A trip to Hacienda Buena Vista is a rare experience in more ways than one. Located in the mountains between Ponce and Adjuntas, this is one of only five working coffee plantations in the world that functions to this day using water power.
In addition to the natural beauty and quaint structures, the marvel of engineering on display at Hacienda Vista recalls a simpler time, when water power transformed this plantation into the one of the most prosperous in Puerto Rico.
Hacienda Buena Vista is located north of the city of Ponce, along Carretera 123 in the Corral Viejo neighborhood. There are tours in English from Wednesday to Sunday, or by appointment. The hacienda is a protected natural area of the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico.
A 19th Century Marvel of Engineering
Hacienda Buena Vista, or Hacienda Vives, as it was also called, was founded in 1833 by Salvador Vives. Originally intended to supply food for the slaves who worked the nearby lands, the hacienda began as a corn mill. It migrated to coffee when the third generation of the Vives family (Salvador Vives Navarro) acquired the machinery and structures needed to plant the lucrative bean. In addition, the plantation produced cocoa and achiote, or annatto seed.
But the Hacienda had its work cut out for it. The Vives family wanted to employ water power, but could only do so on the condition that the water be returned, clean, to the Canas river.
To address this, the family constructed a 1,121-foot brick canal (later covered in cement to protect it) and a small aqueduct that channeled the river water into the mills. The ingenious design was curved to facilitate the flow of water, and used a decanting tank to filter the water before it reached the buildings.
The tour takes you from the 19th century home of the Vives family, which still retains original period furnishings, out into the sub-tropical forest where the water was channeled. Along the way, our docent, Zamira, explained how the dense canopy of cocoa trees protected the coffee beans, pointed out some of the local flaura and fauna, and then took us into the heart of the plantation to show us how corn, and coffee, were produced.
At each stage, we learned how water, humidity, and shade were used to make cornmeal and coffee. We saw water turn a mill using a massive and unique two-arm turbine, a technological innovation of its day. Along the way, I found out that 28 pounds of coffee beans in a almud, or a coffee container, produces 3 pounds of coffee, which gives me a whole new appreciation for my morning cup.
In October, you can participate in the process from start to finish, from picking the beans to roasting and drinking the end cup of Joe. And by the way, Puerto Rico produces a pretty good coffee. But even if you can't make it during the season, Hacienda Buena Vista is a wonderfully restored, maintained, and interactive experience in the mountains of Puerto Rico's interior.