Charco Azul and Cuevas Arenales

5/16- Great News- a neighbor at the top of the hill (on the right just after the concrete turnoff) now offers supervised parking ($3) and will even take you down to the caves in his 4×4 for $10. This makes this trip much safer. So worth the money for your piece of mind!

After exploring Puerto Rico since 2003, and writing about it here since 2007, I still find some beautiful sites that just amaze me. Charco Azul & Cuevas Arenales (Blue Pool & Sand Cave) in Vega Baja is one of these places.

Located less than an hour’s drive from of San Juan, this little area looks like it is from another planet or era. Millions of years of rain and river water has carved these rocks into beautifully odd formations. It is a great place to spend a few hours cooling off.

The Cat is Out of the Bag

In late 2014, this local “secret” started getting a lot of social media interest, and some television coverage. The photos were so cool looking, of course we had to check it out! I will tell you, the photos do not do it justice. You really have to see it in person. This area is other worldly looking.

Sometimes called Charco los Murielogos de las Cuevas Arenales (loosely translated as Pool of the Bats at Sand Caves), this area has cave-like rock formations, a Charco Azul (or blue-water “swimming hole”), and a blue-water river area.

Charco Azul and Cuevas Arenales

Swimming Through the Caves

After you park your car, you walk past the water company pumping station to the end of the road. Continue to the the end of the trail that leads you right into the ankle-deep river, then continue upriver (to the right) for just a few minutes more. You see the pool and the rocks.

The Charco Azul is a deep swimming area just under the “caves”. People jump from all heights into this pool. The river winds itself through the “Caves”. I think swimming through the caves was one of the coolest parts — just lazily floating along, and gazing at the unusual and beautiful rock formations. Water trickles down through the rock even in dry weather, and you can see loads of “flowstones” forming on the walls.

The “Caves” are more like overhangs (open on one side). We walked through them, though doing this requires good footing (and good footwear) and a little climbing skills.

They are interesting, but I think going the water way through here was prettier. Once through the rock area, the river goes back to being just a river, with high rock walls on each side. There was one rock-face that had lots of Golondrinas’ (birds that are similar to Barn Swallows) nest on it. I hear there are also a few petroglyphs on the cave walls, but I did not notice any.

Charco Azul and Cuevas Arenales

While we were there, we met a nice young local guy (Michael) who is working on his degree to be a tour guide, and show Puerto Rico off to the world! He volunteered to take us down-river to where the river falls into an underground cave. A really cool area. Michael said he and his friends go into the river on the lower side of these subterranean caves and climb up-river to this opening.

He also told us about the trail that goes off behind the water company pump that leads to more cool rock formation areas. This second trail and river area was empty except for us. A little less impressive, but peaceful. Worth a visit.

Charco Azul and Cuevas Arenales

Really Important Info

Pay close attention to this section, even if you don’t pay attention to anything else we’ve written here

This whole area is at the bottom of a dead-end, single-lane, steep road that the water company uses to reach their pumping station and dam. Because of the recent exposure on social media, this area will get more and more popular, crowded, and difficult to access. It is a very steep and slippery hill to get down/up.

  1. This area is probably not for little kids or the elderly. The walk down to the river is about 10-15 minutes, the pools are deep, and the road, caves, and rocks are slippery and dangerous if you slip or fall.
  2. As tempting as it is, do not take your car down to the bottom of the hill. As you drive down, you’ll be on a blacktop/asphalt road. At one point, there is a right-hand turn onto a concrete/cement road. Do not drive onto this concrete road, and if you ignore that warning, do not drive past the blue water company gate. Park where we put the “parking” mark on the map below. The concrete road is too steep for a regular car to make it back up easily. We know. It happened to us. And we were warned about it (after we had driven down to the bottom of the hill). Park on the blacktop (or better yet- pay to park in the yard), and walk down to the river.
  3. Ok … If you ignored point #2, when you get ready to leave, you will need to back up car up the entire hill in reverse (assuming your car is front-wheel drive, as most are today) to get it back to the road. Take our word for it … not a fun way to end your visit!
  4. Leave NOTHING of value in your car…..maybe even leave it open. Smash and grabs occasionally happen here.
  5. As we’ve mentioned, the concrete part of the road is steep and (oddly) really slippery, even when dry. Not only don’t car tires grab, neither do most shoes … besides ourselves, we saw a number of other people slip and fall on the way up and down. Please be careful.
  6. Go early in the day. This area gets busier as day goes on, parking is limited, and the roads are narrow, making getting out difficult.
  7. Please keep the area clean. It seems the local area thugs use this area to dump (allegedly) stolen cars and burn them. But there was also a bunch of other “day tripper” trash when we were there. Please clean up after yourselves (and others), and take the trash out with you.

Charco Azul and Cuevas Arenales

Details

Allow about 45 minutes to drive from the San Juan area.

