The mountain town of LARES is often bypassed by foreign visitors, its shabby centre and weathered buildings evidence of prolonged hard times. Yet its citizens are some of the most welcoming on the island, proud of their central role in the Grito de Lares of 1868, the most significant Puerto Rican rebellion against the Spanish and commemorated solemnly here every year on September 23. Indeed, revered independence activist Pedro Albizu Campos is supposed to have said “Lares is Holy Land, and as such, it must be visited kneeling down.” Lares isn’t all serious, however: Campos would no doubt be mortified by the monument honouring the slightly less heroic (but equally famous) local girl Denisse Quiñones, who in 2001 became the fourth Puerto Rican to win the Miss Universe title, and even if the history doesn’t interest you, the town’s celebrated ice cream more than justifies a visit.
The town is centred around the Plaza de la Revolución and its large Spanish Colonial-style church, the Iglesia de Parroquia San José de la Montaña (usually open daily). Its wide vaulted interior has antique tiled floors and a beautifully carved wooden retablo – the rebels placed their revolutionary flags here to signal the beginning of the 1868 revolt. After the well-attended Mass on Sundays, worshippers eat fried snacks at the Kiosko de la Iglesia, beneath the church on the plaza, only open on Sunday mornings. In front of the church are the main memorials to the Grito: the all-white Obelisco, an austere pillar flanked by flagpoles honouring the six heroes of 1868; the Arbol de Tamarindo behind it, a tamarind tree from Simón Bolívar’s estate in Venezuela, symbol of the struggle for freedom in Latin America; and the Monumento a Betances, a statue of the leader of the rebels, Ramón Emeterio Betances.
Walk down the hill from the plaza (north along Calle Campos) and a couple of blocks on the right is the Museo de Lares (t787/563-7883), with an odd collection of photos, documents and bric-a-brac relating to the history of Lares, as well as local contemporary art.
Lares is also home to one of Puerto Rico’s “Coffee Zone” haciendas, Café Lareño (t787/897-3643), south of Lares, at PR-128 km 40. Call in advance to be given a tour of the premises.