Explore the Carite Forest
The Carite Forest is located just up the road from the Guavate area in Cayey. The forest encompasses over 6000 acres and is maintained by the Departmento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales (DRNA, or Department of Natural Resources) as a recreation area.
The forest has some nice picnic and camping areas, some great natural swimming pools and waterfalls. Since it is along the Ruta Panoramica, there are some great views to be seen, too.
We had an enjoyable day by eating lechon in Guavate, spending some time in the Carite Forest, and enjoying a drive along part of the Ruta Panoramica.
Don’t Believe Everything You Read
Just like you, I do a ton of research to find info on things to do here in Puerto Rico. Then I go out and find out the real deal. One thing I’ve learned about Puerto Rico is not to believe everything you read! So much information in guide books and on the web is out of date, missing important details, based on hearsay, or just plain wrong.
For example, the Carite Forest is "said" to have over 25 miles of hiking trails. The fact is that after hurricane Georges in 1998, the trails were never reopened and they are currently not being maintained. So, contrary to most of the information I was able to find during my pre-trip research, hiking trails are something that you won’t find in this forest.
What We Found
We stopped at both DRNA offices in the Carite Forest to get the "official" scoop on what this forest has to offer. The first office (on Road 184 at KM27.8) was staffed by forest security officers who were very helpful and bilingual. The second office (on Road 184 at KM27.5) is the "Forest Manager" office. The woman at the desk was nice, but she didn’t speak English nor know much about the forest. So, if you want any more specific information than we have in this article, stop at the first office!
Officially, there are no "hiking" trails open in the Carite Forest. The only trail that is open and maintained is the trail to Charco Azul. It is a short walking path that leads to a cute swimming hole that I think is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
Though I specifically asked about the restrooms at the camp/picnic sites and were told they were open, they were not. Maybe the restrooms are open on the weekends. Who knows?
There are picnic tables at the Guavate Recreation Area, just a few kilometers up the road from the lechonarias. But I thought this area looked depressing — kind of run down and poorly maintained. However, there are lots of picnic tables and they tease you with restrooms — which were locked. I imagine that it can get busy on weekends with people enjoying the forested area just a short drive from the very busy Guavate area. If you drive another 10 minutes or so to KM 17.8, you will find a nicer picnic area along a river at the Charcol Azul Recreation Area. This one gets busy on weekends, also.
Camping is allowed in the Carite Forest in the Guavate Recreation Area and the Charco Azul Recreation Area. Don’t bother going to the Guavate area — it is in shambles. I would go to the Charco Azul Area, which is much nicer and in better shape. You need to get a camping permit from the DRNA office in San Juan, Humacao or Guayama before setting up camp. For some reason, neither of the two (!!) DRNA offices right in the forest can give them to you. Call 787-999-2200 ext 5157 for info on camping permits. But be aware the camping area is in an open field, very close to the walking path to Charco Azul. It didn’t seem very private to me. It gets very busy on weekends, especially in the summer.
Charco Azul Recreation Area
Sadly, the only thing the Carite Forest is "known" for seems to be Charco Azul, which is a cute, natural river pool with blue water.
By venturing off the official path, we were able to find some other more private and/or nicer swimming holes and waterfalls! We would never recommend that anyone do this. So if you do decide to do this, it’s at your own risk!
You can see the river from the parking area at the Charco Azul Recreation Area. We followed the river downstream, and found a number of blue pools — each one more private than the next. We had to alternately walk in the river and along the riverbank. It was not that easy — the river rocks are slippery — you need to wear water shoes or Tevas.
As we continued going downstream (about 30 minutes total from the parking area) we eventually came to the top of a big waterfall. I would love to find a way through the forest to see the falls from the bottom up, but we couldn’t find a path. Maybe someone out there knows — please share that info in the comments below!
Our favorite find was Los Tres Chorros, which has 3 ponds and a waterfall. Located as you continue on Road 184 to KM12 (or so), there is a bar on the curve called Los Tres Chorros. We parked on the right side of Road 184 and walked down the little street (down the hill toward the river), across the bridge and to the right across a smaller bridge. There, in the tall grass, there is a small foot-path that people have made to get to the swimming holes and waterfalls. If you follow this path to the end, you will find a nice waterfall and 3 blue pools.
We went swimming! The pools are very deep in areas. There’s even a rope swing. The locals call this place Survivor Falls (or Cascada SobreViviente). While we were there, about 8 local kids were showing off tricks and telling us where to "safely" jump into the water. We thought it was a fun and beautiful place to play. Unfortunately, this area is very popular with the locals so it can get crowded and there is lots of trash along the trail.
Plans for our Next Visit
We ended up spending our day at these pools and falls, but next time I get out that way, I am going to try to explore Lago Carite, which is supposedly a large lake with fishing.
The DRNA guys gave us these directions to get to the lake … Take PR184 to PR179 to PR7741 to PR7738. Go through gate (tell the guard you are going to the lake) and drive as far as you can — even across the flooded road. These road numbers aren’t on any map I have, so good luck if you try to do this!
The DRNA offices are open Monday – Friday from 7am – 3:30pm. The recreation areas are open from about 9am – 5pm.
You can call the Forest Manager’s Office at 787-747-4545 or 787-747-4510 for more information
From the San Juan area, take Route 52 south to exit 32 (that’s the Guavate exit). Turn left at the end of the ramp and take Road 184 up into the mountains. Turn right at the tee. The Guavate Recreation Area is located on Road 184 around KM25. The Charco Azul Recreation Area is located on Road 184 around KM17.8. Los Tres Charros is located on Road 184 around KM12.