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Casa Picaflores . . . Paradise has an address!
Here at Casa Picaflores, we do our best to balance the experience of a true Rainforest getaway experience with most of the amenities you're accustomed to at home. We offer comfort, tranquility and room to breathe. The night time melody of the tiny coqui frogs will enchant you. Awaken to birdsong, fresh picked fruit, sunshine and lush green foliage.
Our six-acre property is yours to explore and enjoy. A heavily-forested finca (farm) with many varieties of fruit trees (banana, coconut, passion fruit, acerola, breadfruit, soursop, orange, sweet lemon, tangerine, jackfruit, grapefruit, lime, avocado, mango, starfruit, jabodicaba, cacao, canastel, and others). We also have a wide variety of lovely tropical flowers and trees, such as Flamboyan, Heliconia, Bird-of-Paradise, Orchids and a number of distinct species of flowering Ginger. Paths through our mostly wooded property lead to a Rainforest stream on our rear boundary for a cool dip, yoga, or quiet contemplation.
Birdwatchers can find a great variety of Eastern Puerto Rican birds on our property, including the Puerto Rican Screech Owl, Lizard Cuckoo, Mangrove Cuckoo, Woodpeckers, Red-tailed and Sharp-shinned Hawks, Egrets, Bananaquits, Todys and many more.
You may borrow our Night Vision Minoculars for night time bird watching.
Nearby Activities and Attractions
Casa Picaflores' unique setting is in the foothills of the El Yunque mountains on the southern slopes. Our gardens are filled with rainforest flowers from Puerto Rico and Central America. Whether on the property or nearby you can bird watch and listen to the magic of the coqui frogs' melody at night. Our location provides wonderful opportunities for hiking practically in your own backyard. On top of all of this, we are within an easy drive of a number of picturesque beaches, snorkeling, surfing, hang-gliding and the ferries and planes out to the smaller islands of Vieques and Culebra.
Casa Picaflores is located in the municipality of Naguabo, just off road #191. This road was closed permanently, at the top, by a series of landslides. With travel between the two ends of the park cut off, the two entrances have evolved quite differently. The north side of the rain forest is closer to the airport and cruise ships, and thus has been developed for mass tourism (more than one million visitors per year). The southern side of El Yunque has escaped the tour buses and hordes, t-shirt and beach towel vendors, that characterize the northern side of the rainforest. Trails on our side of El Yunque are unpaved, signage is nonexistent, and one can hike for hours without seeing another soul. As a result of these factors, the rainforest hiking around Casa Picaflores is some of the best in Puerto Rico.
Hiking in Puerto Rico's El Yunque Rain Forest
Up the mountain are the waterfall hikes through El Yunque, crossing four rivers and ending at a stunning, secluded rain forest pool and waterfall on the Prieto River. Local trail guides lead all-day tours with running lectures on area history, botany and ecology. Bring your bathing suit so you can swim in the pool at the end of the hike. Less dexterous visitors delight in walking along the closed portion of Route 191, which stays very flat for about two miles along the side of the mountain. Orchids, ferns, bromeliads and small waterfalls line the road along this walk, and there are frequent views out across the island of Vieques and the Caribbean. Just down the road from us are a number of Taino petroglyphs, ideographic drawings etched by pre-Columbian Taino Indians in the massive boulders along the Rio Icaco.
All-Day Rainforest Guided Educational Hike
Learn the history of this land and its ecology, and natural wonders while hiking (about 2 hours easy hiking on this 6-8 hour tour) through Sierra palm rainforest, encountering four rivers and several beautiful viewpoints. A custom-tailored talk catering to a group's specific interests will include history, local folklore, ecology, plants, animals and herbal medicinal information. The tour is given in English or Spanish by fruit farmer Robin Phillips call : 787 874-2138
Follow the track of a 75 year-old mountain railroad built by more than two thousand men over a period of four years to bring electricity to the area by harnessing four rivers to a 1929 turbine generator still in use today. Learn the secrets of Puerto Rico's lost animals and native people, as well as why we receive one of the world's largest annual rainfalls and have some of the cleanest air and water left on earth.
Visit one of the most beautiful and remote waterfalls in Puerto Rico. where the still virgin-flora offers a peek into the jungles of past times. Weather permitting, scale the rock falls and ascend to a secluded jungle pool for a swim, where water is the purest left on the earth.
There is no time limit, but the all-day hike should begin at 10:00 AM. You should definitely bring a swim suit. I drink from mountain streams along the way using my hands. Bring water if you don't trust our mountain streams.
