Gozalandia Waterfall…If You Can Find It, You’ll Love it!

Road trips are often an adventure. You can discover great places, and have interesting experiences along the way to your intended destination. This is our road trip to Gozalandia waterfall in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico.

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Gozalandia Waterfall

We leave San Juan bright and early, the whole family packed into the car like sardines. Happy ones, though. We have food and music and a sense of adventure. Our nephew and his girlfriend are in the car in front of us, leading the way. Somehow things go awry west of Arecibo. We should be heading inland towards San Sebastian, but we seem to be going somewhere else. We follow along until we realize that we are definitely lost. But where we are lost is amazing. We have somehow ended up in Bosque Estatal De Guajataca, a beautiful forest with a tiny winding road leading through the trees. We even find a tower to climb to further enjoy the view. Our poor young tour guides are getting stressed, but they shouldn’t be. This was worth getting lost for!IMG_0442

We eventually find ourselves on a familiar road and make it to San Sebastian and Gozalandia Waterfall. There is a parking lot where we pay $5 to park. We grab our towels and cooler full of beer and snacks and make our way down the decidedly treacherous trail to the bottom of the falls. It is muddy, steep and slippery, but manageable. It’s worth all the effort. The waterfall is beautiful, maybe 50 to 60 feet high, and cascades down over the rocks, creating hidden caves. It doesn’t take us long to drop our gear and jump into the cool water. We scramble up the rocks on the left of the waterfall and creep behind the pounding water. It’s very thrilling. From there, we watch as the bravest people jump from high up on the wall into the pool. Exploring the area, we find a small cave to the right of the falls that we can swim into. It’s small, only big enough for a few people at a time. I can’t convince some of our group to try; it just looks too scary. It isn’t a long swim to the air pocket inside, though. I’m able to grab my daughter’s hand and pull her into me. It’s a day of fun swimming, jumping and exploring.

We find out later that there is actually another waterfall farther upstream, but by then everyone is too tired to explore. Apparently there is a rope you can use to swing out into the deep pool. Next time!

Helpful info:

Obviously, I cannot give great directions here! I have researched online and found these GPS coordinates, which everyone seems to use. Try them and see –  18.358268,-66.986489

There are a lot of hiking trails and caves to explore in Bosque Estatal de Guajataca. That is next on my list when we visit again. If you are going out to Gozalandia, though, you may want to do a little research and make a day of it.

Bring snacks and drinks, as there is nothing at the falls. I don’t go anywhere without my Olympus Stylus Tough Camera, as it is water proof and shock proof. That makes it perfect for these kinds of adventures.

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Jumping off the cliff

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Behind the Falls

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The view from behind the falls

 

 

 

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A Day in El Yunque National Rainforest

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La Coca Falls

The jungle closes in quickly. Huge green leaves, bamboo trees and vines surround us. The sun is blocked by the green canopy overhead. Underfoot is a slightly muddy trail that zig-zags down the hill. I see a few snails clinging to the tree when I stop to wait for the others. My family is in El Yunque National Rainforest on La Coca Trail, hiking to our ultimate destination, a waterfall hidden in the jungle.

Well, it’s not really hidden, but this trail is seldom used and doesn’t even appear on some of the maps of the Park. That is what makes it so great! It is a short hike down to a river crossing – maybe a bit more than a half mile. Once there, we turn left and walk on the rocks up the river to the waterfall. We are, as usual, the only people here. It is a two-tiered waterfall, and you can climb to the middle of it using the rocks on the right. There are hand and foot holds in the black rock that make it possible to get up and down. Not without some danger, however. I stand in the middle of the river, with part of the waterfall behind me and the rest flowing in front of me. Suddenly I lose my footing on the slippery rock and crash to the ground. Ouch. Rock doesn’t have much give to it!

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Big Tree Trail

After playing in the water for a while, we climb up the trail that was so easy coming down. We make good time, so we get back in the car and drive to our next hike. The Big Tree Trail leads to La Mina waterfall. It is a nice trail, very well marked, with lots of big trees, snails, vines and Jurassic-looking leaves to keep us entertained. At the bottom is the very popular waterfall, La Mina. We take pictures and the brave ones go swimming up under the falls. The water is pushing hard so you can’t handle being under it for long. There are two trails to reach the waterfall, Big Tree and La Mina. Both are nice, but Big Tree is more interesting, in my opinion. La Mina trail is paved in some places and has stairs in others.

