Puerto Rico: Day 8, Camuy Caves and Arecibo Observatory

Cueva Clare Entrance
Upside-Down Growing Tree
We packed early and headed up to the North edge of the island. On route, we found the Parque de las Cavernas del Rio Camuy or Camuy Caves. Had we discovered this earlier, we might have been able to schedule a zip-line tour, but the zip trips were booked and honestly it would have taken a lot of time out of our last full day. Nonetheless, the cave was the biggest cavern I think I have ever visited. The formations themselves are not particularly impressive; nonetheless, this limestone cavern (a cave has only one entrance this has two thus cavern) is carved by the second longest underground river in the world, the first more recently found in Mexico. Upon arrival you take a Mr. Toad's Wild Ride from the visitor center to the collapsed sinkhole Cueva Clara entrance. 

Apparently, it rains frequently in this region of the island, fortunately, it was clear when we arrived and just as fortuitously, began pouring once we got into the protection of the naturally coved ingress. What was really fascinating was the rainwater began to gush down creating an intermittent waterfall and flash flood only a few meters from the tour path. This was obviously well calculated by engineers due to the serendipity of a safe sidewalk layout. The cavern was slippery in many areas and they really mean it when they say to hold onto handrails. The ceiling soars from river up to 300 feet in some areas. Our tour guide lacked clear English pronunciation (according to him there’s a stalagmite called the Werhin Mahrie e Bobby Hehus (Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus, but I can’t speak another language so who am I to judge). The finger-sized, spider-like cave crickets are not to be missed either (you might see a few of these critters in your nightmares, too).

Next we were onto the Arecibo Observatory Center, home to the world’s largest Doppler Radar-Radio telescope. Located on the cusp of the Rio Abajo State Forest it was installed on this location for 3 reasons. 1) financial support came from investors from the US so it needed to be in a US territory 2) the advantageous curve of the earth relative to it’s global position near to the equator and 3) near perfect sinkhole crater already existed, keeping excavation costs to a minimum. This is a 600-ton, 20-acre dish that monitors both interplanetary events and weather phenomena. Three movies have been filmed here: Golden Eye (Pierce Brosnan), Contact (JamieFoster) and Survivor (some B-movie no ones ever heard of). This trek is not for the feint-hearted, from the parking lot to the visitor center is a 500-footstep incline, let’s just say I earned the free mojito from the complimentary bar at the Embassy Suites – Dorado del Mar, our hotel du jour.

That said, while the drive in is very well signed, the drive out, not so much. If the road narrows to one-car width, turn around and try again or if you keep veering left, eventually you’ll end up at the same crossroads. I highly suggest you DON'T stop to ask directions at the well appointed home (next door to a bombed-out hovel), sporting a new Mercedes in the driveway and his brother’s patrol car out front…did I mention the underground problem with drug-money laundering?