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Visit a Taíno Indian Cave in Las Piedras

Petroglyph at Cueva del Indio in Las Piedras

Personally, I am really interested in seeing the remnants of native civilizations many hundreds of years old. Luckily for me, Puerto Rico is full of these treasures.

Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, Puerto Rico was inhabited by native Indians called Taínos. The Taínos left evidence of their presence in the the form of petroglyphs, which were carved on rocks in streams, ball courts and caves. There are many examples to Taíno petroglyphs throughout the island, including at La Cueva del Indio (the Cave of the Indian) in Las Piedras, in the eastern-central part of Puerto Rico.

The Tainos

The Taíno Indians called Borinquen (their name for Puerto Rico) home for about 700 to 1000 years. Unfortunately, in the early 1500s, the Spaniards arrived in Puerto Rico and most of the Taíno males were enslaved and the women became “wives” for the soldiers. Many were killed off by disease. There are few if any pure-blood Taíno left on the island, so little remains of the culture.

But the Taínos’ cultural contributions can be seen today in artwork, food and language. Many of the symbols from the petroglyphs have been used in all kinds of art and decorative works. Staples of the Puerto Rican diet include cassava (yuca), batata (sweet potato) and calabaza (pumpkin). The Taíno language contributed some words that have been adopted into both the English and Spanish languages: barbacoa (barbecue), hamaca (hammock), canoa (canoe), tabaco (tobacco), and Huracan (hurricane).

La Cueva del Indio Park

La Cueva del Indio in Las Piedras was discovered during some developer’s excavations in 1982. Once they realized what they found, the place was protected. It has been on National Registrar of Historic monuments since 2003.

To keep this national treasure safe, it is open only by appointment, and Las Piedras has an oficina de cultura (tourism & cultural office) located right in the City Hall through which they offer free guided tours to the caves. So we gave them a call and set up a date to visit the cave.

The morning of our tour, we met Irma Ramos and her co-worker Danny at their office, where they gave us literature about Las Piedras and the Taíno people. After telling us a little about what we were going to see, we followed them on the short drive to the cave.

Batey at Cueva del Indio in Las Piedras

The first thing you notice is just how fertile it is in this area. Irma also told us about the different trees and plants around us, and how the Taínos used this site for many years. They worked the land, and used the streams for fishing and water. It is a beautiful, verdant place, with views of El Yunque and lush tropical plants everywhere you look. There were all sorts of fruit and vegetable still growing here like guineos (bananas), platanos (plantains) and root vegetables like name (yams). Danny even picked us some ripe rose apples from a nearby tree.

The next thing you come to is a batey or "ceremonial area". It looks like a rectangular area that was bordered with standing stones. You can see some of the rocks have petroglyphs on them – faces, the sun, geometric shapes, animals. Irma explained that the batey is where ceremonies, like weddings, or some games played with a ball would take place.

The Cave

Petroglyph at Cueva del Indio in Las Piedras

Though it is a pretty little park, the real reason you visit is to see the petroglyphs in the cave. Right at the entrance to the cave is a cojóbana tree. Irma explained how the Taínos used to ingest or smoke cohoba (made from the cojóbana tree), which has hallucinogenic properties, as part of their religious ceremonies. Then they would go into the caves and speak, or somehow be in contact with, the Gods. They would then make the drawings of what they would see and/or hear during these religious/spiritual encounters.

The La Cueva is not a cave per se. It’s more like a bunch of huge rocks leaning against one another that have spaces between them forming tunnels and passages. So it is not pitch dark in there, you can easily see where you are going. You walk down into the "cave" and the drawings are all in this one area. It was a bit difficult to see the etchings because the contrast is not that great. We brought a flashlight, but it did not help, since it reduced the shadows. But there were a lot of them! According to Irma, there are over 200 petroglyphs in the one area. We could see shapes that looked the sun, and a few heads and/or "being" shapes. You could tell there were many, but it was hard to discern what they were drawings of. But it was still pretty neat. As you go further into the cave, you get to different areas (like an area where women supposedly went to give birth), but I did not see any more petroglyphs.

As we emerged from the cave, we walked a little to an area that had what Irma called a "Spanish bridge". This is actually a small tunnel that, supposedly, the Spaniards would make the Indian slaves crawl through during gold mining. The idea was that, since the tunnel was too short to stand in, the slaves couldn’t steal and escape with too much gold since they had to crawl. You can go through it if you want, it did not look appealing to me. But Irma said kids love to go through it!

When you first walk in to the park, you’ll see a play area and picnic tables. It turns out school groups and Scouts come to use this park for educational purposes. Since the cave area so small, only a few people can go in at a time. The play area is to keep the others occupied until it is their turn to go in!