From the San Juan area, take Route 22 west to Exit 35. Then take Route 160 South to KM 10.8. Look for a sign that says “Bienvenidos a La Gallera” — but the “G” is missing (so it reads more like “Bienvenidos a La  allera”), then just after that, turn right onto Calle Andre Sierra Torres and follow road down. There were (homemade, wooden) signs for the “Rio” posted along the way to help you stay on correct road. The road goes down, and there were a few forks along the way — so stay to the right, then left, then right at the forks. Or just follow the signs … that’s what we did. Once you park, walk down the concrete road, turn left at the water pumping station, then head right toward the river.

Park on the blacktop road, before the concrete part of the road (and definitely before the blue gate) and walk down, wear shoes with good traction … that hill is slippery.

Use this map to locate places mentioned in this article. You can click on a placemark to view the GPS coordinates for that place.

PuertoRicoDayTrips.com assumes no responsibility regarding your safety when participating in the activities described in this article. Please use common sense! If your mother or that little voice in your head tells you that you are about to do something stupid … then don't do it! Read more about Safety →

Comments & Discussion Leave a Comment »

There are 7 comments on this article. Add to the Discussion »

I went yesterday with my brother and my nephew. I highly recommend the parking on top. We went early and it was empty. Exploring we end up at the end of the trail. I had the chance to put my car facing out before park. By the time we left, some cars did not have the space to turn their cars before park, and I guess it was going to be difficult for them to leave. A minivan had trouble to go up the hill when they were leaving. We drove my 4Runner, and we have no trouble, but need to clarify it was a dry sunny day. On wet surface is another story. Plus you don't know if there is somebody coming down and there is no space for 2 cars, meaning you will have to go backwards and do it again. Highly recommended the parking for $3 USD, the rest is well explained in this articles. The only thing is that I am comparing the pictures here with mines, and we found less green on the entrance of the cave, which I think is a more cool view for a cave (the brown dirt one). Great article as usual!!

Comment by Francisco on 11 Jun 2016

Great details about parking and how to get to the actual river. The road to get here is super curvy and narrow. I can vouch for the fact that the nice neighbor charges 3$ for parking and is outside tinkering in his yard. I wore minimal sneakers while I swam so I could explore a bit on the rocks. Water shoes would be ideal. We didn't have issues with the concrete being slippery, but I could see if it rained, that it may be slippery. The locals drove their SUVs through the shallow part of the river and set up "shop" with a BBQ and music. (Tried to imagine what it would like within this)! I went on a Tuesday afternoon.

Comment by Shannon on 24 May 2016

I went here back in February, left my car up the top of the hill and returned to it with the window smashed and front grill broken. Nothing was taken from my car, just the damage done. It is a beautiful spot but unfortunately I will no longer be returning here due to the lack of security.

Comment by Leah on 15 Apr 2016

Thank you so much for sharing this place! I went today (Jan-1-2016) by myself and really enjoyed swimming through the little river. I had the place all to myself for the entire 3 hours I was there. One thing I would add for swimming in the water is that, be careful of the hidden big rocks under the water, there are a few, and I hit my legs on them a couple times, and they gave me bruises. Other than this, it was such a great experience, and I would love to go back next time I visit Puerto Rico.

Comment by Daniel Zhao on 01 Jan 2016

Awesome place. Thank you so much for the detailed directions and parking tips. We visited on a Monday, early afternoon. My husband and I had the place to ourselves for the majority of the time, joined in the beginning by a single person, and joined in the end by some locals swimming and jumping off of the "cliffs". We felt a strong spiritual presence at this spot, which may be in part to us having the land to ourselves. There are many faces and animals to be viewed in the stone areas around the water. I did see what I believed to be a petroglyph...further up the river past a couple of small rapid/super mini waterfall areas. Going upriver it was on a rock to the right, in the river...I couldn't get close to it as it began to pour on us and I had to turn around, but from what I could see it looked like a very young fetus...animal or human. It was carved into the rock with rounded edges and wasn't like any of the other things I saw in the area. Very cool. I took a picture from halfway across the river, unfortunately it's not very detailed.

Comment by Mary Torres on 20 Nov 2015

My husband and I (left kids at home) visited today, a Friday, and arrived at around 11:00. Easy to find, not a lot of people there, and WE LOVED IT! Floating in the cool water, the amazing caves, scrambling and climbing up-river after the cave just to see what was around each bend. It was a perfect day-cation. We discussed and we think we could have brought the kids (4 and 2) in their floaties to swim in the pool and through the cave but no further. Though, the hike back up to the hill would have been slow, whiney, and likely involve us carrying them portions of the way. Thanks for letting us know about this spot!

Comment by Nicole on 09 Oct 2015

It was so beautiful there.

Comment by Andrea Victoria Santana Rivera VIllanueva Galarza VIllegas on 29 Jul 2015

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