Justly regarded as La Ciudad del Café (“coffee city”), the languid mountain settlement of MARICAO is one of the most traditional on the island, the haunt of Taíno rebels, jíbaros and some of the world’s best coffee for over two hundred years. At harvest time the town is bathed in the aroma of roasting coffee beans, blazing red berries plucked from bushes that carpet the slopes nearby. Other than enjoying the pleasures associated with its premier crop, Maricao makes an enchanting last or first stop on the Ruta Panorámica, with its celebrated coffee festival, a small but engaging fish hatchery and the vast forest reserve just out of town.
Maricao has a small, compact centre of ramshackle wooden criollo houses with verandas, and a smattering of cheap cafés and shops, though it’s rarely busy – on Sundays the place seems totally abandoned. While sights may be lacking around central Plaza de Recreo Luis Muñoz Rivera, the town does have a certain lazy charm, and its narrow streets are perfect for aimless wandering.
Just outside the centre, on PR-410 a few metres from PR-105 (the Ruta Panorámica), a cleft in the hillside hides the Gruta San Juan Bautista, a small grotto and waterfall dedicated to San Juan (St John). A short pathway and steps lead up both sides of a statue above the waterfall, an image of Jesus being baptized by the saint. It’s a shady, peaceful spot and easy to park nearby.
Coffee to keep the devil awake
Coffee to keep the devil awake
“Con café de Maricao, hasta el diablo se desveló”
The words of eminent Puerto Rican poet Luis Lloréns Torres (who attended school here) eloquently capture the powerful quality of Maricao’s Arabica coffee beans: “after drinking coffee from Maricao, even the devil couldn’t sleep”.
Still regarded by many connoisseurs as the home of the world’s best coffee, Puerto Rico is undergoing a remarkable coffee renaissance after decades of stagnation. Coffee was introduced to Puerto Rico in around 1736, most likely from the French colonies of Martinique and Haiti, and boomed in the nineteenth century. In 1887, Don Angel Agostini, a Yauco resident of Corsican descent, went to Paris to begin a hugely successful marketing campaign that resulted in the Pope becoming a regular customer of Puerto Rican café, along with half the salons of Europe.
Maricao’s rainforest environment, volcanic soils and proximity to cooling sea breezes make it perfect for coffee growing, while its location on the western side of the island protects it from hurricanes. To fully appreciate its rich coffee legacy, attend the three-day Festival del Acabe del Café in February (usually around President’s Day), an annual celebration that marks the end of the coffee harvest (Sept–Jan). It’s one of the island’s most popular festivals, so be prepared for crowds. In addition to special exhibitions and live music concerts, the central plaza is packed with stalls selling arts and crafts, criollo food and, of course, locally produced coffee.
Café Hacienda Juanita is still produced at the La Casona de Juanita, a direct descendant of the legendary coffees that once graced the tables of the Vatican, and can be purchased at the hotel shop. Hacienda Adelphia (t 787/473-9512, w http://www.cafedemaricao.com) at PR-105 km 37.5, in Sector Union, produces the much-sought-after Offeecay brand. Its gourmet Gold series coffees are for serious connoisseurs. You can buy them at the festival or directly from the plantation, but you must call ahead. Café Real de Puerto Rico at PR-105 km 23.6 (t 787/833-1698, w http://www.cafedepr.com) is produced by a local collective in the Maricao and Jayuya areas, but is primarily sold via their website. Hacienda Caracolillo, at PR-105 km 42.8 (t 787/838-2811) in the barrio of Indiera Baja is part of the Grupo Jiménez stable and produces Café Concierto ($12.95 for eight ounces), an exquisite roast, as well as contributing to the respected export brand, Yauco Selecto. Call in advance to ask about buying fresh from the plantation.