If you're planning a trip to Puerto Rico, you probably have a general idea of what to see and expect from the island: great beaches, historical sites like El Morro, San Juan's sizzling nightlife and all the advantages of the tropical weather. But, I'm sure there are a few places you haven't heard of that once you know a bit about them, you'll want to add them to your trip. Trust this local, they are worth visiting!
This is one of the most beautiful rivers on the island, yet you don't hear much about it online or see it promoted often. Why? The river is mostly on private lands, so in order to access it (properly) you need to take a tour.
The best way to enjoy Tanama River is by getting adventurous with its unique characteristics: rock climbing the cliffs, spelunking in caves, body rafting down the river and underground tunnels, and hiking its beautiful forested trails. This truly is an unconventional and exhilarating way to enjoy the river.
The beauty of Tanama comes from the slow geologic process of erosion that has created the lush green canyons and haystack hills we see today. The river is located in the beautiful karst cave region between Arecibo and Utuado, which is completely different from the eastern part of the island around the more famous El Yunque Rainforest. I'm sure you'll be impressed by it.
Maybe you've heard of the famous Vieques Island, and even Culebra Island, but have you heard of Mona Island? This is the third-largest island of the Puerto Rican archipelago, after the main island of Puerto Rico and Vieques, yet almost no one visits it. Why? Mona is an uninhabited natural reserve that has been kept away from the traditional tourist trails in order to preserve its delicate ecosystem. In fact, very few travelers are lucky enough to visit Mona.
Recently, though, Mona has become more welcoming towards tourists, yet still to this day it only allows up to 100 visitors at a time. Due to the islands' unique topography, ecology, and location, Mona and its two smaller neighbor islands Desecheo and Monito, have been nicknamed "The Galpagos Islands of the Caribbean."
Nature lovers come to Isla Mona to enjoy the secluded beaches, marvel at the limestone cliffs, explore the magnificent coral reefs and caves, and photograph its unique flora and wildlife.
But, beyond exciting natural wonders, Mona has a very interesting history as well. During Prohibition, the island had a history of smuggling. It was a prime location for rumrunners to smuggle rum, bourbon and other liquor. In 1942, at the height of World War II, a German submarine bombarded the southern coast of the island, which is one of the few incidents of that war in the Caribbean.
Now, how can you go to Mona? You won't find tours from San Juan. Instead, you should head to the west coast and arrange with local fishermen in the towns of Cabo Rojo and Mayagez, who usually make the six-hour trip at night when the waters are smoother, but your best bet is to join an eco-tour (which is still hard to find online since not many operators do the trip). But if you have the opportunity, go camping for at least one night, as this is the most remote part of Puerto Rico accessible by visitors.
Pinones is a beach area that connects San Juan with Loiza. When you drive along the very scenic road that runs parallel to the beach, you'll have the opportunity to see a more rustic side of Puerto Rico - it is miles of secluded beaches with roadside beach restaurants.
But, why should you go? If the phrase authentic Caribbean lifestyle appeals to you, then this is the place to go. Here you will taste the very local frituras (fritters) like alcapurrias, bacailatos, pasteles, and empanadillas. They might be greasy and artery-clogging street cuisine, but they are the traditional, delicious local food you shouldn't miss.
Sure, you can get all these fritters in San Juan, but it won't be the same experience. You won't get the quaint local charm of Pinones, plus you have the added, and significant, bonus of being right on the beach. You can simply go there, drink cervezas and pina coladas while laying on the beach, eat some frituras, dip in the ocean, and repeat the process as needed.
On any given day, Pinones is full of locals by day and night. In the evenings, the area becomes a lively place with lots of bars and music, if you go, you should stick to the first few bars after crossing the bridge. These are the safest and more crowded places to be at night. During the day, though, feel free to explore the secluded beaches and hop around the kioskos (fritter restaurants).
Are you ready to experience these lesser-known sights?
Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.
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Norbert Figueroa is an architect who hit the pause button on his career in 2011 to do a round the world trip. He's been blogging for over three years at globotreks.com, where he shares his travel experiences, budget travel tips, and a good dose of world architecture. From hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to diving with great white sharks, he is always on the search of adrenaline and adventure. Norbert is originally from Puerto Rico and he is currently based in Milan, Italy... when not roaming around the world, that is. He has traveled to more than 80 countries in 5 continents and his goal is to travel to all 193 U.N. recognized countries. Follow Norbert on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus.
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