Fajardo Icacos, Palomino, and Palominito
A fifteen-minute drive north on the scenic coastal highway (53) brings our visitors to the town of Fajardo, the jumping-off point for transportation to the cays and islands off the eastern end of Puerto Rico. The Paradise island chain of Icacos, Lobos and Palominito lies between one and three miles off of Fajardo. A little further out is Cayo Diablo, a bird nesting refuge. These cays are prime destinations for white sand beaches and lush coral reefs in the clear turquoise waters.
Icacos is the nearest cay to the harbor in Las Croabas, Fajardo. The beach area is just about perfect; white sand, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and almost no one around (except on weekends). You'll need to take everything along that you might need; food, water, snorkeling equipment, bug spray, loose-fitting, light clothing, because there's nothing out there.
It's a Robinson Crusoe experience for independent travelers. You can spend the day on Icacos with drop off and pick up or you can charter a private boat with snorkeling teacher/guide for the day.
Visitors can also go out on the various catamarans that cruise the shallow seas around Fajardo: Prices for the catamarans are generally around $70/person, and include lunch buffet and boat drinks (and 50 other guests).
Playing Robinson Crusoe
A Day Trip to Cayo Icacos
Yesterday our group left the rainforest for a day trip out to Cayo Icacos, a small island just off the coast of Puerto Rico. We set up a trip with a local captain the day before, and got all of our grocery shopping done that evening. The morning of our trip we were all up, rubbing our eyes and mumbling, by 6:30 am, and out the door by 7:00. Half an hour later we were on the dock in Las Croabas (Fajardo) loading our things into Captain Mingo's boat. Very soon we were all settled in for our trip across the smooth, shallow seas.
Fifteen minutes later, a little before 8 a.m., Captain Mingo was tossing out his anchor near the white sand shoreline of Icacos. We hopped over the gunwales and waded ashore, floating our cooler on the placid water. We firmed up plans for our return with the captain, and he weighed anchor and slowly disappeared.
For the next two and a half hours, we were entirely alone on this seagrape and coconut palm island. We played in the crystal-blue waters, built improvised shelters from downed palm fronds, driftwood and towels, went snorkeling on the nearby reefs, and built awesome sandcastles (the likes of which will never be seen again!). At around 10:30 we were joined by a couple of snorkeling "cattlemarans," which were in the area for about an hour an a half before moving on to the next snorkeling spot.
We spent the early afternoon napping, doing nothing, picnicking, floating in the ocean, and doing more nothing. At 2:30 Captain Mingo reappeared; we began packing up our things, gathering trash, and getting cleaned off. Twenty minutes later we were back on dry land. The sunburnt half of our party went home to sleep it off; the others hung out in Las Croabas until evening, then went on the bioluminescent bay tour there.
For a family of four, round trip to Icacos, expect to pay between $80-110. Prices depend on gas prices, whether or not it's tourist season, sea conditions, weight of passengers, and individual captains. You can usually bargain down a bit from the first price quoted. If you're only a few people traveling together, visit the El Yunque Activities Message Board now, to round up your own tour group before ever setting foot in Puerto Rico. Groups of six or more tend to have some bargaining power.
You can reach U.S. Coast Guard-Certified Captain Domingo "Mingo" Nieves at (787) 383-6509; his English is better than mine. If Captain Mingo can't take you, his brother Octavio probably can. Both grew up in Las Croabas, and between them have more than eighty years experience working on boats. Mingo used to own and operate one of the charter catamarans in the area.
It's a good idea to take the following: light, long-sleeved clothes, insect repellent, plenty of fresh water, food, sunblock, and garbage bags. Consider a dry-bag for cameras, cellphones, etc. We ask that visitors bring an extra trash bag and do a small pickup of other people's trash. Open fires are not permitted, but barbecues are tolerated. Plan to leave the island no later than about 3 p.m., as the biting flies start to come out about that time.
To get to Las Croabas from Naguabo, take 53 north to Fajardo. At the first stop light turn right onto 9987. Follow this road all the way to the end, the loop encircling the park, with the ocean on your left. Boats for Icacos leave from the dock to your left. If you were unable to make a reservation with Mingo, the men sitting under the tree playing dominoes can take you out to Icacos (expect to pay more).
The Fajardo bioluminescent lagoon, or "Biobay" to locals, is a premier tourist attraction of Puerto Rico. Dinoflagellates -- tiny marine organisms, millions of them per gallon of water -- emit light when the water around them is disturbed. The result is something like millions of twinkling stars in each drop of water! It's a must-see for just about any visitor to the eastern end of the island.
There is another biobay on Vieques, but if you do that tour you have to spend the night on Vieques. If you're going to be out on Vieques for a night or two anyway, it might be worth doing the biobay there instead.
