On our Way to Cabo Rojo

What do Panaderias, no rest stops, and a sleeping princess have to do with a trip from San Juan to Ponce?

If you want to get out of the busyness and high density of the San Juan Metropolitan area, getting on the road is a must.  You could easily take a week or years to see the island.  My friends and I only had three days and two nights to venture out into the Western part of Puerto Rico and this is what we did.

There are two ways to go; the long way or the short way.  Both ways have good roads.  One goes through the mountains (Route 52 ) while the other goes around the north coast (Routes 22 and 2) . We took the short way to Ponce through Caguas, Cayey, Salinas, and Juana Diaz just to name a few.  We were on our way to Cabo Rojo where we would spend the night, so time was of the essence to find this unvisited area before sundown. My hope was to stop in Guanica as well but time didn't let us.  We left something for another day.

Since my friends were passengers they took many pictures of the climb from Caguas to Cayey, and then the subsequent mountains with their stark contrast between the lush rainforest weather in the north and the dry arid terrain in the south.   If we had not made any stops it would have taken us three hours to reach Cabo Rojo but we definitely had to stop in Ponce.  Basically you take the Las Americas Expressway, Route 52 to Ponce. If you google Parque de Bombas en Ponce, it will give you easy directions for the one hour and half trip.

Of course you don't want to do it in a straight shot.  You want to stop along the way to see the lush green scenery dotted with Tulipanes Africanos or African Tulips with their upright orange cup shaped flowers, Fluffy Bamboos, pink Cassia, hibiscuses, and Maltese Crosses in varying colors.  In addition, you will see plenty of Flamboyanes, a horizontal trees with feather like leaves.  In the countryside you will also see plenty of palm trees, Coconut Palms, Royal Palms, and Palmettos.  

On the road just after the first toll booth on Route 52,  keep your eyes peeled to see the Sleeping Princess after you pass the exit to Humacao.  As the road curves right, you will see a line of mountains silhouetted in the distance and you will spot the Sleeping Princess.   The Sleeping Princess is off in the distance while Caguas is spread out below.  Caguas, is located in the central part of the island, and takes pride in their Puerto Rican heritage.  If you venture to go to its Plaza you will see the road lined with pineapples welcoming you in.  If in a hurry, you will quickly arrive at the next toll booth which two or three miles ahead and at the foot of the mountain range.  This mountain range is the Cordillera Central or the Central Mountain Range which literally crosses the island from one end to the other.

I need to point out that Puerto Rico is a little different from the United States when it comes to the road system.  You will not find, official rest areas or stops.  If I were in charge of this highway system, I would build a series of rest stops in the most beautiful areas.  One rest area would be at the top of the ascent on Route 52 where the Jibaro statue stands.  As it is now, it has a flat surface to  park your car if you want to climb the small hill to see the Jibaro Statue which was erected to honor the Puerto Rico farmer or just to stretch your legs.  Another spot would be off the road down around Salinas where you can see the arid side of the Cordillera Central.   There are many more places which I think rest areas would be appropriate.  This is definitely an opportunity waiting for the right investor.

So what can you do if you are planning a trip?  First of all,  have a cooler packed with ice, drinks, and sandwiches.  The second option is to stop along the way.  So when you go through Caguas or Cayey, get off the road and stop at any of the many fast foods you might be familiar with such as Wendy's,  McDonalds, or Burger King.   You can find these fast foods about a mile or two after the first toll booth, mainly on the right hand side.  Another option other than fast foods is to google, panaderias.  Panaderias are one of Puerto Rico's best kept secrets.  They offer fresh pastries, bread, drinks, and sandwiches.  Some even have fresh cooked local fare. I am inserting a link to Yelp's reviews of Panaderias in Caguas.  La Panaderia La Asturiana and La Mancha have the best ratings.

As we continued on to Ponce, we passed the second toll booth which took us to a significant climb into the mountains to the area near Cayey.  You will travel perhaps three or four miles and you will see the first signs to Guavate.  That is an area that is famous in Puerto Rico for Pork cooked on the spit.  In other words, Lechon Asado.  If you love typical Puerto Rican fair such as roast pork,  boiled green bananas, and arroz con gandules;  this is the place to stop.

We stopped at the Jibaro statue and saw the Tetas de Camuy, in the distance.  Unfortunately this area which would be an ideal stop, doesn't offer much security, so we continued on.  It is also the beginning of the breathtaking descent into the southern part of the island.  You can not go over these mountains and become jaded.  First of all, the descent is not for the cowardly.  You must be alert at all times and your car needs to have good brakes.  The views are spectacular on all sides with jagged rocks jutting from the chiseled mountains.  The arid terrain comes gradually at first and suddenly you realize how little water falls on the southern side.  It is a place for similes and metaphors, so don't ignore it.  The beauty is majestic and unexpected.  You will even see cactus near Salinas on the way down.  In addition, you will get your first peek at the turquoise waters of Caribbean Sea beyond the coastal plains.

This is your path through the mountains to Ponce. You have only started.
This picture was taken off of Route 52 near Salinas and Juana Diaz.
You can see the mountains in the distance.

We made a great stop at La Panaderia La Facciola in Cupey before heading out.
Fresh food and good coffee are a great way to start a day. 

Sweet messages of on our brown sugar packets.


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