Yabucoa, PR – The City of Sugar

Yabucoa is located in a fortuitously fertile valley. The town has been labeled “El Pueblo de Yuca” and “La Ciudad del Azúcar,” both in reference to the crops successfully grown there by its inhabitants throughout the ages.

Yuca, known also as cassava, is a starchy root tuber high in carbs. Puerto Ricans either steam or fry their yuca, often topping it with mojo (a mix of olive oil and chopped garlic). Yuca is also used as an ingredient for other dishes: it can be mashed into a paste and formed into rectangular meat-filled pies known as pasteles. The plant was not only a staple of the indigenous taínos, it was one of their main sources of nutrients and considered a gift from their main deity, Yukiyú. Notice the similarity in sound between these words, and you might guess that the name Yabucoa is itself derived from them: taínos called it so to mean “the place where yuca is cultivated.”

Flash forward to the Puerto Rico of the 19th century, when wealthy hacendados started turning the island into one of the world’s main producers of sugar. Yabucoa’s Central Roig, or Roig Refinery, was crucial to the economic development of this region through the early 20th century, when the reign of King Sugar came to an end. Still, this refinery remained active until the year 2000, way past the closing of hundreds of others. History buffs might want to stop by Yabucoa and spot the still-standing old mill.

Yabucoa might not be famous for its beaches, but hideaways such as Lucía Beach provide a nice respite for those traveling along Puerto Rico’s eastern coast. The coastal region of Punta Yeguas is home to several endangered bird species like the grasshopper sparrow, under protection since 2000 within the Inés María Mendoza de Muñoz Natural Reserve. The reserve is named after the conservationist wife of Puerto Rico’s first elected governor. Visitors can seek out Piedra Blanca, an enormous white stone located in the barrio Jácana Piedra Blanca within the town’s mountainous region, for a breathtaking view of both the coast and the valleys of Yabucoa.

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