’s one of the most exotic sights you’ll see on the island and well worth the effort.
Driving through these mountains along La Ruta Panorámica, you can often catch a glimpse of the ocean off the southern coast. If visibility is clear, you can see the north coast, too.The highest peaks in Puerto Rico can be found in Toro Negro, the tallest being Cerro Punta (4,390 feet). Driving through these mountains along La Ruta Panorámica, you can often catch a glimpse of the ocean off the southern coast. If visibility is clear, you can see the north coast, too.
Around kilometer 21 on Carretera 143 there is a small, rustic park on Cerro Maravillas where you can park and take in a stunning panoramic view of Ponce and the Caribbean Ocean. Unfortunately the picnic shelters and other structures are poorly maintained and marred with anti-American and anti-Semitic graffiti. It’s hard to say if it’s the work of rebellious teens or something more sinister. This was the site of a notorious incident in 1978 when police officers killed two independistas suspected of planning to sabotage a television transmission tower on the mountain’s summit.
In Toro Negro you can also see one of the island’s highest waterfalls, Salto de Doña Juana (Carr. 149, km 41.5). It can be viewed from the road (it’s on the left if you’re traveling south) if you look way up high. Although it’s not particularly wide, the water propels off the mountaintop with great force, making it a spectacular sight.
The highest peaks of Toro Negro Forest contain dwarf or cloud forest, where the foliage has been stunted from the constant moisture in the atmosphere. The southern part of the forest features many rugged rock cliffs, jagged peaks, and waterfalls. Much of the forest has been subjected to clearing by the logging industry, but long-term reforestation efforts have helped repair some of the damage.
There are 10 trails in the forest, most of which originate from the Doña Juana Recreation Center (Carr. 143, km 32.4, 787/724-3724, daily 7:30am-4pm). One trail is a 10-minute walk to a natural freshwater pool (Sat.-Sun. and Mon. holidays 9am-5pm Apr.-Sept., $1 adults, children under 10 free). Another hike is a three-kilometer trek to Torre Observación lookout tower. A camping area with toilets and showers (but no electricity) is a 550-yard hike away.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.