Isabela, PR – Garden of the Northwest

Isabela is a northwestern coastal municipality that features enough local attractions to make it a vacation spot onto itself. There’s of course the Guajataca State Forest, which it shares with Quebradillas. Hikers will revel in the intricate trail system, a map of which can be picked up at the ranger station during “reasonable” hours. Bird-watchers will delight at the 45 species of birds here, including the guaraguaos (taíno name for the red-tailed hawk). The reserve also features picnic areas and an observation tower.

Visitors should not forget to sample the famous local specialty of “quesito de hoja,” a lightly salted type of white cheese. Isabela is also known for its expert woodcarvers, many of whom specialize in hand-carved statues of saints. They are known as santeros, although they don’t necessarily practice santería like their namesakes. Isabela is also known as the Garden of the Northwest. It has served as breeding grounds for both Paso Fino horses (known for their graceful, smooth gait) and bantams for cockfighting (still legal to some degree on the island).

During the 16th century, this area was the site of one of the largest native taíno uprisings against the Spaniards. The chief Mabodomaca was one of the leaders of the revolt. Isabelinos honor this cacique with a carved bust known by locals as La Cara del Indio. Leyend says that as Mabodomaca threw himself into the waves to escape capture, his guanín (gold medallion) fell off and is still waiting to be found in the depths of the ocean.

For most tourists, however, Isabela’s main attractions are the sand and the sea. Unlike some nearby towns with rougher shores, Isabela’s beaches are a spectacular destination, among them Playa de Jobos and Playa el Pastillo, with its sugarcane railroad tunnel of yesteryear.

There are various accommodations and restaurants right on the ocean, making it even harder to leave. To some it might all seem rustic. Perhaps the architecture gives away some of the area’s Mediterranean heritage. But a dip in the ocean later, one’s only thought is “Paradise!”.

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