Nine towns comprise the north region of Puerto Rico, also known as the northern karst because of its large limestone hills (you’ll often notice white stone peaks poking through the green blanket of forest). The diversity of the karst belt and the landscape it forms make this setting unique in the world, and many northern beaches are known for their impressive rock formations.
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Puerto Rico’s third-oldest city, Arecibo, is known as the “Village of Captain Correa” in honor of Antonio de los Reyes Correa, who defended the town from a British invasion in the 16th century. This town is a little over an hour away from SJU airport, and worth the ride. Arecibo’s landscape and scenic views are characterized by caves, sinkholes, and limestone hills called mogotes. Arecibo is divided into 19 sectors that run through the unique northern karst region. Its geographic location makes it perfect for observing the sun and planets, and as such it’s home to the world’s largest radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory.
One of the most visited sites in Arecibo — and one of the most breathtaking views in Puerto Rico — can be found at Cueva Ventana, a window-shaped cave that overlooks a panorama of cliffs and valleys so pretty it could be a living painting. Inside, there are distinctive petroglyphs preserved from the Taínos, the island’s pre-Columbus inhabitants. Sign up for a guided hiking tour to learn all about northern Puerto Rico’s cave system, its history, and its stunning flora and fauna.
This off-the-beaten-path beach is one of Arecibo’s hidden treasures. Two limestone outcroppings form a natural pool that’s protected from the waves, with inviting turquoise water and soft golden sand. Because it is generally so calm, Poza del Obispo is a great place for families with children.
This neoclassical lighthouse was built by the Spanish government in 1898, and now houses a cultural theme park that will transport you to the buccaneer days when pirates roamed the northern shore of Puerto Rico.
On your way to the lighthouse, you will find replicas of the three ships the Spanish used to conquer the New World; a re-created Taíno village; and a pirate ship that kids can climb and explore. The park also has a museum, an aquarium, and a mini-water park that’s a serious hit with kids. With food vendors on-site, you can easily make an entire family day out of this visit.
Jutting over the turquoise sea and forming a stunning natural bridge, Cueva del Indio (Indian Cave) offers many postcard-perfect vistas for a stunning photo op. Soak in the view of sea cliffs, arches, and karst rocks that have been formed into natural sculptures by ocean waves over the years. The cave also contains the largest number of Taíno petroglyphs on the north coast.
With a name that literally means “golden,” it’s easy to see why Dorado is such a highly sought-after destination. Only 35 minutes from San Juan, you’ll discover plenty of ways to enjoy yourself in Dorado, from beachfront resorts and golf courses to upscale neighborhoods and lavish accommodations. Explore the city’s eight wards, including its quaint downtown area, and discover firsthand why it has earned the reputation of “the cleanest city” on the island.
Translating to “ox’s eye” in English, this beach got its name from an unusual rock formation in the shape of an ox’s head. At Ojo del Buey, you can enjoy one of Dorado’s most pristine beaches with calm waters and a laid-back atmosphere. Local legend has it that pirate Roberto Cofresí buried his treasure there, so no one will look at you funny if you decide to dig for the loot.
With diamond dust sand and aquamarine waters, this astonishingly beautiful beach is one of the north’s most popular hangouts. Much of the shore is shaded with palms and other lush trees. You can hang your hammock, set up a small barbecue, and make a day out of your visit. There are restrooms, showers, parking spaces, and on-duty lifeguards at the beach.
Dating back to 1823, this former Spanish garrison is now a museum that depicts the story of Puerto Rico’s early history, from the Taíno culture to the Spanish conquest. Museo y Centro Cultural Casa del Rey also houses a lion’s share of the island’s colonial relics, including antique furniture created for the king and queen of Spain.
Located on the north coast of Puerto Rico — only a 45-minute drive from San Juan airport — the town of Manatí will captivate you with its scenic views and breathtaking natural pools.
It’s known as La Atenas de Puerto Rico (the Athens of Puerto Rico) for the homegrown cultural and intellectual movement that formed here at the start of the 20th century, and thus established the town as a hub of new ideas. But Manatí is fertile in more than just art and thought. It’s also an agricultural area that is the center of Puerto Rico’s pineapple-growing industry, along with the production of sugar cane and coffee.
Its name is derived from the Taíno word for the river that crosses the town — the Manatuabón — and the numerous manatees that lived at the outfall of the river.
One of the prettiest beaches in the north, Mar Chiquita (Little Sea) is an idyllic place to soak up the Caribbean sun. Two limestone outcroppings create a half-moon opening that allows the intense blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean rush in; the result is a lagoon-like cove that is perfect for swimming, snorkeling, or just admiring from the shore. There isn’t much shade, so bring an umbrella and plenty of sunscreen.
A haven for experienced surfers looking to catch a memorable wave, this wide, palm-lined beach gets its name from the tubular waves that form along its shore and break in both directions. Los Tubos (The Pipes) is also home to a popular summer beach festival each year. Besides being a great surf spot, the beach has a very good recreational area with picnic gazebos, swings for kids to play on, and plenty of parking.