Off the beaten path and the beaches, the island of Puerto Rico is a virtual trove of discoveries for the explorer. La Isla del Encanto (the island of enchantment) isn’t just sunny patches and balmy tropical breezes; it’s alive in culture, history and geography. Located in the Northeastern Caribbean, bordering both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, mainland Puerto Rico and its accompanying family of islands is home to a tropical rain forest, scores of rivers, manmade freshwater lakes, volcanic mountains, and rock formations that yield to one of the largest cave systems in the country.
The 268 acre underground cave park at Rio Camuy is a worthwhile tourist site and one that can be explored by novices and expert spelunkers alike.
Call first. The park is open for tours from Wednesday to Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but checking available tour slots and scheduling changes is a good idea. You can reach the park at 787-898-3100.
Travel from San Juan on Road 22, following the signs toward Arecibo. Take exit 78 to Road 129 South to kilometer 18.9.
Pay the entrance fee ($10 adults/$7 kids as of 2008) and choose between a Spanish or English language tour. Take your time-stamped ticket. Depending how long your wait is, you can either leave and return or hang out in their gift shop and snack bar.
Take the trolley tour. On your ride down to the cave’s entrance, take note of the vegetation. You are in a tropical rain forest and have the opportunity to view different local plant species.
Take the walking tour. The cave is well set up for all ages and abilities. While it's a good idea to wear sneakers because the rocks can get slippery, there are hand rails and paths that ensure safe exploration. Among the must-sees are the 400-foot-deep Tres Pueblos Sinkhole, Cathedral Cave and Cueva Clara.
Observe the stalactites and the stalagmites. Stalactites are mineral deposits formed in caves, hanging from the ceilings; stalagmites are deposits built from the cave floor up.
Watch out for bats. You are, after all, in their home. They are harmless, but they may startle you.
Choose the challenge. If you’re a natural spelunker or are ready for a new hobby, you can see more of the Camuy Cave system by signing up with one of the adventure tour companies that travel underground. With an outfit like Aventuras Tierra Adentro, you can spend the full day in the caves hiking, climbing, rappelling, swimming, and otherwise exploring territory that few others will ever see.