The town of Isabela, on Puerto Rico's northwest coast, is known as the "Garden of the Northwest" for a few reasons. One is its splendid natural beauty, with beach, forest, and surf competing for your attention. Another is its quaint culture, which includes monuments to the island's native Indian heritage, and specialties including santeros, the artisans who carve wooden santos, or saints; a local cheese called quesito de hoja, and elegant Paso Fino horses.
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An overview of Isabela must begin with its numerous beaches, which cater to surfers, snorkelers, boogie boarders, and fishermen, along with people who crave a lazy day in the sun. Isabela's best stretches of sand include:
- Jobos - One of Puerto Rico's most popular surfing beaches
- Shacks - An all-purpose beach good for snorkeling, surfing, and horseback riding (more on that below)
- Blue Hole - A must-visit destination for anyone who loves to snorkel
- Baño La Princesa & Blowhole - A large area dotted with coral formations, beaches, and natural pools.
- Punta Sardina - Punta's deep waters make it a popular swimming beach and a great fishing spot.
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The Guajataca Tunnel
Built in 1911, the Guajataca Tunnel was a railroad tunnel that connected the towns of Isabela and Quebradillas. It was meant to transport the sugar crop in this part of Puerto Rico. The tunnel is open to the public (the railroads are long gone) and is worth the trek to reach the rugged and beautiful coastline as well as Playa El Pastillo and Playa de Guajataca. The latter has a rough surf and strong currents, and is not a safe place to swim; the former, on the other hand, is a large and beautiful beach. On the west side, take a look at the Cara del Indio, a rock carving of a Cacique, or native chief, named Mabodomaca.
Legend has it that Mabodomaca leaped into the ocean to his death rather than be captured by the conquistadors.
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The Guajataca Forest
The Guajataca Forest is a pristine nature reserve with flora and fauna unique to the island. The forest has 25 miles of trails, with the most popular being Trail #1, leading to the Cueva del Viento ("Cave of the Wind"), and the interpretative trail.
The former is a beautiful natural cave filled with bats and featuring limestone rock formations; the latter is a 2-mile circular path that makes for a light hike. From the trail, you can also visit an observation tower and a picnic area. The forest contains some 156 types of trees and 45 species of birds.
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Tropical Trail Rides offers beachfront horseback rides (and now, ATV tours as well) in Isabela. From here, you'll continue into a lush forest setting.
For those who are inclined and able, they'll even take you on a hike up the cliff for a panoramic photo opportunity. If hiking isn't your thing, you can swim on the beach or explore the cliffside caves.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Isabela offers great scuba diving thanks to its underwater caves. So it stands to reason that the most well-known outfit in town is La Cueva Submarina, which means "The Underwater Cave." These guys offer a full menu of dives and courses, including underwater cavern dives for skilled divers. If you don't want to dive, they also have snorkeling trips and scuba safaris for beginners.
Another local outfit that offers dive trips is Aquatica Dive and Surf, which offers scuba, mountain biking, snorkeling, and surfing.