Heading east from Mayagüez is the Panoramic Route which runs the whole length of Puerto Rico, through some of the island’s most stunning scenery. It passes through the Cordillera Central, with large areas of forest, and there are several excursions to various countryside resorts. Despite the fact that you are never far from buildings, schools or farms, the landscape is always fascinating.
In the evening the panoramas are lovely and you can hear the song of the coquí. No trip to the interior should miss at least some part of the Panoramic Route, but if you want to travel all of it, allow three days. The roads which are used are narrow, with many bends, so take care at corners. The Maricao State Forest (Monte del Estado) is the most westerly forest on the Route; its visitors’ areas are open from 0600 to 1800. It is a beautiful forest with magnificent views.
South of the Panoramic Route between Sabana Grande and Yauco on Route 371 is the Bosque Estatal de Susua, a dry forest with recreational areas, a river, 40 tent sites and showers. Permits can be got in San Juan or the Ponce regional office, T8444051 (see Accommodation under Camping). As it approaches Adjuntas and the transinsular Route 10, the Panoramic Route goes through the Bosque de Guilarte, again with fine views, flowering trees, bougainvillaea, banks of impatiens (busy lizzie, miramelinda in Spanish), and bird song (if you stop to listen). Off Routes 131 and 518, south of Adjuntas, there is a trail through eucalyptus trees up to the peak with a nice view. It is cool, you are in the clouds.
There are five basic cabins, F, with two sets of bunk beds, musty smell, bring permit, bedding, cooking things etc, shared bathroom, no electricity, barbecues, picnic tables. On site forest supervisor Rubén Padrón, get permit from San Juan or Ponce regional office, T8444051 (see Accommodation under Camping).
After Adjuntas, the road enters the Toro Negro Forest Reserve, which includes the highest point on the island, Cerro de Punta (1,338 metres). This is a smaller area than El Yunque, with fewer rivers. There are many very tall eucalyptus trees along the road. Lago El Guineo and Lago de Matrullas are Puerto Rico’s highest lakes. The reserve has five trails, one to an observation tower with views of the mountains and lakes. A camping area (14 tent sites), has showers and toilets. There is a natural springwater swimming pool further down the road open May-September. Permit needed from Servicio Forestal in San Juan or regional office in Ponce, T8444051. The on-site forest supervisor is René Román. The Recreation Areas in Toro Negro are open from 0800-1700.
Just north of the Panoramic Route is Jayuya, overlooked by Cerro de Punta and Tres Picachos in a beautiful mountain setting. It is known as the indigenous capital of Puerto Rico and is named after the Indian cacique Hayuya, the last to submit to the Spaniards. Two monuments commemorate the Taino heritage: a statue of Hayuya sculpted by Tomás Batista in 1969, and the Tumba del Indio Puertorriqueño, containing a Taino skeleton buried in the traditional foetal position. In November Jayuya celebrates an indigenous festival in honour of Hayuya.
After this high, lush forest with its marvellous vistas, the Panoramic Route continues to Aibonito, around which the views and scenery are more open (mainly as a result of deforestation). Thence to Cayey and, beyond, another forest, Carite (also known as Guavate, see Flora & Fauna). Finally the road descends into the rich, green valley which leads to Yabucoa. Between Aibonito and Barranquitas is the Cañón San Cristóbal, where you can climb down a mountain trail between steep walls to the bottom, where the temperature is considerably warmer, four-hour trip. Call Félix Rivera, T7355188, for a guide, you will need one to find the way. He usually meets people at La Piedra restaurant, on Route 7718, one of Puerto Rico’s gastronomic delights. You can see the canyon from the top from a dirt road off Route 162, very impressive.
From various points on the Panoramic Route you can head north or south; for example Route 10 goes south from Adjuntas to Ponce, or north to Utuado and then on to Río Abajo State Forest where there are a swimming pool and various picnic spots. 0600-1800. It is approached through splendid views of the karst hills and the Dos Bocas Lake. Free launch trips are offered on this lake at 0700, 1000, 1400 and 1700; they last two hours and are provided by the Public Works Department. Route 10 reaches the north coast at Arecibo.
The Caguana Indian Ceremonial Park, west of Utuado, dates from about 1100 AD, and contains 10 Taino ball courts, each named after a Taino cacique (chieftain). The courts vary in size, the longest being about 85 metres by 20 (Guarionex), the largest 65 by 50 (Agueybana). These two have monoliths in the stones that line the level ‘pitch’, and on those of Agueybana there are petroglyphs, some quite faint. None of the monoliths is taller than a man. A path leads down to the Río Tanamá. The setting, amid limestone hills, is very impressive. It is believed to be a site of some religious significance and has been restored with a small museum in the 13-acre landscaped botanical park containing royal palm, guava, cedar and ceiba. It is on Route 111 to Lares, Km 12.3. 0900-1700 (gate to the river closes at 1630). Free.
Further west of Utuado, Lares is a hilltop town (públicos go from one block from church) from where you can either carry on to the west coast at Aguadilla (Parador El Faro, Route 107, Km 2.1, T8828000, 51 rooms, a/c, tennis, pool, restaurant), or head north on one of the many routes to the Atlantic coast. Route 453 passes Lago de Guajataca, continuing as Route 113 to Quebradillas (see Accommodation - Panoramic Route). Route 455 branches west off the 453, leading via a short stretch of the 119 to the 457 and 446 (good view at the junction of these two). Route 446 traverses, as a single track, the Bosque Estatal de Guajataca. Route 129 goes to Arecibo, passing the Río Camuy Cave Park, with side trips to the Cueva de Camuy and the Arecibo Observatory . Driving on the country roads in the area between the Panoramic Route and the north coast is twisty but pleasant, passing conical limestone hills (mogotes) and farms set among patches of lush forest.