Follow La Ruta del Corazón Criollo in Caguas
Caguas is a wonderful small city, just 20 minutes south of San Juan, that offers many things to do for visitors. One of those things is La Ruta del Corazón Criollo (the Route to the Heart of Creole). It is a self-guided walking tour to 12 museums and places of interest, all within a few blocks around the town square. These museums provide visitors some insight into the history of Caguas and Creole (meaning the Puerto Rican people and their culture).
Your first stop is the Caguas Tourism Office, on the corner of Muñoz Rivera and Ruíz Belvis streets, right on the Main Plaza in Caguas. They have a friendly, bilingual staff who are really helpful with information about the town of Caguas and things to do in the area. They have of phamplets about each stop on La Ruta (currently only in Spanish) and a map of the route. For the kids, they have a souvenir Pasaporte (Passport), that the kids can have stamped at each stop along the way.
The museums on La Ruta are almost all in restored, antique buildings, so you will get a good idea of 19th century Puerto Rican architecture. And all are free to enter. Some of the museums have bilingual signage, and some don’t. But most of the guides will be happy to help translate and give a tour in English.
The Caguas Tourism Office also offers free auido tours in English or Spanish. You can rent their equipment, or you will be able (in the future) to download the tours from their website to your own MP3 player. La Ruta is easy to follow — they have put mosaic tiled arrows in the sidewalks for you to follow!
Museum of Caguas
El Museo de Caguas is located just a few doors to the right of the Toursim Office, at the Casa Alcaldia (Office of the Mayor). This museum is on the right as you walk into the entrance area.
This museum presents the history of Caguas, from the indigenous people who lived in the Turabo Valley of Caguas, up to the present day. This was our favorite museum, though all the signage was in Spanish.
It showed many of the archeological findings from the area (pottery, bones, carved stones) plus a lot of information about the Pre-Taino and Taino cultures that called the Caguas area home.
It also had some Spanish artifacts (like a suit of armor) and information about their arrival, colonization of the area and the blending of the cultures. There was information on the African influeneces and, of course, the US influences. All of the history and influences that make Caguas and the Creole people what they are today.
On the day we went, the guide in this museum was not bilingual, so he was unable to give us a tour. But maybe on the day you visit, you will get a bilingual guide or have the audio guide from the Tourism Office.
Museum of Popular Arts
The newest museum on La Ruta, the Museo de Artes Populares de Caguas, is not even on the maps yet. This museum displayed many different types of art and crafts from the Puerto Rican and, specifically, Caguas artisans.
We really liked this stop, and the guide was very excited to tell us all about the art and the artists. They had everything from wood carved Santos, Mundilla lace, Vejiegate masks and costumes, kites, even the local candies and cigars. They even had a small selection of items for sale.
The Museo del Tabaco is just across the street from the Popular Arts Museum. The first you’ll notice as you walk in is the smell of the drying tobacco leaves. The second thing you’ll notice is the room off to the left with artisans making hand-rolled cigars. Pretty cool.
The displays in this museum explain the history and importance of this agriculatural product. Tobacco was once big-business for Caguas and the surrounding area, and provided many jobs. The museum contains tools, photos and lots of tabacco paraphernalia — even a replica tobacco-drying shed.
There are a number of artisans on hand everyday. Some of these artisans even rolled cigars for the Cagaus company in the early 20th century, and have now trained some of the younger generation in this craft. You can purchase the hand-rolled cigars in the museum — $10 for 25 cigars. The signage in this museum is all in Spanish, but you can ask the guide for English explanations.
Museum of Art
The Museo de Arte was what I would call contemporary art. It contained paintings, sculptures and other works from local artists. The museum phone number is 787-744-8833 extension 1838 or 1828.
Fine Arts Center
The Centro de Bellas Artes is actually the city’s main concert hall for music and theatrical shows. It had a small exhibit of art on the lobby walls, and a beautiful mobile and stained glass window in the foyer.
The Casa del Trovador is a small museum that tells the history of the trovador — the singer/composer of a folkloric style of music. The musuem showcases the origin of the music and the famous trovadors of Puerto Rico. It also displays some typical instruments, like the cuatro, the güiro, the tiple, and maracas. The signage is all in Spanish, but the guide we had that day was really into explaining the jibaro (hillbilly) music, and the favorite singers and composers. He made this an interesting stop along La Ruta. I hope he is there when you visit! The museum phone number is 787-744-8833 extension 1843.
House of the Compser
The Casa del Compositor is a museum dedicated to the Puerto Rican composers and singers. The museum on the second floor of the building. It has loads of information about the origins of Puerto Rican music, from the Taino instruments, Spanish & African instruments & influences, and how the Puerto Rican composers used these the create their own sound. It has information about the composers of all types of music and dance songs, like the writers of the mid 1800′s formal dance music to folk music , bomba/plena, salsa, Rock and Roll, up through current-day Reggaton, and Hip Hop song writers and singers. The information is all in Spanish, but they do have some music selection devices, so you can hear songs by many of the composers.
Somehow, we managed to miss this one … Casa Rosada is set up as a typical residence of an upper-middle class Caguas family of the 19th century, with furniture and other possessions on display. It houses books and writings from the much loved Puerto Rican literary writer Abelardo Diaz Alfaro (who was born in Caguas). It also has an exhibition devoted to Carlos Manuel Rodriguez (also born in Caguas), as the first Puerto Rican person to be beatified by the Roman Catholic Church.
Creole Music Center
The Centro Musical Criollo is in the old Baptist Church. There are cases along the walls that hold many different instruments used in traditional Puerto Rican music (like the guitar, tres, cuatro and bordonua). There are also signs (in Spanish) with information about the instruments and the music.
Cathedral of the Sweet Name of Jesus
The Catedral Dulce Nombre de Jesús is located on the main plaza. This Roman Catholic Cathedral is a humble structure, built in 1930. It has a rather plain interior, however it does house the remains of the Beatified Carlos Manuel Rodriguez.
The church is still an active parish, with masses celebrated Monday through Friday at 6:30am and 12noon, Saturday at 7am, 5pm and 7:30pm, and Sunday at 6am, 7:30am, 9am, 11am and 5pm. The telephone number for the parish office is 787-744-8833 extension 2908 or 2959.
Caguas Town Square
Across the street from the church is the final stop on La Ruta — the Plaza Santiago Palmer, which is the main public square. It is a lovely place to pass some time. It has an interesting clock featuring famous Puerto Ricans (which had "almost" the correct time), lots of trees and benches, an aviary with 2 red macaws, a small fish pond and a fountain. It also has free WIFI! There are some vendors selling food and drinks. The town holds dances, concerts and other activities here throughout the year. It is the heart of Caguas!
All the museums on La Ruta are free of charge.
The Caguas Tourism Office is open Monday-Friday from 8am until 4:30pm, Saturday 9am-5pm, Closed Sunday. The museums on La Ruta are only open Tuesday to Saturday from 9am until 12noon and 1pm until 5pm. The museums are closed Sundays and Mondays.
Allow about 2 to 3 hours to visit all of the museums on La Ruta.
You can call the Caguas Tourism Office at 787.653.8833 extension 2908 or 2959, for more information.
Use this map to locate places mentioned in this article. You can click on a placemark to view the GPS coordinates for that place.