The lush, majestic mountains of Puerto Rico’s Cordillera Central represent the most sparsely populated sector of the island, a great treat for adventurers who enjoy nature in its most pristine and rugged state. Yet once upon a time, these very mountains held the engine of the island’s economy in vast plantations that produced coffee sold throughout the world. Elegant estates were at the heart of these plantations, serving as the processing and distribution centers of the crop as well as the living quarters for the landowners and workers.
As Puerto Rico became industrialized in the mid-1900s, coffee production and agriculture as a whole experienced a sharp decline. To this day, remnants of the once-magnificent estates can be found scattered throughout the mountains, some in better shape than others. A particularly magnificent and lovingly preserved window to the past is wide open in the shape of Hacienda Buena Vista.
Although just a few miles north of Ponce on P-123, Hacienda Buena Vista feels like worlds and ages away from modern Puerto Rico. Established in the 19th century by Spanish immigrant Salvador de Vives, the 87-acre agricultural complex is now owned by island’s Fideicomiso de Conservación (Conservation Trust) and is operated as a museum. The main portion of the hacienda occupies a three-acre area and consists of the manor house, a carriage house, stables, two warehouses, a hurricane shelter and a corn mill (Hacienda Buena Vista began life as a corn mill in 1833 and expanded into a full-fledged coffee estate by the 1880s).
The Conservation Trust offers guided tours of the Hacienda, where visitors can learn all the aspects of growing and processing coffee from the first hand-picked bean to the last drop in the cup. A fascinating aspect of Hacienda Buena Vista is that it still functions using the technology of yesteryear; that is, by means of hydraulic energy. In fact, the two-arm turbine used in the water mill – fed by an aqueduct that channels water from the Cañas River – was considered an engineering marvel in its day.
The charms of Hacienda Buena Vista are not limited to coffee connoisseurs or history buffs. The estate’s location on the southern slopes of the Cordillera Central provide a lush backdrop of subtropical humid forest. It’s easy to get caught up in the serene mountain environment that is not only dotted with coffee plants but also cocoa, plantain and avocado trees.
Architecture also plays an important role in the Hacienda. A classic example of Spanish colonial and criollo styles, the estate straddles the line between regal elegance and rustic efficiency. Take, for example, the handsome techo a dos aguas (frame apex roof), whose red-tinged zinc boards are sloped so as to prevent accumulation of rainwater. The four-corner balcony of the primary residence not only adds a stately profile to the building, but also serves as a natural air-conditioning system to ensure the cool mountain air circulates effectively throughout the house.
Whether you’re sworn to coffee, fascinated by history or simply looking for a unique experience, Hacienda Buena Vista is a rare gem well worth a visit.