The northern municipality of Toa Baja lies on the very fertile northern coastal plains. The Spanish colonizers settled early in this area, building what was known as Hacienda La Real. The area afforded them various opportunities for both agriculture and fishing. The town was founded in 1745, when it was known as “La Ciudad Bajo Aguas,” which stands for The Underwater City. Over the years various wards separated from Toa Baja and formed their own municipalities, including what are now Toa Alta and Dorado. Toa Baja nowadays might be smaller geographically but its rich history and culture have given imbued it with charm to spare.
Many large haciendas sprang up during the island’s first sugarcane boom in the 19th century. Owners took advantage of still-legal slave labor, and so they faced various revolts from the African workers. Among these haciendas were Santa Elena and Media Luna. At the Central Constancia, visitors can also find the fabulously-preserved steam locomotive used to transport sugarcane. The train is now located in front of theater and cultural center Anfiteatro Julita Ross, where it is known by locals as “El Trencito de Levittown.”
One of Puerto Rico’s cultural heroes was a toabajeño. Poet, teacher, and politician Virgilio Dávila’s work emphasized the preservation of Puerta Rican values and traditions in the face of impending Americanization. It is a testament to the power of his words that his poems, such as “La Tierruca” and “No des tu tierra al extraño” -the latter of which urged farmers not to sell their land for cheap to wealthy Americans- are still widely read and recognized.
The small island known as Isla de Cabras, located at the western tip of the San Juan Bay, is accessible from Toa Baja’s Palo Seco ward. The isle affords visitors one of the most beautiful views of the capital city. Further west, Toa Baja offers a well-kept and very popular swimming beach, Balneario Punta Salinas.