Puerto Rico's central region is uncharted territory for most tourists. The Cordillera Central, the island's largest mountain range, bisects the land, and the region's 20 cities are a mix of small towns. There's no beach, the rugged mountains can be unforgiving to those in search of a leisurely hike, and, let's face it, this part of the island doesn't get the publicity that other destinations receive. And that's what people love about it.
What the central region does offer is spectacular natural vistas, two terrific destinations for those who love adventure travel, one of the most important towns in Puerto Rican history, and the most venerated culinary road trip in all of Puerto Rico.
La Ruta del Lechón
There are people who have never heard of Puerto Rico's "Central Region," but they've definitely heard of La Ruta del Lechón in Guavate. This do-it-yourself road trip into Puerto Rico's interior takes you to a veritable fantasy land of lechón, or roast suckling pig. Some tour companies offer tours to Guavate, but you can easily venture out on your own and find your favorite lechonera.
Many a local will tell you not to miss this rustic gastronomic extravaganza. And you'll find it just a short drive south from San Juan.
Toro Verde has put the Central Region on the tourist map like no other destination. This eco-park is home to an extensive network of ziplines, including one so cool it's called "The Beast." Toro Verde is located in Orocovis, a heartland of verdant valleys, peaks and open sky.
In addition to ziplines, the park offers rappelling, hiking, and some seriously challenging rope bridges. It's a tremendously fun destination that will have you soaring above the forest canopy in no time.
Spread across the second highest mountain of the Cordillera Central, the Toro Negro State Forest boasts some of the most beautiful natural settings on mainland Puerto Rico. Home to the Doña Juana waterfalls (an Edenic destination that attracts far smaller crowds than the more famous La Mina Falls in the El Yunque rainforest), it's a wonderful place to hike. But if you crave something a little more daring, check out the zipline adventure offered by Acampa Tours.
Ice Cream in Lares
The small town of Lares is known for one of the most important moments in Puerto Rico's history. On September 23, 1868, a small band of men led a brief revolution against Spanish colonial rule. The uprising was quickly put down, but it galvanized the entire island and came to be known as El Grito de Lares, or "The Cry of Lares."
Today, the town square commemorates that fateful turning point in the mood of the Puerto Rican people. But there is also another reason to visit the square: the Heladería de Lares, or Lares Ice Cream shop. This small, quaint parlor isn't your average ice cream shop ... not with flavors like garlic, rice 'n beans, pumpkin and plantain sitting alongside more conventional ones like chocolate and strawberry. All the ice cream is homemade and has an icy texture to it.
Ice cream and revolution; not a bad way to spend a day in Puerto Rico!
If you like road trips, you're going to love the Ruta Panorámica, or Panoramic Route. This network of back roads spans an impressive 165 miles and cuts through the Cordillera Central, all the way to the western city of Mayagüez. Beginning with Route 901 in Yabucoa, the road winds its way through numerous small towns, giving you its share of panoramic vistas of forests, coasts and rolling plains of green. You'll have ample opportunities to stop at lookout points along the way and take in the scenery and smell the mountain air.
You can spend the day on the route or stretch your road trip across a few days, stopping at paradores,, or country inns, along the way.