In 2001, researchers from University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez determined that the geographical center of the island was located at the Pellejas ward of the municipality of Orocovis. The town was originally founded in 1825, deep in the heart of the Cordillera Central, in the region once ruled by a taíno chief, or cacique, known as Orocovix. To this day Orocovis continues to contribute to and revitalize Puerto Rican culture.
For one there’s the folk art tradition of wood-carved saints, dating from the Spanish conquest. One of the foremost authorities on this art, Celestino Avilés, has been credited with keeping the tradition alive. He founded the Museo Orocoveño, known locally as the Museo de la Familia Avilés, where visitors can eye his signature works. Celestino’s “santos” are unpainted wood-carved saints with their eyes closed to show their religious solemnity.
Agriculture is the backbone of the area’s economy, and many local farmers have decided to take upon a more active role in promoting the fruits of their labor. One of their recent strategies was the Festival del Pastel, inaugurated in 2001. The farmers chose the Puerto Rican staple known as “pasteles” to headline their festival because many of the ingredients used to prepare this dish are grown in this region. Tradition holds that they were part of the native taíno diet. Pasteles look similar to tamales, but they are made out of different types of “masa”: mashed plantains or yucca are among the more typical ingredients. They can also have a wide variety of fillings, but pork and chicken –prepared with sofrito, olives, and raisins– are the most common. Once shaped into rectangles, the pasteles are wrapped inside a banana leaf and boiled until perfection.
Explorers can find waterfalls at La Guaira Recreational Area or Chorro de Doña Juana, or venture to the Toro Negro Forest Reserve with its many outdoor activities. At the reserve, do not miss the Doña Juana Recreational Center, featuring the only large outdoor swimming pool in the island fed by natural sources from the mountains. Visitors can also survey the island from a lookout tower 2,000 feet above sea level called Mirador Orocovis-Villalba. Here it becomes clear why, even before the engineers got to measuring the island, Orocovis had been known as “El Pueblo Corazón,” that is, The Town at the Heart of Puerto Rico.