Top Things to See and Do in Arecibo

See the picturesque Río Grande de Arecibo valley than go spelunking at Cueva Ventana
See the picturesque Río Grande de Arecibo valley than go spelunking at Cueva Ventana | © ALAMTX / Alamy
Kris Pethick

On the northern coast of Puerto Rico you will find La Muy Leal Villa, the very loyal village of Arecibo. It is the largest municipality on the island, but is not heavily populated. A lack of industry makes it economically poor, but there’s a world of tourism opportunities. There are caves to explore; you can visit the Arecibo Observatory, which when built was the world’s largest single-aperture telescope; or visit the plaza and see the Catedral de San Felipe Apóstle. There are also great places for boogie boarding and surfing on this Atlantic coast, with miles of coastline that you can pretty much have to yourself.

Arecibo Lighthouse and Historical Park

This lighthouse, also known as Los Morillos Lighthouse, was built by the Spaniards in 1898 and is still in use today. When the spiral staircase is open, you can climb to the highest floor and see for miles, getting a glimpse into the life of a lighthouse keeper. On the main floor there are displays of marine artifacts. The diving suit will seem somewhat comical, but just imagine what it must have been like to be underwater in it.

This is a wonderful place to take the kids for an educational visit. Immediately inside the gate is a model of a Taino village, then you can follow the trail up to the lighthouse. Along the way there are pens with turtles and other animals, and you will probably see iguanas wandering the grounds.

Visit the lighthouse, and then head to the aquarium and museum to learn a little more about life on the sea. There are mock-ups of ships on which visitors can climb and take pictures, and a recreational area with playground equipment and a small water park. There are also food vendors on site, so you can make a day of it. The hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Arecibo Observatory

If you watch movies about space exploration, you have probably seen the Arecibo Observatory. Opened in 1963, the observatory was for a time the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, and is still one of the strongest. Many discoveries have been made through the use of this telescope, including the discovery by Hulse and Taylor of the first binary pulsar in 1974, for which they later received the Nobel Prize in Physics. The observatory is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Cueva Ventana

Due to the volcanic nature of this area of the island, and the pounding of the Atlantic surf, there are many caves here to explore. A tour of Cueva Ventana will bring you to the opening that provides one of the most epic views on the island. It is a perfect spot for silhouette photos, as well as pictures of the valley below. It is a strenuous hike, so wear proper clothing and shoes, and consider any health issues beforehand. The guides and other hikers are always willing to help you as well. The caves are open Monday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; you can call ahead for reservations, but they are not required.

Cueva del Indio

The Cueva del Indio is a prehistoric rock site located in La Piedras near Arecibo, on PR-681. It is interesting to view the Taino petroglyphs and ponder the stories of what happened here so many years ago. This area also has incredible views of the Atlantic and some great photo opportunities. The ladder had been taken out by the DRNA (Department of Natural and Environmental Resources) for safety reasons, so you may not be able to climb down into the cave. There is no official parking and PR-681 is very narrow, so you may want to pay residents or nearby businesses a few dollars to park on their property. There is also a gas station nearby at which you can park.

Arecibo Flea Market

Flea markets are fun no matter where you are, and there are many throughout Puerto Rico, but Arecibo’s is the largest. (Other flea markets may dispute that, but Arecibo stands behind its statement.) With music and food everywhere, this is more like a fair than a flea market. You can find just about anything here: fresh fruit, live chickens and roosters, souvenirs, jewelry, caps, sunglasses, undergarments, automotive supplies, cleaning products, CDs and DVDs, and so much more. The official hours are Friday to Sunday 2 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., but things don’t really start happening until about 5 p.m.

Lago Dos Bocas

Arecibo and Utuado are the two mouths, or bocas, of this artificial lake. Take your own craft to tour the lake, or ride the state-owned boat around the lake to relax and take beautiful photos. There are a number of wonderful restaurants on the lake and most of them have boats that will pick you up at the pier and take you to their establishment, where you can enjoy the magnificent view and temperate weather and dine in relaxed elegance.

Camuy River Cave Park

Just a short drive, about 25 minutes from Arecibo, is the Camuy River Cave Park. You can tour the cool caves and see the amazing art that nature creates. The Camuy River runs through the floor of the caves, and its nooks and crannies are home to thousands of bats. This is the third-largest cave system in the world, and there are good paths through the caves, making it a relatively easy walking tour. Take your time and enjoy all of the nuances and diverse environments.

At the admission desk you can get headphones that will provide information in English or Spanish at intervals throughout the tour. The caves are cool and wet, so be sure to dress appropriately and wear shoes with good traction. They park also has a cafeteria and gift shop and there is limited camping available. The hours of operation are Wednesday to Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the last tour leaving the main gate at 3:30 p.m. Make sure you call ahead to ensure that they are open, as sometimes weather conditions result in a temporary closing of the caves.

Catedral de San Felipe Apóstle

The Cathedral of St. Phillip the Apostle is the anchor to Arecibo’s plaza. Its history dates back to the mid-1700s when the original church was built, but that church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1787. It took nearly 60 years to build a new one, and then just four days after its dedication, this structure was severely damaged by yet another earthquake, and in 1918 one more earthquake damaged the vaulted roof so badly that it was replaced by a flat roof. The Cathedral of St Phillip is the second-largest church in Puerto Rico, after the Cathedral of San Juan.

Poza del Obispo

From the balcony around the Arecibo Lighthouse, you can see the turbulent Atlantic waves for miles and miles, but to the east you will find a tranquil pool of teal happiness. The tide has created this natural pool, which is great for families with kids. There are bohios (huts) available, but you will need to go early to get one. Sitting in the pool and watching the waves crash has all the excitement of being at a fireworks display. The beach further east is great for surfing and boogie boarding and both beaches are long and wide, so there is plenty of room for everyone. There is very little shade, so you may want to bring a beach umbrella. Unlike some of the other beaches of Puerto Rico that are state parks and have closing times, Poza del Obispo is always open, but do be careful at night.

Cruise PR-681

Driving on the small roads of Puerto Rico can be a little harrowing at first, but you will quickly acclimatize. On Sundays, locals cruise up and down PR-681, stopping at the little bars and restaurants on the way. You will see different auto clubs with their tricked-out Suzukis or Volkswagens, groups on bicycles going bar hopping, and others riding horses. The views of the Atlantic on the north side of the road are just amazing and the ocean breezes are cooling, and on both sides of the street you will find incredible food and drink. You will have the time of your life talking to the locals and learning about life in Puerto Rico.

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