The Puerto Rico Most Travelers Miss

Ditch the crowds at the beach and venture into Puerto Rico’s remote central mountain region to find waterfalls, hidden lakes, and plenty of peace and quiet.

The Puerto Rico Most Travelers Miss

Puerto Rico’s central mountain region is off the beaten tourist path, and perfect for reconnecting with nature.

Photo by Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock

The need for solitude is a natural human feeling, and it’s in nature that you can satisfy it. Mountains are especially a go-to for anyone looking for peaceful isolation. Puerto Rico may not come to mind first when contemplating this kind of escape because, of course, beaches. But the diversity of the island is far greater than you might realize—and its mountains are as magnificent as its coastline.

Running east to west through the center of the island is the Cordillera Central, or the Central Mountain Range, which was once largely populated by Indigenous peoples, most notably the Taíno society. It traverses multiple municipalities and encompasses many forests, rivers, waterfalls, and other natural respites. Small farms abound and endemic flora and fauna thrive in these areas, which are among the least densely populated in all of Puerto Rico.

As with anywhere in nature, quiet in the mountains of the island doesn’t mean complete silence; here the background noise includes the chirps of coqui frogs, the perpetual woosh of a nearby waterfall, or the trills of endemic birds like the Adelaide’s warbler. But that organic soundtrack, paired with scenic views and the peace of intentional privacy, sounds as close to total serenity as we can imagine.

Below are a few ideal options for connecting with nature in this especially numinous region. Visitors should rent a car to get to any of these accommodations, some of which include additional (and still remote) attractions that require a short drive to reach. Be prepared for narrow, twisting roads, and take your time on the trek there; an unhurried mood will best set you up for a truly tranquil stay.

Swim in a river and stay at a farm in Utuado

Simultaneously breathtaking and blissfully humbling is the visually striking and historically significant Cañon Blanco, a section of the Río Caonillas that winds through Utuado, a municipality nestled in a valley of the Cordillera Central. The jaw-droppers here are the massive sun-bleached boulders; they tower over and enclose the river, from its belts of gushing waters to its deep and narrow streams of calm, swimmable pools. And many are marked by petroglyphs carved centuries ago by the island’s Indigenous Taíno peoples. Today, the area is distantly flanked by homes—and these neighbors graciously support visitors to their magical, communal backyard.

Stay nearby—above the river itself, actually—at Finca Viernes, a farm that offers fully furnished glamping (a spacious and sturdy casita with two queen beds and a twin) or tent rentals of various sizes for camping on one of its eight lots. Any of these options includes a panoramic view of the river and robust, mountainous forest. While it’s a small operation and therefore always a serene outdoor retreat, you might want to opt for a weekday stay, a time when Finca Viernes is least populated, to more fully appreciate its capacity for quietude.

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Hike to waterfalls in the Jayuya region.

Photo by Photo Spirit/Shutterstock

Hike a mountain and find waterfalls in Jayuya

Deceptively named Tres Picachos, or three little peaks, this forest is home to one of Puerto Rico’s highest summits, Cerro Punta, at 3,176 feet. Local guides say the trek requires an intermediate to advanced level of hiking experience: Some plot a journey that takes up to seven hours, albeit with activities and breaks included.

Exploring Tres Picachos State Park at your own pace is, of course, another option. Take the 2.8-mile out-and-back trail at Mario Canales—but again, it’s not a trail for beginners, as rope climbing on a slant is part of the process. Spiders, overgrowth, and fallen trees are other inevitable obstacles; and any recent precipitation means slippery mud is a likelihood.

But along the way? There are waterfalls, sparkling swaths of river, and astounding trees. At the top you get 360-degree views of the Cordillera Central mountains and then some: It feels like you’re looking at the entire island from here. Tres Picachos was a sacred place to the indigenous Taíno peoples; Jayuya is known as the Indigenous capital of Puerto Rico, and there are plenty more Indigenous sites to check out throughout the municipality. But reaching the top of the highest of the Tres Picachos evokes its own special feeling—the achievement feels like a blessing from nature.

Because this area is so remote, most accommodations are beyond the forest itself. But about 30 minutes by car from Tres Picachos is Café Nativo, a coffee farm in Barrio Collores with three cabañas, each decorated with a minimalist and modern yet rustic aesthetic. Naturally, there’s a coffee shop too, open Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., where visitors can enjoy breakfast and natural juices, in addition to savoring the coffee diligently cultivated, collected, and processed on-site.

Stargaze and camp in luxury in Aibonito

Find calm at La Cuchilla, a 90-acre camping property on Cerro Verdún, a mountain in the barrio of Cuyón in Aibonito, one of the southernmost municipalities in the Cordillera Central (reservations Thursday–Sunday; book through Airbnb or reach out directly via its Instagram). Options include glamping-style setups (canvas tents with comfy full-size mattresses) as well as a DIY area where campers bring their own tents. For optimum solitude, though, book La Receta de Toño, a tiny home for two built at La Cuchilla’s highest elevation. Thirty-five miles of coastline are visible from here: If the skies are mostly clear, you can even see Caja de Muertos, an uninhabited island a few miles from Ponce, off the southern coast.

La Cuchilla offers plenty for anyone looking for total respite: quiet space for a night of stargazing, an onsite lake primed for fishing, kayaks for paddling, and plenty of forested area to explore. But if you’re seeking a little something extra, head over to Las Escaleras de Cuyón, a natural pool tucked inside the same barrio as Cerro Verdún. The swimming hole is about a 15-minute walk from the entrance, so it remains a somewhat overlooked gem. This makes it all the more special, though, as it’s unlikely you’ll encounter many other people there; especially on a weekday, you’ll probably have its waterfall all to yourself.

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