A number of different companies run nightly kayak tours out into the Biobay; we recommend Kayaking in Puerto Rico Tel. 787-435-1665, make your reservations well ahead. During the busy season they send out two groups; one at 6:30, and another at 9 p.m. Groups leave from Las Croabas, Fajardo, paddling two-seater, sit-on-top, can not sink, easy to balance ocean kayaks. Groups paddle down a narrow channel with mangroves on both sides until they reach the lagoon. Swimming is no longer allowed in the Fajardo biobay. Unfortunately there is no present provision for handicap people. We hope the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources will reconsider prohibiting the only motorboat trip that offered that needed service. It did not hurt the biobay in any way.
The bioluminescent bay in Fajardo is a must-see attraction for many, both tourists and locals. Tour operators send out groups of 10-40 people in double ocean kayaks, accompanied by 3-6 guides. The guides provide on-land kayaking instruction prior to the tour, as well as a brief explanation of the biology behind the "biobay." A 15-minute nighttime paddle down a narrow mangrove channel brings groups out into the lagoon. Tours generally spend 20-25 minutes swimming in the lagoon, which lights up when disturbed. This is a very impressive spectacle which cannot be captured properly by cameras. If at all possible, try to make a trip to the biobay during your stay.
Pictured to the left is the area in Las Croabas where the kayak tour companies pull up and launch. Be sure to have warm clothes and a dry towel waiting for you when you get back to your car; it can feel pretty cold at night. If you really want to bring a camera, make sure you bring a dry-bag as well. Most tour operators provide small snacks and refreshments at the end of the tour.
Take 53 north to the first stop light. Turn right onto 194. Stay on this road all the way to the end, at the large picnic area circled by the road. This is where the tour operators pull up. They bring large trailers full of kayaks and life vests.
Ferries and Flights to Vieques and Culebra
The current ferry schedule for travel between Fajardo and the islands is provided below. We make no guarantee regarding the accuracy of this schedule, other than a cast-iron guarantee that it will be inaccurate. Murphy's Law is much more powerful in and around the ferries and ferry terminals than anywhere else in the known universe. We recommend calling to confirm that the schedule is valid for whatever dates you are considering, and arriving early for your voyage. It is now possible to buy round-trip tickets, and we recommend doing so.
Tickets to Vieques are $2 each way, and $3 to Culebra. You can also fly to Vieques or Culebra from the airport in Fajardo; tickets are between $20-25 per person one-way, and flights are generally on-time. It takes fifteen minutes to fly to Culebra, or two hours by boat. The trip to Vieques by air is about the same, fifteen minutes, and about an hour and a half by ferry.
The ferries to Culebra and Vieques run approximately three times per day in each direction. For those contemplating day trips out to the "Baby Islands," because the trip each way ranges from one and a half to two hours, we do not recommend trying to take the ferries for day trips to either island.
Allow 25 minutes' driving time to reach the ferry terminal from the Cubuy bridge. Once in Fajardo, follow signs for "Embarcadero." Especially on weekends, it is advisable to arrive at the ferry terminal plenty early for your departure. The ferries frequently sell out. The ticket sales area (pictured below), across the street from the ferry terminal, is the first place to go when you arrive at the pier.
Directions to the ferry terminal:
To reach the ferries bound for Vieques and Culebra, take Route 53 north to Fajardo. At the first traffic light, at the end of the toll highway, turn right onto Route 194.
Follow 194 until you reach the next traffic light. Turn right, onto Route 195 East.
Follow 195 East; when you arrive at a fork in the road, stay to the right. The ferry terminal is about three blocks up, on the harbor. You may park in one of the lots surrounding the terminal.
Tickets are purchased in the building across the street from the terminal. There are different ticket windows for Culebra and Vieques.
There are a number of distinct beaches in and around the town of Luquillo; the Balneario (public beach with facilities), convenient food, bath, and changing facilities. Worth the $4 parking fee.
Playa Azul, one of the beaches in town and pictured here, has clear water and good coral reefs for snorkeling if the weather is particularly calm. Best beach for body surfing.
The other city beach, La Pared ("the Wall") is both a favorite surfing beach and a good place for children to pick up the sport. But, if it's rough it is very dangerous to swim here without a surfboard to hold onto.
It's worthwhile to check out the different beaches; the balneario for its conveniences, the beaches in town for their beauty. Check out the local food in the kiosks!
Please note: after heavy rains some of the beaches of Luquillo are dirty from the rivers dumping into them.
Seven Seas Beach, just north of Fajardo:
Seven Seas is a beach you can always count on to be safe to swim in, even after heavy rains - because there is no large river dumping contamination into this beautiful bay. Pay the $4 parking and go through the facility buildings and to the left. At the far left of this beach you can continue on a 20 minute walk on a dirt path in the woods to two gorgeous beaches. Playa Colorado is at the end of the right fork, gorgeously scenic, but if rough don't swim here. Taking the left fork you come out on the El Convento Beach, usually quite calm and beautiful with some nice snorkeling just offshore.
