Our last outside-the-guide trip took us to the coastal town of Arecibo for a breathtaking view of the Río Grande de Arecibo Valley, compliments of the Window Cave. Today we travel to Puerto Rico’s Central Mountain Range (Cordillera Central in Spanish), to a town called Cayey.
Located in the Central Region, Cayey’s first inhabitants date back to the time of the Taíno indians, where a cacique by the name of Cayey was the chief of a village called Toíta. It wasn’t until August 17, 1773 that Cayey was officially founded by its first mayor, Juan Mata Vázquez, under the name of the chief that once ruled its first settlement.
Present-day Cayey is a charming town made up of small communities sprinkled throughout its mountainous countryside. The air is cool, fresh and invigorating. The people of Cayey, or cayeyanos, are extremely friendly and laid-back. But then again, who wouldn’t be when you have a view like that!
The road to Cayey is one of the most delightful and colorful drives you’ll ever take. It is part of what is known as “La Ruta Panorámica” or scenic road, a 120-mile long network of roads that runs from one end of the island to the other that was recently named one of America’s Most Scenic Roads by renowned travel magazine Travel and Leisure. Surrounded by lush mountains on either side of the road, this stretch of road more than lives up to its name. Just try counting how many shades of green you see!
But before you go on a cross-island driving tour, there are a few stops you absolutely need to make in Cayey. First, stop by the Monumento al Jíbaro Puertorriqueño, a monument dedicated to the Puerto Rican jíbaro or countryman. Break out the camera and the tripod because this is a pretty sweet spot for some great panoramic pictures. On the background, amidst a sea of towering green, you might notice two peaks that, should we say, pop out from the rest. They are the famous “Tetas de Cayey” and they are named after their breast-shaped form. After El Yunque National Rainforest, these are arguably the second most famous peaks in Puerto Rico.
The next stop is the succulent Ruta del Lechón, a mouthwatering stretch of road in Guavate lined on both sides with open-air restaurants with fire pit-roasted whole pigs. Lechón is a staple of Puerto Rican cuisine, and next to its loyal sidekick, arroz con gandules (rice and peas), it’s a lip-smacking experience you’ll daydream about on your plane ride back home. Be sure to ask for a piece of cuerito, crunchy pigskin marinated to perfection. Welcome to pork heaven.
So now that we’ve done some photographing and filled our bellies, it’s time to relax and take a nice cool dip in the forest. Yes, you read right, in a forest. Further down the road from Guavate lies the Carite Forest Reserve, a sub-tropical forest that spreads out through over 6,000 acres of land and is home to the rare Golden Coquí. Hiking trails, picnic tables and camping grounds are just some of the attractions readily available throughout this serene forest. But it’s Charco Azul that drives nature lovers to this outside-the-guide locale. Named after its aquamarine hue, this nature-made fresh water pool is fed from streams high up in the mountains, giving them their refreshing and invigorating qualities capable of curing even the worst case of the blues.