If you are still feeling energetic, there is another hike we like. This one takes us up into the clouds (and rain, of course – this is a rainforest!) The Mount Britton trail has a stone walkway that leads us through more great jungle scenery, gives access to a river to cool off and affords us nice scenic vistas along the way. At the top, we climb the Mount Britton tower, but we can’t see anything but clouds. The way they are moving so fast around us is beautiful and, surprisingly for the tropics, cold!

After a full day of hiking, we are ready to hit the beach and have a piña colada. We drive back down out of the hills and head to the balneario (public beach) at Luquillo. This is a perfect place to have a drink, soak in the sun and eat some tasty empanadas.  Another great day in paradise!

Helpful info:

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La Mina

http://www.fs.usda.gov/elyunque

El Yunque is about 30 – 40 minutes from San Juan. Take Route 66 until it ends at Route 3. Continue on Route 3 East until you see the large sign on your right advertising El Yunque. Take a right on Route 191 and follow it as it winds up the mountain. Once in the Park, you will see a sign for El Portal Visitor’s Center. http://www.elyunque.com/elportal.htm  They have a lot of information, a gift shop and bathrooms, if you want to visit it. There is a $3 per person fee to enter the Center. You can print trail maps online if you do not want to go into El Portal. You can also find bathrooms at some of the larger trailheads, like La Mina.

La Coca Trail is just after La Coca Falls, which you can’t miss because they are right by the road. Look for the sign at around km 8 on the left. There is a small parking area and a trail map. The actual trail is much longer that what we did. If you are really looking to go adventuring, keep going past the first river crossing. The whole trail takes between 3 and 4 hours.

Big Tree Trail is at km 10.2 on Route 191. There is parking at the trailhead. First you pass the Yokahú Tower, which is nice to climb if you have time.

To get to the Mount Britton Trail, you need to go to km 12 and take a right onto Route 930. There is a sign for the trailhead and parking. At one point in the trail, you will reach a service road. If you continue up it and then to the right, you will get to the tower. Come back down the way you came up.

The rain forest is a great place to have a waterproof camera. We use the Stylus Olympus Tough and love it.

Good luck and happy hiking!

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The Joy of Diving in Puerto Rico

Into the abyss diveThe sky is a perfect cerulean, with not a cloud to be seen. The water is that wonderful Caribbean aquamarine that you see in pictures. It is 86 degrees in the sun and it’s not even 9 am. The waves roll the boat a bit uncomfortably for some. I can see my husband, Rafael, turning a bit green as he prepares his dive gear. We need to get under those waves quickly. One giant stride off the back of the boat and we are in the 80 degree water. Once the rest of the group joins us, down we go. We are diving “La Pared” in Guanica, Puerto Rico and it is a beautiful day for it.Leslie under the bridge dive

The visibility is about 65 feet so there is a lot to see. We follow the wall (la pared) down into what looks like an abyss. I have no idea how far down that goes, but it is very dark down there. I keep waiting for some giant creature to come swimming out of the dark at me. I can’t decide if I want that or not. I love seeing big animals, but I can do without being startled while underwater. We see black coral, a beautiful spotted eel and some colorful parrot fish on our way down.hundred feet closeup

Before I know it, we are at 100 feet, the deepest we have ever been. Actually, to be perfectly honest, I am at 104 because I lose track of my depth, but I don’t think about that because I’m not supposed to go any deeper than 100! It is much easier than I thought it would be. Once your ears have acclimated, there really is no difference between 70 and 100 feet. We enjoy our exploration before heading back to the surface.

Fan corals enhacedOur next dive is only to about 60 feet but it is just as amazing, like diving in a garden full of coral and colorful fish. I love this dive because there are caverns and valleys to explore, fish to follow and even a statue of a mermaid, which gives the dive site its name, Little Mermaid. Diving on days like this, at sites like these is why I dive. It gives me an incredible feeling of joy and wonder. If I could smile with a regulator in my mouth, I would. There is nothing quite like this on Earth.

Helpful info:

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

You have to be certified for these dives. Look for PADI certification in your area. You can do the classroom work near you and then do the certification dives somewhere warm like Puerto Rico if you want. Rafael and I didn’t do that. We dove in the ocean off Maine for our certification. It was awfully cold and the only thing we saw was lobsters!

