As you drive along blue mountain tops blanketed in mist, you can hear the call of tropical birds across the forest canopy. White cliffs draped in vines and moss rise high above la ruta panoramica, then suddenly turn into tunnels of sky scraping trees. This road passes over the highest ridge in Puerto Rico, over two thousand feet above water level, passing white waterfalls pouring off rocky crags, and through small villages with home-made Puerto Rican treats for sale. It seems as though your adventure has already begun as you drive through the scenic route to La Bosque Carite, the Carite forest.
The Carite Forest is a huge rain forest reserve, covering six thousand acres of natural beauty. It’s a great day trip for the whole family, or for a private getaway. Here, there used to be over twenty-five miles of hiking trails, which are technically still there, but not maintained since they were destroyed over the past two decades by numerous hurricanes. However for the more adventurous, they are clearly visible despite being over grown…. Hike these at your own risk. The main hiking trail, Charco Azul, is well paved and well maintained by El Dapartmento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales, the department of natural resources.
If you venture down this well maintained path, it will lead you through the Charco Azul campgrounds and picnic areas, a great alternative to those who are naturally inclined. Gazebos are also available for rent for parties of ten or less, and can be great way to spend an afternoon in Carite Forest. If you continue down the trail, the Charco Azul swimming hole will great you with open…water. The small pool is a great way to escape the moist heat of the jungle. The pool is very clean, and shallow around the edges, perfect for little ones. Once you venture to the middle of the swimming hole, the turquoise water swallows your toes, and rinses off the heat of the afternoon.
If more of a mysterious adventure floats your boat, continue down PR184. Pull into the parking lot of the restaurant Los Tres Churros, and walk over the two foot bridges and down the path to survivor falls. A large waterfall feeds three swimming holes here, and is a great adventure, and one of the many hidden, unexplored treasure of the Carite Forest. Another alternative is retracing back to the fork in PR 184, and turning onto PR179. Signs will Guide you to Carite Lake.
This was made in 1913, when the Plata River was dammed to irrigate the local farming villages. Currently, this man-made lake is heaven for any angler. With a plethora of native fish, you can catch dinner for the next few days in one afternoon of fishing! Swimming and kayaking are also popular on Carite Lake, and are a great pass time for the whole family. Lounging on the soft, sandy beaches is also a great alternative to an afternoon in the water if you want to avoid raisin fingers. However, don’t be scared if the local iguanas decide to pay you a visit, they are everywhere in the surrounding rain forest and are quite friendly.
Though Carite Forest is a bit of a drive from Ponce, San Juan, and the other main tourist cities, the road there is an attraction in itself. As long as you don’t mind the windy pass, and some good old-fashioned, family car time, it is a great, cheap day trip that gives you a glimpse of what the entire island used to be.
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