A Guide to Porta Atlántico
The Camuy River Park is one of the largest cave systems in the world
Located on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, Porta Atlántico is a remarkable destination for the explorer and beach lover. It is filled with lush vegetation and spectacular views. Whether for a day or an extended stay, this region should not be overlooked.
The Arecibo Observatory
30 minutes south from the town of Arecibo
, the world’s largest single dish telescope astonishes visitors. The enormous ‘dish’ measures 1000 feet in diameter by 167 feet deep and covers an area of 20 acres. Suspended above the reflector is a 900-ton platform. Similar in design to a bridge, it hangs in midair on eighteen cables and is supported by three concrete towers. The massive size, symmetry and gray hues of the telescope are a marvelous contrast to the lush green forest in the background.
Scientists throughout the world use the telescope to gather radio signals from regions of star formations, planets, distant galaxies and the atmosphere. At the interactive museum, visitors are introduced to basic astronomy and atmospheric science. On display, they even have an iron meteorite that fell to earth in Nigeria in 1962.
The museum and observations deck should take you no more than an hour and a half. The Observatory is open Wednesday – Sunday from 9am-4pm. In the summer, they are open 7 days a week. Tickets for adults are $10 and $6 for children. Parking is free.
Las Cuevas de Camuy
The Camuy River Park
, located in the municipalities of Camuy, Hatillo and Lares, is one of the largest cave systems in the world and home to the third largest subterranean river on Earth. Even though the caves were discovered in the 1950s, petroglyphs dating back to the Taíno Indians have been found on the walls.
The caves are apt for both the novice explorer and the extreme adventurer but you should be in good physical health to tour the cave. After watching an informational video, a trolley will transport you through lavish vegetation to the Cueva Clara, which is the main entrance to the cave. This vast chamber is 700 feet long and 215 feet wide. As you enter the chamber you are exposed to unparalleled natural beauty filled with caverns, taverns, stalagmites and stalactites. Follow the trail to a deeper sinkhole with views of the Camuy River 400 feet below!
Tickets are $15 for adults, and $10 for children. All prices include an audio guide and hardhat, which you are required to wear. Parking is $3.
Directions: From San Juan, take Route 22 to Arecibo and get off at exit 77B. Then take Route 129S to Km 20.
Tip: Stop at one of the fruit and veggie vendors along Route 129 and stock up on some fresh produce. Grab a hot sauce, some fresh juice and if it’s summer, try some quenepas, fruits with a big pit and pale pink flesh. They are delicious!
Cueva La Ventana
For a real ‘off the beaten path’ experience, a visit to the Cueva la Ventana is a must.
From San Juan, drive west on Route 22 to Exit 75B (Route 10 S). Take Route 10 to Km 75 and park at the Texaco Gas Station. Embark on your journey by following the trail to the right of the Texaco. The hike is not very difficult but can be slippery. Wear shoes with good traction and have a flashlight handy for the cave. *Do not attempt to enter the cave if you are not in good physical health. The cave is not for beginners*
Along the trail, you will encounter an entrance on your left with the words ‘Ruta.’ This is the exit from the second cave so do not enter here but follow the trail until you reach two cave entrances. The cave entrance on the left will lead you to ‘La Ventana.’ The one on the right will lead you to the exit you first saw to your left with the words ‘Ruta’. Now grab your flashlight and head into the cave!
It might be slippery so walk slowly and preferably go with someone. As you go deeper into the cave you will be in complete darkness so a good flashlight is essential. There are hundreds of bats in the cave but don’t be alarmed, they don’t attack. It will take about 8-10 minutes to reach the end but once you reach your destination you will know it was worth it. The Ventana, or window, provides stunning views of mountains, valleys, lush landscape and a river. If you are daring, walk to the ledge and look down but be careful because there are no barriers.
After you make your way back, explore the cave on your right. It is wider, easier to maneuver and the distance to the end is shorter. It has two levels. The bottom leads straight to the forest and the top is the exit. You have to hoist yourself up a rope in order to exit the cave. If you can’t make it up, turn around and make your way back the way you came.
At the base of the trail and next to the Texaco, La Ventana Lounge serves beer, fresh fruit frappes, empanadillas and local dishes. They are open 7 days a week.
Perhaps you spent your entire morning either touring the caves or hiking to La Ventana and now you want to relax at a picturesque beach. Mar Chiquita
, located in Manatí is another ‘off the beaten path’ experience. The beach is protected from the roaring sea by two coral and limestone formations, creating a golden horseshoe cove. The pool however, is not always ideal for swimming due to constantly changing currents so use your judgment when bathing at the beach and stay close to the shore.
Tip: Bring your water shoes and climb the limestone on the left for amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Directions from San Juan: Take Route 22 to exit 46. Then take Route 685 to Route 648 to the end.
Los Tubos Beach
Also located in Manatí, Los Tubos Beach has the perfect mix of surf and swim. The extensive sandy shore makes it a popular beach for bathing and sun tanning. Meanwhile, the perfectly formed waves allow for excellent surfing and boogie boarding. The beach has showers and a recreational area with parking but pack a cooler with snacks and water.
Directions from San Juan: Take Route 22 and exit at 686 north. Head west along the coast until you reach Los Tubos.
Local Fare in Dorado
If you are looking for a great local restaurant on the northern coast, head to Restaurante Katrina (formely Antojitos de Kitrinche) in Dorado. The restaurant is located in front of the beach in Dorado so go when there is still daylight to get a beachside experience. Whether you order carne frita (fried meat), fresh fish, Tostones or mofongo you won’t be disappointed.
Location: In front of the Balneario de Dorado on Ave. Costa de Oro
Hours of Operation: Sun-Thurs 11am-9PM
Fri and Saturday 11am – Midnight
Paulina Salach is a writer, food critic, cultural guide and entrepreneur. She is the co-founder and organizer of Puerto Rico Restaurant Week™.
Images: Gustavo Antonetti