We used Island Scuba, located in Guanica, on the southern coast of Puerto Rico for these dives. They do have Discover Dives for people who are not certified, but I have never done those, so I can’t say how good they are. They take photos of you and send you them for free, which is very nice! I found them to be professional, knowledgeable and friendly. http://www.sanjuandiver.com/

 

 

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Gilligan’s Island…More Than a 3-hour Tour

The kayak moves through the clear blue water with ease. I feel the water from Rafael’s oar dripping on my back and it feels great on my hot skin. The sun is shining, the water is calm and Gilligan’s Island grows bigger every second as we close in. I look to my left and see Rachel with her two cousins paddling as fast as they can. With their erratic steering, they’ll be lucky to make it to the island at all!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our group of four kayaks pulls up to a small beach in the mangrove forest that is Gilligan’s (spelled Guilligan’s by locals to get the hard G sound) Island. The Island is actually divided into a few pieces of land separated by narrow canals. We go to the one that is closest to the mainland, which is not the one where the ferry boat takes passengers. Being on the smaller island gives us more privacy and quiet, as the crowds tend to stay where the ferry drops them.

While the others unload the coolers and bags, Rafael and I take our kayak out exploring. The narrow canals have an amazing current. Later, we all go and snorkel through them. When we get tired of swimming, we hold onto the mangrove roots. If we let go, we are pushed back the way we came. It’s a great workout! One canal we swim against the current, but coming back through the other one is a breeze as we are pulled back to the start.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After our swim, we relax on inner tubes in the water while some of the others kayak to an island in the distance. We drink our beers and relax in the sun before we all picnic on the sand. Gilligan’s Island is a great place to relax, explore and get away from it all.

Can I do this adventure?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult

Courage Level: 1 This is an easy day. Kayaking, lying in the sun, snorkeling and munching on goodies is a wonderful way to spend a day.

Fitness Level: 2 Gilligan’s Island is only about 10 to 15 minutes by kayak to the mainland. You can take your time, go at your own pace.

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There are no facilities except an outhouse on the bigger island (which you want to avoid if at all possible!) You must bring water at least. We have a fabric collapsible cooler that can be packed into a suitcase. We use it every time we are at a beach away. Also, make sure you have lots of sunscreen, maybe a hat and sun shirt and some bug spray, just in case. We had some inner tubes that you can buy at home and pack. Without air in them, they are tiny! They make the day more relaxing since there is not a lot of room to spread out on the island. If you have snorkels and masks, bring them. We didn’t see a lot of colorful fish, but it makes it easier to swim around the island.

More info?

We rented our kayaks from Gilligan’s View Apartments. They do not list anything about it on their web site, but call them. They have kayaks, even one that fits 3 people. We paid $20 per adult and $10 per child to rent them for the whole day. They don’t take credit cards and won’t guarantee the kayaks will be there if you get there late. Go early. We arrived by 8:30 am and we called them on our way to reassure them that we were coming.

To get there from San Juan, you will take Route 52 over the mountains and through Ponce. After Ponce, it will turn into Route 2 West. Continue to Guanica and take the exit for 116R. As you near the town of Guanica, you will take a left onto Route 333. This is a small, beautiful winding road. Gilligan’s View Apartment will be on your right, number 27. You will pass the place where the ferry takes people to the Island.  Plan on about 2 hours to get there from San Juan.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My advice: DO NOT GO TO THE ISLAND IN THE SUMMER! It is very popular with locals and will be mobbed with people. Avoid weekends as well, if you can. If you don’t want to kayak and want to take the ferry (for about $7 per person,) wade over to the smaller island when you get dropped off. It’s much better than being stuck with everyone else.

This post also appears at http://clapway.com/

Feel the Rush; a River Slide Adventure in Puerto Rico

“I climb up the slippery rocks with my sister-in-law. We eye the torrent of water that is flowing to our right and try to figure out where we should get in. I slowly climb into the middle of the river slide, holding on to the rocks at the side while I get my bearings…and my courage! I let go and race down the smooth river rock. I twist and turn as I pick up speed. With a splash I hit the pool at the bottom. What fun! I just took a ride on the natural water slide called Las Pailas (or Paylas) in Luquillo, Puerto Rico….”

Please go to Clapway to read the rest of my article. I’m doing a whole series on Puerto Rico, a place very close to my heart. There will be stories of adventures, day-trips and the inside scoop that only a local can give you.

http://clapway.com/2015/01/13/puerto-rico-day-trips-adventures-and-the-inside-scoop123/

Enjoy!

