To find the real Puerto Rico – the one that shopping malls and condos have yet to reach – head for the towns and villages of the Cordillera Central, or Central Mountains. Bisected by the Ruta Panoramica (Scenic Route), the mountains provide a relaxing getaway with an atmosphere so unlike the coast that it feels like an entirely different island. The Ruta Panorámica is a driving adventure covering more than a hundred miles of countryside, including coffee plantations, old jíbaro country and four forests: Carite, Toro Negro, Guilarte, and Maricao. Along the route are valleys, canyons, wide-open terraces, and views of the Atlantic and the Caribbean. Visitors who don’t have time to do the whole Ruta Panorámica might consider a driving tour starting out from San Juan to the San Cristobal canyon in Aibonito, returning via Barranquitas – easily doable in a day if you start out early. Or take a few days to enjoy secluded swimming holes, hiking trails, a cloud forest, and the hospitality of the mountain locals. This guide tells you everything about the region: where to stay and eat, what to see and do, how to get around, the history and culture, the fiestas and the cuisine.
By Kurt Pitzer & Tara Stevens