Beyond Puerto Rico’s nearly 300 Caribbean beaches and Old San Juan’s cafes and pretty pastel buildings, are endless possibilities for adventures if you take a road trip deeper inland and explore the beautiful central mountains.
We took that road trip and enjoyed FOUR FASCINATING EXPERIENCES. We explored a large cave of stalagmites and stalactites … and bats, we zip-lined from cliff to cliff in a jungle, and we visited two agritourism farms, one a small family farm that supplies restaurants on the island and the other a cheese and yogurt-making business where you may sample the products.
The Hyatt Place ManatíThe Hyatt Place ManatíThe Hyatt Place Manati, a modern hotel with a tropical flair, was our road trip base, which served us tropical welcome drinks before we had dinner at the Bocaito Restaurant. The pretty and bright cocktails festively started off the night and we had fun while eagerly taking pictures.
The Cavernas de Camuy Park Experience
After a lunch that included “mofongo” (a local dish made of mashed plantains) at Del Campo al Norte, we drove up the mountains to the cave. Once there, we were given safety helmets and headsets for the guided tour. We waited our turn to board the tram, which took us down a winding road through the green jungle.
Our guide, Jose, explained what we were seeing and the history of the cave. It felt like a surreal dream world amidst the stalagmites and stalactites. Once we were deep inside the cave, we weren’t allowed to touch any part of it, due to conservation purposes. We had to be careful walking, as it was very dark and slippery. In one section there was brownish gunk on the handrails, which we were disgusted to find was actually bat poop! Thirteen species of bats have been sighted here, in addition to insects and frogs.
Interestingly, the sounds of bats in a Batman movie were recorded in this cave.
The Toro Verde Adventure Park
Toro Verde Adventure Park, near Orocovis, has the longest zipline in America. We had a lot of fun going from platform to platform and, of course, taking pictures of each other. Jason was really scared when we started, but by the end he was asking for more. At one point Jason told a staffer named Carlos “When I’m knocking on Heaven’s Door, I can tell him that Carlos sent me!” But Carlos just sent him flying on the cable to the next platform, laughing with everyone else. We all braved it! Everything felt safe. Ziplining in a Puerto Rican tropical paradise is something else we can brag about now!
Driving out of the mountains we saw many local food trucks with foods such as grilled corn and burgers. We gazed at them hungrily, but refrained from stopping, as we knew a farm food experience was next.
We arrived at Frutos del Guacabo with a great appetite after ziplining. We were given a detailed tour of the gardens and our choice of red or white wine. The fun was in tasting everything the farmer told us about. While sitting on hay bales under a huge Puerto Rican flag, we enjoyed fresh-squeezed orange juice and mimosas, grilled peppers stuffed with goat cheese from the farm, greens, Puerto Rican beans, and flan with gooseberry on top. There were Spanish red wines, marmalade, jams, dips and pickled veggies, and blue Thai pea water. Homemade pineapple and mango guava sorbets with guava crackers were also served. Lunch was divine, completely of homegrown ingredients! It was our best meal of the whole week!
The farm staff then explained crop cultivation, hydroponics, and how to be a pesticide-and fertilizer-free farm through ecological management. We marveled that so much is accomplished on only a half-acre of land! They even make goat milk yogurt from the goats we were petting. Even though we had spent time on a Kansas farm, milking a goat was something new. Mr. Robles showed us the milking technique, and we tried it, using our fingers to hold and squeeze milk from the goat into a bucket. Some really good photos came out of this! We also enjoyed horses, chickens, rabbits and cats.
We were thankful to owner Efrén D. Robles, his wife, son, and their friendly staff, who all seemed to enjoy sharing farming tips and meals. We were impressed at how generous this farm is with food samples from their crops. And they do it all with such friendliness and awesome customer service! Approximately 200 restaurants on the island buy herbs and ingredients from here. We visited their store that sells farm products to the public. Anyone can book a similar farm experience here.
Side note: Hollywood actor Zac Efron featured this Puerto Rican farm in his “Down to Earth” show on Netflix!
The Ouesos Vaca Negra Experience
The second agritourism experience was Vaca Negra in Hatillo, (pronounced Ha-tea-Joe, if you’re not Spanish speaking). We were welcomed with a beautiful cheese plate spread with fruits and wines. Sliced fresh mango came from the mango trees outside. We loved the fruit yogurts made with fresh papaya, coconut and guava. It’s a cheese wonderland for food lovers. It’s special because you get to eat homemade cheese at the site, as fresh as you can get. You can even make your own cheese as part of the experience – and have it shipped to your home! Tours are offered here each Saturday.
Although all good things must come to an end, we will always remember our four adventures in the beautiful mountains of Puerto Rico. Another meaningful memory we share is that of the warm and welcoming hospitality of the Puerto Rican people. All of our tour guides and drivers were quite “buena gente” (kind and friendly). We believe we found what they call the “living Boricua,” the liveliness, culture, and heart of the Puerto Rican people. It is a rhythm and celebration of life with so much “food for the soul.”
Each of our four epic experiences would be an excellent choice for travelers. Viva Puerto Rico!
If you go:
Frutos Del Gucabo
Toro Verde Puerto Rico
Vaca Negra Artisinal Cheeses and Yogurts
Parque Nacional de las Cavernas del Río Camuy: https://www.discoverpuertorico.com/article/exploring-caves-puerto-rico