 

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Rappelling the Waterfall

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStanding at the bottom of the 80 ft. waterfall I just rappelled, I turn to look up at our 12-year-old daughter Rachel, who is about to make her descent. I know my husband Rafael is up there giving her last-minute pointers. The spray from the falls hits me in the face and chest, so I move back a bit and stand in a sunny spot to warm up. I’m in a shady canyon where it is remarkably cool for a tropical rain forest. I see Rachel as she leans her body out, her feet firmly planted on the slippery rock. She slowly lets the rope out and inches her feet down the rock face, picking up speed as she goes. I lose sight of her as she goes behind an outcropping of rocks, when suddenly she is here.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA “Great job, Rachel,” I yell, over the roar of the waterfall. In seconds she is down, standing in the water next to me. “That was awesome,” she says. I have to agree. We are in the San Salvador rain forest of Puerto Rico on a hiking, rappelling and zip lining adventure, and we are having a blast.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rafael’s family lives in Puerto Rico, so we come here a lot. We are always trying something different. The great thing about Puerto Rico is that there are so many things to try! Today we are hiking and scrambling up river rocks in the beautiful and secluded mountains of Caguas, former home of the Taino Indians. River hiking is so much fun; we don’t worry about overheating! Sometimes we have to use ropes to pull ourselves up steep rocks. Other times we rely on our rock climbing skills. We hike through water up to our knees, then switch to dry land for a while.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we climb to another beautiful area, we are rewarded with a break. There are small waterfalls surrounding us as the people in our group take seats on rocks, enjoy a snack and snap pictures. Everyone is in a great mood, just enjoying the scenery.

After we do the big rappel, we are on the downhill part of our journey. This goes much faster because we get to do it by zip line! Five of them, one 400 feet long. It’s fun, especially as you pick up lots of speed! Poor Rachel doesn’t weigh enough to make hers go fast – she actually has to pull herself to the end on one of them. This is where a little weight is a good thing!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Once we reach the bottom again, we change out of our wet clothes and enjoy a traditional Puerto Rican meal prepared by the family who owns the land we are enjoying. It’s late for lunch and we have worked up an appetite. We all gather around and devour the delicious fish, rice and beans. This is a great way to end a fantastic adventure!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Can I do this adventure?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most challenging.

Courage Level: 3 – We rock climb so rappelling is not scary for us, but judging by the other people in the group, it takes a lot of courage to go over the edge of that waterfall! Everyone was very encouraging, though, so people could take their time. It’s all about trusting the equipment. That’s really why we don’t get nervous, even Rachel. We have experience with climbing equipment and trust it won’t break.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fitness Level: 3 – You need to be in reasonably good shape to do this tour. You don’t need to be a super athlete, but you will be belaying up rocks, hiking in rivers and basically moving uphill at a steady pace for a couple hours.

What do I need to bring?

Wear a bathing suit and light, quick drying clothes.  Do not wear jeans or cotton pants; they will just weigh you down when they get wet. Wear shorts (or capris) that are long enough that the climbing harness will be on the clothing, not your skin, because you will be wearing it for most of the day. You might want a long sleeved shirt for after your rappel. It’s shady in the canyon and being cold is not fun.

You can bring a small backpack with snacks, water and your long-sleeved shirt, if you are bringing it. We only brought one pack, which Rafael and I took turns carrying. The van will stop at Walgreens as a last stop if you need to buy something to eat. Bring a waterproof bag if you need anything like a phone or wallet. You will be very wet. (You can keep things in their van, but if you feel better having them with you, they need to keep dry!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wear lace-up sneakers, light-weight hiking shoes or water shoes. They need to be sturdy enough that you won’t be turning your ankles as you traverse the river rocks. We have light–weight travel hiking boots, and we set them out in the sun the next day and they dried. You might not want to plan this adventure for the day before you get on a plane or you will have very wet shoes to take home!

This was a perfect adventure for our Olympus Stylus Tough shockproof and waterproof camera. I carried it down the waterfall with it around my wrist, banging against the rocks the whole way. Then I stood in the water taking pictures. It was great because I never worried about it. I actually carried it like that all day, so I would have it handy when I wanted to take a photo. If you have a camera like that, take it with you!

Any more useful info?

We used Eco-Quest for our tour guide. They were great. Our guides were knowledgeable, friendly and concerned with safety. I liked that they worked with locals in terms of providing lunch for us.

http://ecoquestpr.com/ecoa.html