The volcanic and coastal regions have created many caves on the island of Puerto Rico, and Cueva Ventana is one of the most stunning. Trained biologists are on hand to guide you through the walk, during which you will get lessons in biology as they described the reptiles, amphibians, insects, and mammals that live in the cave. You will also get a lesson in botany as they describe the plants you’ll come across, some of which are near extinction, and a history lesson as they explain the story and culture of the Taino people who lived in the area many years ago.
The caves can be cool, so you may want to wear a long-sleeved T-shirt, but the hike will warm you up, so it is not crucial. As with many of the caves in the northwest region of the island, Cueva Ventana is damp, so the trails are often wet. Make sure you wear sturdy comfortable shoes that have good grips on the soles.
Other items to pack
Bring a small backpack into which you can pack a water bottle for each person. If you have access to one, bring a headlamp. The admission fee does include the use of a flashlight, but a headlamp will keep your hands free for easier walking and climbing. You may also want to bring some antibacterial wipes or hand sanitizer, as there is bat guano throughout the cave, and that way you can ensure your hands are clean.
The hike of the cave takes about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on your pace, but it is recommend that you take two or three hours so you can view and enjoy all that the cave has to offer. There are parts of the hike that require climbing, so a moderate level of fitness is needed and those with special health issues like heart disease or joint issues may want to consult with the staff before attempting it. At the end of the hike is an epic view of Puerto Rico as you look out of the ventana, or window, upon a sublime valley below. This window has been the setting for many silhouette photos.
The legend of Salomé and Aruaca
In 1680, Don Julián Correa owned the Hacienda Cafetalera El Consejo, the most prosperous in the area, but his greatest pride was his beautiful daughter Salomé. Every afternoon, Salomé would ride her horse to the Abacoa River, walk along the banks, and rest in the shade of a 100-year-old tree. One day, she went out for her usual walk but her father insisted that Juan, the son of the rich landowner Don Ramón Rivera, accompany her, because he was hoping they would one day marry.
They reached the riverbank and dismounted from their horses. Salome spotted a beautiful flower floating on the river and leaned over to grab it, only to slip on a stone. She lost her balance and fell into the swift current. She cried out to Juan for help, but he was not brave, and only shouted that he would go to the hacienda for help. Salomé thought she was certain to die, but suddenly she felt powerful arms around her that brought her safely to the riverbank. When Salome opened her eyes, she saw that her savior was a young man with brown skin and eyes the color of honey. Salome fell in love with him instantly, and asked him who he was. He replied, “I am Aruaca, the last of the Taino warriors, son of Urayoán and Cecilia, the Spanish, grandson of the cacique Abacoá.”
Aruaca lifted her and carried her to the hacienda. Upon their arrival, Don Julian had the men of the hacienda begin shooting at Aruaca, and they snatched Salome from his arms. Aruaca tried to defend himself, but there were too many of them. Don Julian intended to kill the young man, but Salomé jumped between them, saying, “You owe my life to this man; it was he who saved me from death in the currents of the river, while this coward beside you abandoned me!”
Don Julian restrained the anger he felt for Aruaca and the Taino Indians, and as payment for his saving his daughter, he threw some coins at the young warrior’s feet. Aruaca left quietly, head up and shoulders proudly back, and did not pick up the coins.
The young girl returned to the river in the hopes of seeing the man she loved, but it was many days before he returned. There, Aruaca confessed that he had always watched her from the window of the cave. The afternoon when Salome had fallen into the water, Aruaca had been watching her from the cave, and seeing her fall, he threw himself into the water to save her or die with her.
After their reunion, they met every evening at the river. They swore eternal love, although they feared their two different worlds made this love impossible. Salomé’s father became suspicious, and one afternoon he followed her to the river. When he saw her in Aruaca’s arms, he went mad with rage and began to shoot at Aruaca. Salomé again stood between her father and her lover, and was shot in the chest by her father. An anguished Aruaca, who saw his beloved Salomé dying at his feet, understood that he could save her only by praying to their gods in the cave. He climbed the cliff and placed Salomé next to the water that falls from the vault. Taking water from the spring, he began to cleanse her wound, and the miraculous water revived her.
Salomé, feeling weak from the blow and the loss of blood, agreed with Aruaca that he should go to the hacienda to give the good news to her father. They said goodbye, and Salomé promised that she would wait there until he returned. Aruaca took off her necklace and handed it to Salomé to protect her.
When Aruaca arrived at the hacienda to give the news to her father, Don Julian shot and killed him without allowing him to give him the good news. Don Julián never knew that Salomé was alive. Salomé was in the cave was waiting for him, praying for his return, using the necklace as a rosary. According to legend, she lived for 150 years, feeding only on the memory of her beloved and the miraculous water of the spring, before finally dying of a broken heart. They say that Salome and Aruaca now walk together through the darkest corridors of the cave.
TV and film appearances
In 2009, Disney shot Wizards of Waverly Place: the Movie in Puerto Rico. Much of it was filmed in San Juan, and some scenes were filmed in Cueva Ventana. In 2012, the British miniseries Treasure Island filmed scenes here, and Runner Runner, a movie starring Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck, also included scenes that were filmed in the cave.
Leave no trace
The staff of Cueva Ventana strictly adhere to the principles established by the Center for Outdoor Ethics of “leave no trace,” which are: plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize the impact of campfires, respect wildlife, and be considerate of other visitors. While not every principle may apply to the cave, it’s a good philosophy to use everywhere, all the time.
Cueva Ventana is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday to Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. It is best to call ahead to book a tour. The cost of admission for non-Puerto Rican residents is $17 Monday to Thursday, and $19 Friday to Sunday. There are also trips from the north and metropolitan areas that will pick you up in a van and drive you to the cave and back. The cost of this is approximately $75, and around $100 if you are on the east side of the island, but again, do call ahead to ask, because prices will vary depending on distance.