Beyond the sprawling suburbs of San Juan, much of northern Puerto Rico remains refreshingly rural, a region of small coffee towns, untouched nature reserves and dozing cattle. The north coast is endowed with spectacular beaches and a ragged coastline punctured by blowholes, caves and lagoons, while karst country, its hilly hinterland, is a sparsely populated, ethereal landscape of overgrown limestone peaks, quite unlike anything else on the island.
The north remained a relative backwater until Operation Bootstrap brought rapid industrialization to the coast after World War II, and today many of its larger communities are dominated by pharmaceutical plants and serve as little more than overspill towns for the capital. Proximity to San Juan partly explains the lack of hotels in the area, and though day-tripping sanjuaneros flood the coast at weekends and holidays, fuelling a mini-construction boom in condos and second homes, large stretches of oceanfront remain wild and unspoiled. The small settlements tucked away in the folds of karst country are far more inviting, remnants of the island’s once great coffee industry, while the hills themselves are best experienced on foot, hiking in one of several pristine forest reserves. This region also contains three of Puerto Rico’s most popular attractions: the gigantic radio telescope at the Observatorio de Arecibo, the subterranean wonderland of the Cavernas del Río Camuy and the Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Caguana, an evocative remnant of ancient Taíno culture.