Rico -- The northwest coast of Puerto Rico offers opportunities for
day trips less than two hours by car from San Juan.
Here are a few of
Arecibo Observatory: If astronomy is your thing or science
fiction movies spin your wheels, a visit to Cornell Universitys
radio telescope near Arecibo is a must. While cutting-edge research
is performed here 24/7, the Cornell team offers a friendly visitor
center packed with multimedia educational displays, a theater and
The visual impact
of the worlds largest single-dish radio telescope is stunning. In
fact, the telescope and its site, a massive natural sinkhole in the
mountains, were chosen for the opening scenes of the movie Contact
because they serve as dramatic examples of Big Science.
The dish is 1,000
feet across, covering 18 acres. Its surface consists of
38,778 panels of perforated aluminum that, along with their
supports, weighs in at 300 tons.
anchoring the 30-plus miles of support cables for the domed
collector suspended over the dish range from 265 feet to 365 feet
spectacle is not the only thing that takes your breath away. The
observatory can be reached via a long, steep climb up concrete
are a couple of rest shelters along the way, plus a scale model of
the solar system that begs studious attention, some people find the
climb too taxing, even at a leisurely pace. While most people --
even overweight Yanquis -- do just fine, this star trek is not for
the feint of heart.
is open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and from 9
a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for
children and $2 for seniors. For more, visit www.naic.edu.
To reach the
observatory, take Highway 22 west from San Juan to Arecibo, then
head south on Route 10. Follow the signs to the observatory and be
prepared for a roller-coaster ride through the forest-covered hills
and valleys along the way.
Camuy Cave Park: While the telescope is an increasingly
popular destination for tourists, few have discovered the nearby
The park itself
is 268 acres. Below its surface lies a vast system of caverns
carved more than a million years ago by the Camuy River, which
starts in the mountains near Lares and flows north into the
For much of the
way, Rio Camuy flows underground, creating limestone caverns. The
Camuy Caves are thought to be the third-largest cavern system in
the world, although only seven miles of them have been explored.
The park was sited where several massive sinkholes were created
many millennia ago when parts of the caverns collapsed, exposing
the underground cave network. Today, trolleys cart visitors
up and down the sides of the largest sinkhole for guided tours in
English or Spanish.
The Camuy Caves
are unique in several ways. The series of sinkholes -- 16 have been
found so far -- open the caverns to fresh air and sunshine at
various points. Also, the sight of the Camuy River flowing 400 feet
below the walkway of a vast, cathedral-like cavern is truly
memorable. Finally, the caves contain a species of blind shrimp
found nowhere else in the world.
parks authorities took great pains to make the caverns comfortably
accessible to visitors and to minimize damage to the fragile
ecosystems of this long-hidden world. The largest vestibule, the
Cueva Clara, is 695 feet long.
The caves are
open Wednesdays to Sundays and on holidays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Reservations are required and can be made by calling (787) 898-3100
or (787) 763-0568. The park has a gift shop, picnic areas, walking
trails, a theater and a nearby coal mine tour. From Arecibo, head
south on Route 129 and follow signs to the Rio Camuy Cave
Tropical Trail Rides: For serious horseback riders
and novices, this privately operated stable offers several unique
experiences, not the least of which is fulfilling the fantasy of
riding horses on a beach.
The stable also
offers a rare opportunity to ride one of its 25 Paso Finos, the
small, naturally gaited horse found only on Puerto Rico. Because of
the horses small size, Tropical Trail Rides has a 250-pound weight
limit for its riders. The trail ride pace is casual and unhurried,
the itinerary is flexible and groups are allowed a number of
Craig and Michelle Barker do not advertise the fact, more
experienced riders have greater freedom of movement. As the trail
makes its way from beaches and shoreline through an almond forest,
skilled riders are permitted to break away from the pack. Riders
can pause to swim or explore caves along the shore.
Rides (www.tropicaltrailrides.com) operates seven days a
week. Two daily rides, about two hours in length, depart the
stables at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. For reservations, call (787)
Take Highway 22
west from San Juan until it ends and merges with Highway 2.
Continue west for about 23 miles, take a right at Highway 110
toward Rafael Hernandez Airport for about four miles and another
right at Road 4466. Take the first left and follow the signs to
Tropical Trail Rides.
editor Rob Fixmer, send e-mail to [email protected].
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