Smack-dab in the middle of northwestern Puerto Rico’s “Karst Country” lies the municipality named after San Sebastián, also its patron saint. One of its curious nicknames is Town of Pepinianos, after the haystack-like hills formed by the karst, here called pepinos (known also as mogotes).
San Sebastián celebrates an annual Hammock Festival, typically during the first week of July, where shoppers can find hamacas in a wide variety of weaving styles. As is typical of Puerto Rican festivities, there’s also music, food vendors, and other family-friendly attractions. Visitors at any other time of the year should not miss the weekly agricultural bazaar held at Plaza Agropecuaria. The town, after all, has been a major agricultural center from its inception, cultivating all kinds of crops and specializing in cattle farming. At the entrance to the town, a statue of a heifer commemorates this fact.
The town dates back to 1752, when it was founded by Captain Cristóbal González de la Cruz. A century later the town had accumulated immigrants from Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, as well as Spain’s Cataluña and Vasconia regions. They would make San Sebastián their home and help to lead the coffee industry to the forefront of the island’s economy.
San Sebastián is one of the municipalities bordering Lake Guajataca which, despite its native-sounding name, did not exist during taíno times but rather was created in 1929 with the assistance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This dammed reservoir is popular with fishing aficionados (with permits) hoping to catch some tucunare. The lake area is considered a wildlife reserve, and it hosts both a parador and a Boy Scout camp. The Guajataca River feeds the lake, and visitors can take a relaxing boat ride along its rapids. Another river, Río Juncal, runs close by to two caves, La Bruja and Negro, which along with the gorgeous Las Cataratas waterfall are worth exploring.
As with all municipalities in Puerto Rico, the town plaza at San Sebastián is at the center of the municipality’s history. Its Parrish of Saint Sebastian the Martyr was originally built in 1759. Perhaps the most stunning structure, however, is the early 20th century residence of María Luisa Rodríguez de Negrón. Not only is the architecture beautiful, but its well-tended gardens and its small residents, small birds known as golondrinas, echo the fantastical nature of San Sebastián’s surroundings.