Waterfalls, Caves, and Rivers! Oh My!

Puerto Rico’s hidden gems are its lush waterfalls, underground caves, and plentiful rivers sprouting mazes through the island. If you’re ready for an adventure, then add these sites to your agenda! You don’t want to miss tubing down a river, crawling through a cave or hiking to a waterfall. Plan your day trip with these spots first!

Maricao, 00606, Puerto Rico
A beautiful drive through the mountainous west coast past the bayside city of Mayaguez opens up to windy roads lined with banana trees. Your destination is the coffee town of Maricao—a small, unassuming city that plays host to festivals, coffee tours, and aquaculture. Also the home to the hidden gem of Salto Cruet waterfall. To get down to your starting point, a car with 4x4 is preferred but not always necessary (Going during the rainy season? Drive a truck or SUV). You’ll park in a vacant lot at the bottom of a hill and follow the trail over a river and up the mountain. You’ll eventually reach an abandoned ranger station; at that point you’ll turn left and trek up river. Just a short distance later is the isolated waterfall. Take a swim in the cool water, or hunt down the even smaller trail off to the left that takes you up the rocks to the higher and more roaring waterfall above. This is my most loved waterfall site. It’s secluded and never sees many guests at one time. Bring your camera and a waterproof bag, as it’s likely you will be caught in the rain. It is a rainforest, after all!
Sec Gozalandia
As with many other natural wonders in Puerto Rico, there isn’t a clearly defined marker. Normally, to find Gozalandia, you would first have to visit it with a local, because getting directions there can be complicated. Lately, there is talk of turning the waterfalls into an ecoresort). Parking is cheap, but get there early to avoid crowds. There are several muddy paths leading to two beautiful waterfalls. I recommend going on weekdays in the morning. Forget going on weekends, as it will be way too crowded to enjoy it peacefully. If you go during the wet season (August to October), be prepared to just go barefoot. Shoes lose grip, you slide everywhere, and you eventually take them off anyways. I always start by hiking to the top waterfall first, as this one usually has fewer people around it. There’s a rope swing for the adventurous and a nice cool water pool for the rest of us. This is definitely a beautiful place to relax in nature.
Puerto Rico 191
Few visitors to Puerto Rico leave without having visited El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. national forest system. Stop at the visitor center to pick up a park map and stock up on bug repellant, ponchos, water, and snacks before heading off on a self-guided expedition of El Yunque’s highlights. These include La Mina Falls and a trip to the top of El Yunque Tower. Along the paths, look for the elusive Puerto Rican parrot, which was on the verge of extinction before its population was stabilized by the Forest Service staff.
San Juan-Caguas-Guaynabo, PR, Puerto Rico
This is my favorite hike by far. Cueva Ventana (“Window Cave”) is a beautiful, scenic hole in the side of a mountain that opens up to a lush, green valley down below. You’ll trample through mud, hunker down under low-hanging stalactites, dodge around stalagmites, and never look up (there are bats, of course) while wandering through the cave. All this winding around through two caves leads you to one of the most spectacular views in all of Puerto Rico (but I may be biased). The hike to this cave is half the fun. You climb down into a small opening under enormous, ancient tree roots, and you get the feeling of a tomb raider. But, if you’re claustrophobic or don’t feel up to lowering yourself down a cave wall, there’s an additional path that bypasses the first cave and leads you straight to the easier hike to Cueva Ventana. There’s something for everyone! I’m pretty sure I saw one Puerto Rican woman doing the whole thing in heels. This is a must-visit site for anyone touring the northwest central part of Puerto Rico. Another tidbit is that it’s practically free! You can find the directions on PuertoRicoDayTrips.com, park at the adjacent Texaco gas station. UPDATE (2014): There is now an easier way to access this awesome view! There are now boardwalks for ease of access, and you must pay $11 to tour the site. You get a flashlight and hardhat for safety.
San Juan-Caguas-Guaynabo, PR, Puerto Rico
Cuevas del Indios (Indian Caves) of Arecibo offers a tidbit of ancient history of a lost people. An easy-to-find natural wonder, with a simple $2 fee for parking, this you won’t want to miss. Bring some sunscreen and your camera. Begin your hike up sharp and spiky cliff sides (no worries, I was able to do it all in sandals). Work your way up to the top of the cliff and enjoy the fantastic view below. Ocean spray from the massive waves breaking against the side of the rocks will cool you off with a little salty mist. Dare to look over the edge to see a landscape of arches and tunnels, burrowed below your feet. Climb down into the rocks to find a wonderful—and surprisingly well-preserved—variety of Taino Indian petroglyphs. A small climb down a somewhat sturdy, handmade ladder lands you at the base of the cave with stone carved images surrounding you. Now is your chance to experience some history. Wander through the smaller tunnels, and listen to the ocean making its way inside the cave with every massive wave crashing outside.
6205 Highway 113
This is a great place to spend a free day in Puerto Rico! There are many interpretative trails in this park, and all are free and open to the public. Some lead to caves, others lead to beautiful views. Take your pick! There are also many covered areas for picnics. This would be a great way to explore something besides the beaches and nightlife of Puerto Rico and is perfect for the whole family. The trails are mostly leveled off and easy hikes, although some can be a bit more challenging. Be sure to bring lots of water, as it can be humid. Also, bug spray will be your friend! If you plan to take a trail that leads to a cave, be sure to have a flashlight with you as well! photo from rinconvacations.com
PR-184, Patillas 00723, Puerto Rico
Charco Azul, in the north of the island in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, is one of the most well known swimming holes on the island, and accessible by a short path from the parking area. The hole is 15 feet deep in places, and ideal for swimming while enjoying the small waterfalls that feed into it.

The beauty of the island doesn’t get more mesmerizing than this! Bring lunch and plan to stay for a while.

Note that the bathrooms have not been repaired post Hurricane Maria.

Photo by Gerald Giovanni
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