Cave of the Wind in Guajataca Forest
One of the things I like best about Puerto Rico is that it so varied. We usually hike in the El Yunque rain forest in the north-east of Puerto Rico, but it is possible to find great forest hikes all over the island.
One place we found to explore is the Guajataca Forest (pronounced gua-ha-TA-ca) in Isabela. It is in the karst region of Puerto Rico, so the landscape and plant life is totally different than what we are used to seeing. And in my opinion, the best part about this forest is the cave you get to explore. But a trip to this forest and cave cannot be done on a whim — you definitely need to plan this trip.
The Guajataca Forest (Bosque de Guajataca in Spanish) is not huge — it only covers about 2,350 acres. It is said to have loads of trails (like 46 trails measuring over 25 miles!), though they don’t appear to be well used at all. As a first-time visitor to the forest, you will probably just do 2 trails: Cueva del Viento (Cave of the Wind) or the Interpretative Trail. We did them both in the same afternoon. In this article I’ll describe Trail #1 and the trail to Cueva del Viento.
You will see and hear the many birds that call this area home. I really enjoyed seeing how the trees and shrubs adapted to their landscape. They find ways to cling to the rocks and other trees for support. The forest is rugged and beautiful.
The forest can be accessed from Route 446 in Isabela. There is a forest information office and parking around KM 9 on Route 446. There’s also a picnic area within a short walking distance.
At this time they are rebuilding forest office, but it looks like there will be bathrooms available there, as well as information. Honestly though, I would not really bother stopping for the map or information unless you speak/read Spanish and are good with puzzles — the map they hand out is horribly confusing! The trail to the cave is decently marked (some signs have fallen over, but it’s still easy to follow).
We had hiked to the cave a couple years ago, so we kinda knew what we were doing this last time. We had our GPS unit with us, so we were able to map the entire trail that we walked. That GPS data is what we used to draw our trail map (below). So, if you take our map, and follow the signs, you should be able to navigate with no problems. When we drew the map, the dashed trails are the ones we walked on. The dotted trails are just on the map so you can see where some of the side trails meet the main trail. They can serve as points of reference for your navigation.
La Cueva del Viento
The trailhead for Cueva del Viento is right at the parking area/ranger station at KM 9 on Route 446. Look for the sign for the Interpretative Trail and Trail #1. The trip we took was about 2.5 miles round trip (it included the side trail up to the Observation Tower, the Interpretative Trail and the trip to the Cave). It is a relatively flat trail except for the steep part that brings you down to the cave entrance. The trail is packed earth with limestone rock in it, so you do have to watch your step while walking.
Once you get started on the trail, almost right away you will see a trail marker for the Observation Tower on your right. This is a short (though up hill) walk that offers nice views of the tree tops. And I think it is great for getting a nice breeze and birdwatching.
Along the beginning of Trail #1 you will also be on the first part of the Interpretative Trail. After a while of walking, you will get to a point where Trail #1 and the Interpretative Trail part ways and there are other trails that go off of it. You always want to stay on the Cave Trail #1 — don’t go off onto other side trails (or verderas in Spanish).
Eventually, you will get to the top of the steps to the cave (you can’t miss them, there is a huge sign!). This is where you will start your descent to the cave. There are about 40 steps, and then you have to make you way down a steep, slippery, muddy path. Luckily, there are hand rails for stabilization.
When you get to the cave entrance, you will descend into the darkness. If you did not bring flashlights, you will be limited to seeing only the entrance.
If you plan ahead and bring strong flashlights, it is possible to walk pretty far in two directions away from the entrance. There are all kinds of stalagmite and stalactite formations to look at.
I thought the cave was really very interesting the further into it you go. Many of the formations near the entrance have been broken-off by past visitors. Make sure you watch your step as there are some areas where the floor is slippery, and there are even some holes in the floor that you could fall into. There are also tree roots running through the cave.
My not so favorite part of this cave were the bats! As you go further into the cave, you and your lights will annoy them more and more — so they take flight and make noise. But, thankfully, the cave did not smell like guano. Note- do not shine you flashlights at the bats, it will hurt their eyes.
We found, to get good photos, we had to use our flashlight to illuminate the formation, focus and them remove the flashlight. You may need to experiment with what works best for your camera, because you don’t want to miss getting some good pictures. We also found that there was a lot of mist deeper inside the cave. Because of the mist, all of the photos had a lot of backscatter from the flash. You might be able to get better photos deep inside the cave if you have an external flash unit.
To get back to our car, we retraced our steps until we got back to the Interpretative Trail. Then we turned left and continued on the Interpretative Trail until we got back to the road. The trail ends ends at the picnic shelter just a few hundred feet away from the trailhead and our car. It took us about 2 hours total time (about 1 hour of walking on trails and about 1 hour that we spent in the cave).
Other Helpful Information
There is a nice picnic shelter where you can have lunch. There are no food (or other) facilities in the forest.
La Cueva del Viento is a non-illuminated cave. There are no lights inside. There are no guardrails inside. You must bring strong, bright flashlights if you intend to venture more than a few feet into the cave.
The Route 446 gets VERY small (I’d estimate a maximum of 1½ cars wide) even though it is a 2-way road and is surprisingly well-traveled. Drive slowly, honk your horn before each curve, and listen for other peoples’ horns around curves. One car will have to pull over to let another past, so be aware of the edges.
They allow camping with a permit, but I don’t think many people do it, and the facilities didn’t look like they were in working order.
This forest is not often visited during the week — we were the only ones there when we went mid-week. You may see more people on weekends.
If you want to hike on trails other than Trail #1 and the Interpretative Trail, I would get information from the forest office before starting out on your own. There are lots of trails in this forest — the forest map looks like a big maze. You will see some trailheads further down Route 446.
It often rains in the late afternoon in this part of the island, so plan accordingly.
There is no fee to use the forest trails and facilities.
The forest is open during daylight hours. The information office (located at Route 446 KM 9) may be open daily from about 7am to 3:30pm.
Allow about 2 hours to hike to the cave and return to your car.
The Guajataca Forest is managed by the DNRA. You can call them at 787-999-2200 for more information.
Take Route 2 to approximately KM 108 and turn onto Route 446 (there is a Reliable Mortgage building on the corner). Follow Route 446 into the forest.
The forest is about 2 hours from the San Juan area and about 1 hour from Rincon.
Use this map to locate places mentioned in this article. You can click on a placemark to view the GPS coordinates for that place.