Puerto Rico Day Trips: Off the Beaten Path
Off the Beaten Path
During my last visit to Puerto Rico, I was fortunate enough to be traveling with a native Puerto Rican who lives on the island part of the year. He took me and my traveling companions all over the island and we were able to take the entire day to explore. Along the way, we stopped in a few places for photo ops and for bites to eat. I would highly recommend visiting the out-of-the-way regions if you can. People are friendly and the food is simple but excellent as well.
I wouldn't dare drive the narrow mountain roads by myself even though I'm an excellent navigator; most of the small mountain roads are not marked at all. So if you can, go with someone who really knows how to get around the island.
First stop: San Lorenzo
Located in the Cayey Mountain Range, San Lorenzo is an area of 53 square miles that is known for it's production of oranges, sugar cane and tobacco. It is roughly a 40 minute drive from the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, although the time of day we flew in was during evening rush hour and it seemed to take much longer.
San Lorenzo is a quaint area comprised of 12 barrios. Our friend and tour guide, Roy, referred to the type of people that live in these mountains as "Puerto Rican Hillbillies". Roy grew up in this area and many of his family still live in the area. Regardless of what he calls them, we found all the people we encountered extremely friendly and hospitable.
Houses are dotted along the mountain landscape as if they are growing out of the side of the mountain. Bananas, oranges, grapefruit and pigeon peas grow wild in people's yards. You can literally reach out the window and pick your breakfast! Many people still farm and keep horses. We witnessed one gentleman on the drive up the mountain was giving a bath to his horse right in the driveway.
Most of the houses sit on concrete slabs and have concrete or tile flooring. Wood does not do well in this humid climate. The concrete floors stay cool. Many also do not have air conditioning. It really isn't a problem; during the heat of the day the houses stay shuttered and at night, all the windows are opened to let in the moist, cool mountain breeze.
Patillas: Emerald of the South
Patillas is a beachfront town situated on the south eastern coast of the island off of highway 53 and Route 3. It is about 1 and a half hour drive from San Juan. It is known as the "Emerald of the South" because of its lush green mountains.
We made a pit stop here for snacks and photos; the view of the Caribbean is crystal clear. We visited a great vantage point right outside Patillas at the Cabo Mala Pascua coast, where you can see rocky shorelines and gravely beaches; a much different beach view than what is at some of the other places we visited.
Have you ever traveled outside of the tourist areas of Puerto Rico?
Malecon, Naguabo PR
Located on the east side of the island, the Malecon area is what you would call a boardwalk; lots of outdoor dining, shops and street vendors dot the entire length of road off Route 3.
The specialty in this area is seafood, prepared in all ways imaginable. We stopped here for lunch and had the most awesome deep fried (whole) Red Snapper with Tostones (smashed, fried green plantains) on the side. The Tostones was served with what I can only describe as a raw garlic salsa. It really complimented it nicely.
Across from the boardwalk looking out into the ocean you can see an island in the distance. This is Monkey Island aka Cayo Santiago. It is so called Monkey Island because in the 1930s science experiments done on Rhesus Monkeys used to be performed there. The island is uninhabited by humans, but is inhabited by an estimated 950 Rhesus Monkeys who are related to the original group brought there for the experiments.
These days, Monkey Island is home to the University of Puerto Rico's Caribbean Primate Research Center. 11 staff people travel back and forth daily by ferry to do work on the island.
A Fun and Interesting Journey
I am ever grateful to our friend Roy for taking the time to show us places we probably wouldn't have ventured to on our own. There is so much to see that is off the beaten path. I hope I've been able to pique your interest to explore outside the tourist areas on your next visit to Puerto Rico.
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© 2014 Lisa Roppolo