Spending time in caves full of bats might not be the first idea that comes to mind when one is planning a vacation in Puerto Rico. However, many people can’t envision a trip to the island without a stop at Las Cuevas de Camuy. This cave system, formed through natural erosion over the course of millions of years, runs along part of the Camuy River, one of the largest underground rivers in the world.
It turns out that Camuy owes much of its popularity to José A. Martínez Oquendo, a speleologist -that is, a person who studies caves- who first suggested that a public park be opened here to let the public experience this ecosystem. Inside the 268-acre park, the official name of which is Parque de las Cavernas del Río Camuy, visitors can descend via trolley down to two major landmarks: Clara Cave and Los Tres Pueblos sinkhole. The immensity of their dimensions puts nature in perspective in an island mostly thought of as “small.” Non-claustrophobic types seeking a more challenging experience can arrange an expedition with a tour company in order to venture into narrower parts of the caves closed off to the general public. The parks features a sculpture by Kansas-born sculptor Tom Otterness titled El Coquí Gigante, many times de size of this tiny frog (tiny, but a national symbol).
During Spanish rule Camuy’s economy was dependent on sugarcane. Some of its sugar mills were active through the later part of the 20th century. In 1985, Destilería Serrallés, Inc. -makers of popular rum Don Q— bought out various other brands and their distilleries around the island. Among these was Camuy’s own Palo Viejo rum distillery, now in ruins.
In downtown Camuy stands a neo-classical building from another era, El Antiguo Casino Camuyano. It used to be both a cultural and political center for the town, but as its current name suggests, its “antique” hallways are not in use anymore, nor are they open to the public. Still, as with all Puerto Rican towns, walking around town by foot can yield new insights into the island’s history – like stumbling upon La Iglesia de Piedra (the Church of Stone), built in 1912, or the Museo de Historia y Cultura de Camuy.