Hike Las Bocas Canyon to Cascada Grande Waterfall
La Cordillera Central (the Central Mountain Range) is the main mountain range in Puerto Rico. This mountain range, with an average elevation of 3000 feet, runs east to west through the middle of the island. These high mountain peaks interact with passing clouds by slowing their movement. That, together with local thermal effects, causes lots of precipitation along the mountain range. Over time, this rainfall has carved canyons throughout the center of the island.
And what do we get when we combine mountains, canyons, and a lot of rain? Yup. Waterfalls! Some of the best waterfalls in Puerto Rico are located in the center of the island.
Through the local chapter of the Sierra Club, we were able to visit Canyon Las Bocas for a day of hiking to Cascada Grande.
Las Bocas Nature Reserve
Located between the towns of Barranquitas and Comerio, this beautiful 1200-acre parcel, through the work of El Comite Pro Reserva Natural Cañón Las Bocas, has been preserved as a nature reserve. The area offers habitats for many animals, some in danger of extinction. It also is a major source of fresh water for parts of the island. And it is a beautiful place, full of trees, fantastic views, caves, and waterfalls.
El Comite is working on projects and management plans with the Puerto Rico DRNA (Department of Natural Resources), and other community groups, on projects related to environmental education, scientific investigation, and conservation of the area. They work with the local Sierra Club to offer people a chance to explore the reserve with an interpretive guide and, sometimes, also a biologist.
Our Hike in the Canyon
The local chapter of the Sierra Club is very active, and they offer a few tours to this amazing area. As members, we decided to try the trip to Cascada Grande in Canyon Las Bocas. The trip was rated "difficult" in the Sierra Club literature, and it would be conducted in Spanish. Even given those conditions, we were game — we always manage to find a way to communicate with people.
We got up bright and early and drove to meet our guide, Carlos Collazo (who is the president of el Comite), and another couple, Alma & Richard (who, lucky for us, are bilingual!). Then we all followed Carlos on the drive to Las Bocas Nature Reserve. The other guide, the biologist, was sick and unable to make it that day.
Carlos did a great job explaining all sorts of things about the reserve — el Comite and their efforts to preserve the area, the animals and plants that call this area home, and the role the reserve plays in the day to day lives of people on the island. Alma and Richard helped translate anything I couldn’t understand. It worked out perfectly!
The Puerto Rico Water Authority has a pumping station in the reserve, so the first part of the hike is along the water company road. We started out downhill along the paved road, which made for an easy walk. We ventured off the road a various points — to pick wild raspberries and check out the views into the canyon.
The reserve has both volcanic rock and a karst region, so we were able to see both canyons and caves. We noticed lots of birds, butterflies, and wild orchids along our walk. We walked through both primary and secondary forests, comprised of many different tree species.
Once we got to the bottom of the hill, we started walking across a field, and stopped for a lunch break in the shade. We also used this time to switch from hiking shoes to water shoes, and to take a "natural" bathroom break. Then we headed off to the river and started forging our way upstream toward the waterfall.
Carlos is a real nature lover, and when we got to the river he became like a little kid — excited, animated, jumping from rock to rock, and taking photos & video of everything. He just walked right into the river, looking for things to show us — insects, shrimp, snakes, dragnflies, spiders, fish, lizards — and tell us about.
I managed to jump from rock to rock, avoiding getting my shoes too wet. This moist river area had different types of plants and critters than the other areas we went through that day.
When we finally got to Cascada Grande, we had a nice time just enjoying the waterfall. It is about 200 feet tall and, though we went during a drought, there was still a lot of water coming over the falls. There was a nice pool at the base of the falls where you could swim if you wanted, but none of us opted to do that.
After a while of hanging out at the falls, we retraced our steps and headed back toward our cars.
Since we had a small group, and we were moving along pretty quickly, Carlos gave us an extra little side trip to see the old ceiba tree. This tree (estimated to be around 250 years old) is huge. It was full-grown when it was toppled by hurricane San Felipe in 1876, after which it started growing again. It’s really impressive to see. There is another small waterfall beyond this tree that we got some time to check out. It was a nice little bonus.
After the ceiba tree, it was time to head back to our cars.
Remember how I mentioned how the beginning of this hike was an easy downhill walk? Well … the uphill walk was not so much fun. I think this is the reason why this trip is rated "difficult".
Uphill. At the end of the day. In the sun. I kept hoping for a tram car to come by and whisk us up the hill.
We finally made it back to the top of the mountain, though we took a number of rest and water stops along the way. We were hot, tired, and hungry. But, all in all, we had a wonderful, educational, and interesting excursion.
The local chapter of the Sierra Club sponsors this hike a few times per month. It is open to both members and non-members. Carlos is also available to do private hikes into the canyon.
For hikes sponsored by the Sierra Club, the cost is $25/person for members, and $35/person for non-members. Private hikes, arranged directly with Carlos, cost more.
If you're happy, let them know it — Don't forget to tip your your bartender, tour guide or trip operator if you enjoyed yourself. Gratuities are appreciated and typically aren't included in the price they charge you.
The days and times for these hikes vary. Reservations are required.
This hike not for everyone. It is rated "difficult", and the tours are offered only in Spanish.
Much of this hike is in the sun, so bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and wear a hat. You should also pack lunch. Closed-toe shoes with good traction are required. Long pants and socks are recommended. You can bring a swimsuit if you want to go swimming.
This was a full-day trip. It was about 3 miles round-trip. The hike down to the waterfall took about 3 hours, which included a stop for lunch. The hike back, uphill, took close to 4 hours.
For more information or to make a reservation, you can contact Carlos at 939.248.9823 or 787.472.6459.
You can visit the El Comite Pro Reserva Natural Cañón Las Bocas web site for more information.
You can contact Carlos via email at email@example.com.