West of Aibonito the Ruta Panorámica climbs ever higher, eventually skirting the loftiest mountains in the Central Cordillera and slicing through the heart of the Bosque Estatal de Toro Negro (also known as the Reserva Forestal Toro Negro), one of the largest forest reserves on the island. This is the longest continuous stretch of the highway and the most rewarding – an emptier road that traverses the roof of the island along a series of misty ridges draped in thick sierra palm and pine forest. The route affords almost endless vistas of the north and south coast, glittering on the horizon.
The Ruta Panorámica passes through the Toro Negro on PR-143, and all points of interest are accessible off this road. The forest covers around 27 square kilometres and is divided into seven segments: the most convenient for visitors contains the Area Recreativa Doña Juana and peak of the same name, while after a small gap, a larger and higher section incorporates the watershed of the Río Toro Negro, Cerro Maravillas, and Puerto Rico’s tallest mountain, Cerro de Punta. Although the two peaks are easy to climb, it’s frustratingly difficult to explore this potentially more dramatic section without a specialist map and preferably a local guide, as trails are unmarked and hardly ever maintained – casual hikers should stick to the Area Recreativa Doña Juana for a taste of the forest.Read More
Cerro de Punta
Cerro de Punta
The tallest peak in Puerto Rico and a relatively straightforward climb, Cerro de Punta (1338m) is a few metres shorter than Ben Nevis (the UK’s highest point), a lofty mound of cloud forest often draped in bewitching threads of mist. As you’d expect, the views are mind-blowing, and best appreciated in the mornings before the clouds move in. Few tourists make it to the summit, adding to the sense of isolation, though you may see workers tending to the communication towers on top. Don’t hesitate; it’s perfectly legal to scale the mountain.
From the large gravel car park at its base, just under 5km from the turning to Cerro Maravillas, a weathered road leads 1.5km to the antennas on top: it’s only advisable to take your car if you have a four-wheel drive, though plenty of time pressed travellers manage to grind their rental vehicles to the summit. Note that the car park and road are unmarked: heading west, it’s on your right at around km 17 on PR-143. The route up is fairly steep, but shouldn’t take more than an hour if you decide to hike it. Beyond the communication towers, the actual grassy peak (the punta itself ) can be reached via an overgrown stairway – a concrete block marks the summit. On a clear day you can see up to 100km, with a hazy San Juan
in the distance.
For more of a challenge, tackle the peak from the northern side – the trail starts at Hacienda Gripiñas and can be hard to follow, so ask at the hotel for directions first. Assuming you don’t get lost, experienced hikers should be able to get up and down in one day.