Please note: Seven Seas Beach is surrounded by nature reserve so the bugs can be fierce after 3 PM. be sure to leave this beach by then!
The Seven Seas Balneario in Las Croabas, Fajardo, isn't a great bathing beach but does offer very nice snorkelling. Park beyond the balneario, by the small trailer encampment. Walk out along the beach to the right for approximately a quarter-mile. You will find many nice corals and gorgeous fish in the clear waters just offshore here. Further out there are even underwater caves, for more experienced snorkellers. Consider wearing pool shoes, as the beach sand is fairly abrasive, and sea urchins are not uncommon.
This headland is part of the the Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Preserve, host to every kind of tropical ecosystem present in Puerto Rico. except for rain forest. It has dry forest, mangrove swamps, rocky beach and sandy beach, in addition to the coral reefs offshore and the bioluminescent bay contained within.
To get to Seven Seas Balneario, take 53 north to Fajardo. Turn right at the first light, onto P.R. Route 194. Continue on P.R. Route 194 for quite a while; when you pass the entrance to El Conquistador hotel, the road becomes road 987. The entrance to the balneario is approximately 3/4 mile ahead on your left.
Humacao offers a Nature Preserve [(787) 852-6088], Monday - Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; weekends and holidays until 5:30 p.m.
This nature preserve might be more interesting as you can explore on your own. Lovely walks by the lagoons and to the beaches (not good swimming - rip tides). Overlook the Atlantic and Caribbean from a seaside hilltop, as well as kayaking in the marshlands. It's popular with birdwatchers. You will see many many iguanas here.
Horseback Riding: At Palmas del Mar, an enormous resort and villas in Humacao, there is a well-respected horseback riding outfit, Rancho Buena VistaTel (787) 479-7479 , www.ranchobuenavistapr.com .
The Beaches of Naguabo and Punta Santiago:There is a long strip of beach that runs from the fishing village of Hucares (hoo-kah-ress), in the municipality of Naguabo, down to the beach town of Punta Santiago in Humacao. The road (Route 3) which runs alongside the beach offers fantastic, panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea, Vieques, Cayo Santiago ("Monkey Island"), and the mountainous southeastern corner of Puerto Rico. Yabucoa.
There are numerous sandy areas to pull off and park on the beach among palms and seagrapes, perhaps put up a hammock, and enjoy an afternoon at the beach. Across the road from the sea, in the tiny enclave of Tropical Beach, are a number of food vendors and small bars offering lobster, conch, crab, raw oysters, and a plethora of savory, deep-fried pastries as well as beer, pina coladas and other drinks. This is a much quieter beach area than those on the north side of the island. It's the Caribbean Sea; the people and the scenery are tranquil and relaxed.
Cayo Santiago, Monkey Island, or La Isla Mono are all names for the double-humped little island just off of Punta Santiago, where bands of rhesus monkeys are conducting behavioral research on scientists. The public is not allowed onto the island, but are allowed to pull up close by in boats. The snorkeling here is excellent, and the monkeys will often come down onto the beach to poke fun at tourists and yell at them in French patois.
Further down Route 3, inside the balneario (a government-maintained public beach, with restrooms, kiosks, etc.) of Punta Santiago, a newly opened waterpark is available to delight children and parents. The park is designed with smaller children in mind, and probably wouldn't be much of a thrill for a teenager. Still, it's a fun place to cool off and throw oneself down one of the more than ten slides that are there, oceanside. We would even recommend the waterpark to folks staying at the beach resorts in the area; the slides are a whole lot better than what the resorts have to offer. Check the schedule ahead of time, as it can vary greatly during different seasons of the year.
The Humacao Nature Preserve is located just a few hundred yards further down Route 3, on the left. Here you can watch hordes of iguanas run around, go kayaking in the lagoon (a great way to see herons, egrets, osprey and other waterbirds), or hike out to the World War II-era pillbox constructed high up a steep hillside over the ocean to keep watch for submarines and enemy naval activity in the Vieques Sound. Picnicking and fishing are popular pursuits here.
And of course, being on the east end of the island, you can catch some terrific sunrises. Monkey Island in the foreground, Monte Pirata (lookout point for the feared pirate Cofresi) on Vieques in the rear to the left.
We'll have much more information on Team Spirit Hang-Gliding within a very short time, but here is their contact info and one adventurer's review. This is truly an unforgettable part of any vacation.
Pre-Columbian Taino Petroglyphs
The Taino Indians believed Cubuy to be a sacred place, and conducted religious ceremonies here at the many waterfalls and pools in Cubuy. They made carvings in the enormous boulders, some of which are still visible today.