Along the north shore of this tropical paradise there are a ton of options of beautiful gems to check out. You can go dizzy with what to choose to do if you only have 1 day in the region. The north shore sights are plenty and stores within it many treasures to check out. It is a wild and rugged landscape with gorgeous ocean views with a mixture of the mountainous karst country. It’s a combination of an urban setting (not as crowded as the Metro Area), but with the right touch of nature.
For the purposes of our Puerto Rico Adventures Revealed book, the north shore consists from the regions of Arecibo/Utuado and along the coasts of Dorado and finally ending in the Bayamon/Guaynabo region.
A helicopter tour operator once mentioned to us that the north shore with it’s rocky shores and rough waters with awe inspiring waves is the best scenic spot on the island. We’d have to agree. It’s two main rivers flow from the central mountains to the ocean on the Atlantic Side. Río Tanamá and Río Camuy near Utuado/Arecibo/Lares/Camuy/Hatillo region are it’s absolute stars with hundreds of awe inspiring caves to be explored.
Finding a beach to swim at is quite challenging, but rest assured there are unique natural spots to explore. Even the beaches that are not “swimmable” are still quite a sight to see when watching the forces of crazy waves crash upon the shoreline. It’s worth the drive to this area just to see the karst country. Puerto Rico is blessed in that there is an enormous beauty to it and is best exemplified in this region with green and white hills that appear to be rising and falling from the sea.
What is the karst country? Karst is the unusual land topography that makes the rock formations odd and interesting in this region. Karst is formed when water (rain) sinks into the limestone and erodes larger basins – which make “sinkholes” and create the huge underground cave system in the area you see today.
These erosions in the land leave only standing those peaks that have not yet fallen with the erosion of the limestone. These hills are called mogotes, and they are interesting if you look at them from the perspective that the highest peak you see today is certainly way below the level of the peaks that stood on the limestone ground many, many, many years ago. The Arecibo Observatory of course was built on one of these very sinkholes so you can get an idea of the size and scope of the “collapse.”
Imagine the peaks collapsing into giant sinkholes and you get the idea. It’s not the hill that’s collapsing but rather the holes in the limestone that have been changing over eons of time and thus you get this odd beauty of nature. When the “mountain falls upon itself” so to speak, the peak becomes the beginnings of the caves we can see today.
There’s literally only two other places on earth where the rock formations look like those of Puerto Rico. In the Dominican Republic and in the region now formerly known as Yugoslavia. So understand you’re in pristine creative lands when visiting!
You can feel a sense of scale in this region, specifically if you’re rock climbing in this area. Go to Adventures & Activities section for more specific information on where to rock climb in this majestic area.
One of the highlights not mentioned in our expansive “5 Day Adventure” section is the mystical Rio Camuy Caves located south of Arecibo and just north of the town of Lares. One of it’s well known caves is also known as “Cueva Clara” which translates to Clarity/Bright/Famous Cave. It surely was formed in stunning fashion and a must see, and it was made into a national park after it was documented in an expedition in the 1960’s that showed that this region had something unique in it’s vast cave system and underground river that marks this region. The public only gets to see 1 cave and a portion of the sinkhole. Those who travel and explore see more. See: “Adventures & Activities Section.”
“It is fatal to know too much at the outset: boredom comes as quickly to the traveler who knows his route as to the novelist who is over-certain of his plot. Travel into the unknown till the ends of the earth.”
CAMUY CAVES PUERTO RICO
The town of Camuy itself is a throwback to the older days of a much more tranquil lifestyle. There are small one-way roads and stores that sell such things as incense and other assorted offerings for the saints of their beliefs.
However, most primordial and ancient of all is one of the largest cave systems in the world that runs through it. The Río (river) Camuy flows underground about 350 feet deep through miles of limestone from the Cordillera central region towards the Atlantic. The river itself is known as the third largest underground river in the world and it flows past and through caves, canyons, and of course the sinkholes in the region in the course of the past millions of years.
Over 2,000 caves have been discovered in the karst region, and one area was developed into a tourist attraction in 1986 after having been found by speleologists in the 1950’s who were lead to the site by local kids. To see the rest is a journey and rich experience onto itself. The caves in Puerto Rico are actually the best kept secret on the island, as there are many beautiful ones besides the one that was turned into a tourist park.
THE TOURIST PARK:
The Rio Camuy Cave Park is a sight to see even if you have to brace through the crowds. The park includes the views of three massive and enormous sinkholes and the one cave mentioned above- Cueva Clara.
It’s clear that upon first coming here that this had to have been considered a sacred place as surely the Taino Indians must have been here. In fact, that’s been the case as many artifacts have been found throughout the area and you can sense this might have even been one of their “cathedrals” so to speak.
