Vega Alta, PR – The Squatters

If one beach-hops west starting from the San Juan Metro area and past Dorado, along Puerto Rico’s northern coast, one is sure to hit Vega Alta’s Balneario Cerro Gordo. The facilities within this beach are extensive, including food kiosks and camping grounds (for a fee). The balneario is popular in itself for both swimming and diving. Further inland lies the Vega Alta Forest. This reserve is popular for its hiking trails. There are also various caves and sinkholes, as well as recreational facilities where one can rest one’s weary feet.

The town was first founded in 1775. Over time it acquired the nickname of Pueblo de los ‘Ñangotaos. The verb “eñangotarse” is Puerto Rican slang for squatting, something the country workers, or “jíbaros,” had to do as they waited at the benchless train station.

Vega Alta is host to wide variety of festivals throughout the year. Sure, there’s the “fiesta patronal,” held in honor of the Immaculate Conception. Still, it would be a shame to pass up such unique celebrations as the Festival de la Chiringa’s kite-flying contest (April), the breadfruit recipes at Festival del Panapén (July), and the musical feast that is the Festival de la Guitarra, perfect for kicking off the Christmas season (December).

The nearby municipality of Dorado might often steal this region’s thunder with its fabulous tourist resorts, but most people never realized that the famed Cerromar Beach Hotel (now indefinitely closed down) actually lay on Vega Alta’s shores. Still, the influx of local and foreign tourists to these coastal towns guarantees that, by accident or by “trying to find a shopping mall around here!” (that would be Centro Gran Caribe), people will discover Vega Alta’s charms.

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