Utuado, PR – City of the Viví

The municipality of Utuado is located towards the western side of Puerto Rico’s Central Mountain Range. Its name reflects this, as it is adapted from the taíno “Otoao,” which meant “mountains between mountains.” Many rivers criss-cross its landscape, including the important Río Viví.

In the barrio of Caguana lies one of Utuado’s –and the Caribbean’s– most important historical sites, the Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Caguana. This archeological site was once a taíno ceremonial center, probably the largest in the island at the time of the conquest. It was first discovered in 1915 and later dug up. The site is now a National Historic Landmark and is open to visitors.

The taínos didn’t have baseball diamonds, but they did have bateyes, which were open air, stone-lined ball courts. The center features about a dozen bateyes of different shapes and sizes. Not only did the game of batey have ceremonial significance, but the taínos also celebrated their areytos here. Areyto ceremonies were much like festivals, full of singing and dancing, theater, and drinking. The center also features a museum with artifacts and petrogliphs, most of which were recently restored for better visibility.

A visit to Utuado is likely to involve immersing oneself in nature, whether it be at the Bosque Estatal de Río Abajo or nearby Lago Dos Bocas. There are facilities for visitors (picnic areas, bathrooms), and camping is allowed with a permit. This forest features hiking trails under huge caoba trees and an intricate cave system. At the lake, on the other hand, free boat rides are offered around El Embarcadero, a U-shaped dock. At the end of the trip, it’s time to make up one’s mind between the criollo cuisine restaurants, like El Fogón de Abuela, lining the shore of Dos Bocas.

Throughout its history Utuado was exploited for its resources, first for gold by early Spanish settlers who used taíno slaves, then during the 19th century coffee boom, during which the java bean gained the nickname “black gold.” Utuado is still one of the main coffee producers in Puerto Rico, but the island exports much less these days, and so the focus is on a superior quality product. A visit around town will reveal many wonders of colonial architecture that the municipality preserves with as much care as the taíno ceremonial grounds, proving that Utuado’s heart is still golden.

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