Entrance for adults is $15, $10 for children under 12, and free for senior citizens over 75. Open Wednesday-Sunday from 8:00AM-3:30PM.
Park Information: If it rains the park usually closes so make sure to call ahead. Also closed on most major holidays. Allow yourself 1 to 2 hours to fully gain the whole experience. Phone number is: 787-898-3100.
PARKING / RESTAURANT ADVICE
When arriving at the parking gate, you’ll will more than likely encounter two people. The first person is of course the person who is taking your $3 to park. The second guy is the interesting character. The two times we’ve been to this park this has been the exact conversation:
Character: <Looking at you straight in the eye all intense> “You will be hungry afterwards.”
Me: “Um, yeah, I guess.”
Character: <Silence. Still maintaining eye contact and walking straight to your car window while leaning down> “Come to this restaurant afterwards.”
Me: “Um, yeah, I guess.”
Character: <Jedi mind trick hand gesture as he backs away> “It’s my restaurant. Restaurant El Taino.”
Me: “Um, yeah, absolutely!” <not knowing why I just agreed>
We went there after our first trip and it was not a great place to eat, and the ambiance was severely lacking. The restaurant looks like an enclosed boxed gym and the service was poor. It’s rare for us to write a bad review, but I have to say that this was one of the worst dining experiences I’ve had.
What made matters funny to us is that every single person we saw at the Rio Camuy Caves park was eating with us afterwards. His Jedi mind tricks are indeed powerful.
On our 2nd visit, we kid you not he was there again and we had the same exact conversation. Only this time, we didn’t go. We went to another far better restaurant instead. We’re guessing this is a thing and how he gets people to go to his restaurant.
If you don’t see him consider yourself lucky in an odd way because we are the ones who will give you the good restaurant advice! We’ll reveal our awesome restaurant choice in a few more paragraphs, which is just down the street from the park.
INSIDE THE PARK – WHAT YOU WILL SEE:
Pay at the ticket booth and enjoy the gift shop and 10 minute movie while you wait for the next trolley train to take you to the attractions. Cueva Clara is only accessible by trolley as it is a long, long, long hike down. The trolley itself is a fun ride as you sink deeper and deeper through the lush vegetation and moist air. You can see all types of flowers and fruits including bananas, ferns, and orchids. It’s as if you’re in a butterfly garden paradise of an upside-down mountain / or inwardly inverted (however you want to put it).
The grand cathedral entrance to Cueva Clara is not fully admired until you walk a few steps past it and look backwards. It’s quite a sight to see as it looks straight out of a mystical scene in a fantasy movie. I half expected Gandalf to come walking out of there or something.
The park provides tours lead by informative and entertaining tour guides, or you can opt for the headphones tour available in english or spanish. We prefer to kinda be on our own and take the whole place in and standing back from the crowds.
FACES AS ROCKS
The cave opens up to a brilliantly lit room (the cave has another opening on the opposite side), and the first fun game of the day is to see objects or people in the rock formations and stalagtites and stalagmites. As you walk in and look above the impressive cave opening (which is over 170 feet and 695 feet long), you can clearly see an Indian Rock Face overlooking the entire cave. It’s completely eerie once you see the exact replica of an Indian looking down at you from the cave where many Taino’s were here many years ago. Sort of like they’re still here? Who knows but it’s completely cool that there are formations of faces and animals literally all over this place if you see with a new perspective and set of eyes.
It takes about 15 minutes to come to the other opening where you are encountered with another impressive opening to another sinkhole and a natural water spring cascading down from above. Take a sip of the water it is amazingly fresh and clean. As natural as water can get. You can hear and glimpse the river below you as it rushes under dark openings into cave systems leading to other “unknowns.”
The sinkhole itself is off limits to tourists, but you and get a sense of perspective how big this hole is. It’s quite a beautiful sight. There are other sections to explore in this area that are closed to tourists unless you book with licensed professionals to see other parts of the cave such as Tres Pueblos Sinkhole, Cathedral Cave, and Spiral Cave.
On your walk back make sure to look out for bats, crickets, spiders, and other assorted creatures. In fact, it’s rumored that there are close to a million bats living here!
Head back to the parking lot and by this time we’re definitely sure you’re hungry! Head past the gates and make a left onto PR-129. Yes, pass the infamous El Taino Restaurant we mentioned earlier. You’re looking for the best kept secret of where to eat lechon (pork) that is not in Guavate! Trust us! Have some pork with arroz (rice) con gandules and maduros (sweet plaintains). You can’t go wrong.
Rancho T Restaurant: Yelp Link
Rio Camuy Cave Park
Route 129 Km 18.9,HCO 2 7865-A,Camuy,00627, Puerto Rico