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When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Earthy

By Brenda A. Mari

May 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Work piles up like an ominous Sasquatch over your shoulder. The carpal tunnel syndrome starts kicking in sharp. You can’t remember what your last decent meal looked like. Classic symptoms of a massive information overload.

Give that braniac mind a rest, release that dreadful mouse and let your toes do the talking. Weekend warriors arise, it’s time to shake off our workaholic dust bunnies and get lost in the "verde que te quiero verde" lushness.

Spur-of-the-moment escapades are not only necessary, they bring back the spark in your vida loca. They also convince you and your significant other that you’re not (thank God) turning into your parents.

Luckily, Puerto Rico’s sensible weather and wide variety of natural settings offers 52 weekend possibilities to reconnect with Mother Nature. So gather the crew, pack light and head toward greener pastures. It’s time to put the "sport" back into SUV.

Here are some ideas of where to go when a crowded beach won’t suffice and the great outdoors wildly beckons:

Go camping

Roughing it for a weekend is an ideal way of getting in touch with your inner child, plant your feet back on the ground, and teach your kids to respect and cherish Mother Earth. Remember to leave no trace of your visit. Whatever goes in, comes out. And, of course, be fire savvy and heed that common sense.

If you must be close to a beach, the best camping grounds include Tres Hermanos Beach, facing Añasco Bay; Punta Maracayo, near Arecibo; El Combate in Boquerón, Seven Seas in Fajardo; Sun Bay in Vieques; and, of course, the beautiful Flamenco Beach in Culebra. Flamenco’s grounds are well kept and patrolled, although during the summer it can get mad crowded.

Inland campsites include great forest reserves like Cambalache, near Barceloneta; Toro Negro, near Jayuya; Río Abajo, near Arecibo; and Susúa, near Yauco. You need a camping permit for these forest reserves (see below). Toro Negro is slowly catching on as a fly fishing Mecca and boasts the tallest peak on the island.

Go hiking

Hiking is one of the best-rounded activities you can do with your kin. You sneak in a full day’s workout for everybody while you sightsee and explore Puerto Rico’s gorgeous, verdant flora and fauna. Just bring enough water and insect repellent, and wear comfy trekking shoes, ‘cause the trails mean business. Remember to stop, breathe in and enjoy the unsullied country air.

The diversity of the island’s geography offers plenty of different forest reserves to explore. A classic weekend escapade is to head out to El Yunque rainforest. The trail system there is clearly labeled, although there are many opportunities to veer off the beaten path. Just ask any local suspect hanging out at the many "chinchorros" (fritter stands) that line up the road to El Yunque. Don’t forget to take a picture of yourself as a Chupacabra.

If you’re looking for a challenge, head out for Toro Negro, near Jayuya, where brave hikers can climb all the way to the top of Pico Doña Juana and feel like the King of the World. Other noteworthy trail systems include the Guajataca, Río Abajo, Guánica and Susúa Forest Reserves. Some trails in Guajataca can get really slippery when the paths get covered in rotted, guava-like fruits and there are some steep ravines to watch out for.

Another challenging hike with a precious reward at the end is trekking with your brakes on all the way down to the San Cristobal Canyon, near Barranquitas, and then all the way up. The canyon is the only volcanic rift in Puerto Rico. Just when you think the ups and downs weren’t worth it, an enchanting, almost mystical spot is revealed, complete with a natural swimming pool and waterfall.

Go Fishing

A day out in the open sea is enough to relax you and pry the Gameboy off of your kid’s hands. Deep sea fishing off of Fajardo, Salinas and Ponce can yield tuna, white and blue marlin, wahoo, dolphin fish and mackerel. About 30 world records have been broken all around, so who knows, you could be next.

Less well-known are the local spots for relaxing and fly fishing. For saltwater fly fishing, Culebra’s mangroves feature some of the best sites. To enjoy bona fide inland, freshwater fly fishing, where you can catch and release bass, catfish and tilapia, there are several good places to stay, such as Casa Grande in Utuado and Parador Hacienda Gripiñas in Jayuya. If you want to camp near a lake and fish, head once more to Toro Negro Reserve and set camp near the Matrullas or Guineo lakes. You need a permit from the electric company to fish in lakes Dos Bocas, Guajataca, Lucchetti and Patillas and several restrictions apply.

Go kayaking

Gliding on a kayak is a soothing and energizing way to spend a day soaking up the dazzling beauty of Mother Earth. Who knows what you will encounter as you paddle?

Favorite spots to glide through water include Mosquito Bay in Vieques, and La Parguera in Guánica, both ravishing mangroves by day and phosphorescent dreamworlds by night. Also try the cays and mangroves off of Culebra and Fajardo.

Worse comes to worse, if you can’t stray too far from the metro area, at least row to your heart’s content away in the Condado lagoon and then go picnic in el Morro in Old San Juan.

Weekend adventures give you and your family something new to talk about and lots of fun times to remember. What are you waiting for, then?

The Lowdown:

Getting to the San Cristobal Canyon: From San Juan: Take highway 52 south and get off at Cayey; continue on road number 1 south towards Salinas; make a right on the Panoramic Route (7722) which goes to Aibonito; drive up to La Sierra (722) and at the first intersection make a left towards "La Piedra Degetau"; on the first stop sign make a right towards the town; you will pass by a retreat house called "Casa Manresa" and get to the town plaza. Once in Aibonito, head towards Barranquitas either through "Barrio Llanos" (725) or via "Asomante" (Rd #14) making a right on 162. The picture above was made from an entrance through a small trail in Barrio Llanos (725) about a 1/4 mile from road 162. If lost, just keep asking. The last I saw, a very rustic sign led the way.

Compañía de Parques Nacionales: 787-622-5200.

All about camping permits: The Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales issues camping permits for forest reserves. Their offices are next to the Club Nautico in San Juan. Call 787- 724-3647, 724-3724, or fax 787-721-5984. Fees are unsually $4. per person, per nightt. Cabins in Guilarte cost $20 for up to 4 people. They also handle permits for trips to Mona Island.

Casa Grande Mountain Retreat, Utuado: Phones - 787-894-3939, 787-894-3900. Fax: 787-894-3900.

Parador Hacienda Gripinas, Jayuya: 787-828-1717

Fly fishing permits: To fish in Dos Bocas, Guajataca, Lucchetti and Patillas Lakes, call the Electrical Power Authority at 787-722-1208.

Brenda A. Mari is an editor/reporter for The San Juan Star, an accomplished web copywriter and a fan of everything unusual. She can be reached at

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