Other things in Las Piedras

Very close to the Cave is Monte del Retiro. It offers an educational tour of another Taíno settlement area and great views. Call for appointment 787-205-3955. Open Saturday 8am – 5pm, Sunday 1pm – 5pm and holidays 8am – 3pm.

There is also a cute "Historical Museum" in town. It’s less of a museum and more of just a collection of everything! From Taíno artifacts to WWI helmets, record players, photographs, old washing machine, tools, telephones, cameras … you name it, they had it! More of an antique shop, but nothing is for sale. The guy who runs it didn’t speak much English, but he was very happy and proud to show the collection to us. When they finish making repairs to the old City Hall (Casa de Alcailde), it will move into there.

The Details

The tour to La Cueva del Indio is freely offered by the government of Las Piedras.But they will gladly accept donations!

Tours are by appointment only, Monday – Saturdays (8am – 3:30pm).

The rocks can be slippery and uneven, so wear sneakers or other shoes with good traction. You will have to do a little climbing in/out of the cave. Tours are offered in English or Spanish.

Allow about 1 hour, start to finish.

Call the Las Piedras Departamento de Cultura or Tourism Department at 787-733-2160, extension 506. for more information or to make an appointment. They will set up a meeting place.

You’ll meet at the Casa de Alcalde (City Hall) in Las Piedras. From Route 30, take exit 21 toward Las Piedras. Turn left onto Route 198. The Casa de Alcalde will be on your right. 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 11 comments on this article. Add to the Discussion »

Thx for the information, this is a must see on my agenda. I read the story on the tragic destiny of the Taino when the Spaniards invaded the island. I take exception to the part describing Taino women becoming wives which sanitizes the story of genocide & conquest . Most likely they became sexual slaves to the Spaniards & suffered a lifetime of abuse dying young in the process. A tragedy that's hard to bear, but it's truth.

Comment by Elba Colon on 15 Feb 2019

To say there is little of the culture is not totally true. The Taino natives which survived eventually became assimilated with the rest of the population and with the mass immigration of Europeans to the island the Taino blood became even more watered down, so that now most Puerto Ricans have one quarter to one eighth Taino dna. The culture also blended so that today a few hundred Taino words became part of the Spanish spoken on the island. Also herbal medicine and the manner of harvesting them according to the moon are totally Taino, Traditional foods are stilled prepared the Taino way in the form of guanimes, sorrullos, alcapurrias as is the use of ceti to fill patelillos.

Comment by Domingo Hernandez De Jesus on 17 Feb 2017

My true desire is for people to stop calling all First Nations people Indiansay. The title is a lie which is a true insult to us. Let's remember the only reason this lie continues is because Columbus was lost . He was hoping to get to India to trade for spices and other items of interest to the Spanish crown. Must we continue to be ignorant of the facts. Let's also remember that he never discovered America as he never landed on the continent. First Nations people are not now nor ever have been Indians.

Comment by Julian Alvarez on 12 Feb 2017

Check the new phone number I just posted....

Comment by Gwenn on 23 May 2016

Love the information tanks

Comment by Miguel Angel Santiago Santiago on 22 May 2016


Comment by ROSELYND NIEVES on 17 Feb 2015

Thank you so much for the update! I have included that info in the article.

Comment by Gwenn on 26 Sep 2014

I call the Departamento de Cultura in Las Piedras about La cueva del Indio. The tours is now from Monday-Saturday, 8am to 3:30pm. Free tours, by reservation, but they accept a donation. They will meet you at La casa del Maestro which is behind the Alcaldia. The new number is 787-716-7088. The tour can be in Spanish or English. I think the tour guide said that the cave is in a private property but the city is trying to get the land.

Comment by Nancy on 17 Sep 2014

Thank you so much for the article. My maternal family was from Humacao, Naguabo, Juncos and Las Piedras, P.R. I grew up in Humacao and visited with relatives in Las Piedras. However, I never visited "La Cueva del Indio". While in High School in Humacao we learned about Puerto Rican History but never heard about the Indian Cave in Las Piedras. It is fascinating to read about it and I would have loved to visit i while I was living in Humacao. Visited Ël Yunque many times and we enjoyed tremendously. In my next trip to Humacao, P.R. I would certainly go by and visit it. Thank you again for the article.

Comment by Rafael A. Delgado Simonet on 26 Oct 2013

I don't, as we haven't been back. You would need to call City Hall anyway to make an appointment for the tour, so you can ask them then. If there are any changes, please let us know!

Comment by Gwenn on 09 Jul 2012

Hello. Do you have any updates on this place? I see it was written almost 3 years ago, and I would like to go as part of a "road trip" I am planning. Thanks!

Comment by Pakita on 09 Jul 2012

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