Hiking and Exploring Cueva del Agua in Río Abajo Forest
Update 1/21- There are parts of this forest people are using for walking, birding etc. This trail is not being maintained, so it may be difficult to find but it is passable. Campgrounds are still closed.
Many people who visit Puerto Rico head directly to El Yunque National Forest for their forest-hiking “fix”. That’s not a bad plan, but there are other options for hiking on the island. Río Abajo State Forest has a handful of trails, and a couple of caves to explore. This forest will appeal to bird watchers, and it used to have a pretty nice campground but not anymore. All in all, we have enjoyed our recent visits to this forest.
The forest has two caves that you can explore: Cueva Alta, which is a fairly extensive cave system filled with bats, and Cueva del Agua, which is a multi-level cave with a river in the mid-level cave that creates a waterfall in the lower-level cave.
We had previously visited the Río Abajo Forest in Utuado and explored Cueva Alta. During that visit, we had figured out how to get to Cueva del Agua, but did not have enough time to hike to that cave. So, we took another day and returned to the Río Abajo Forest camping area with a plan to explore Cueva del Agua.
A Hike & a Cave with a Waterfall
We drove to the Río Abajo Forest camping area, and parked on the side of the road (near the gate that blocks the road). The walk to Cueva del Agua begins on the paved road (Road 621), beyond the yellow gate that blocks the road.
We walked on Road 621 for about 25 minutes until we got to the trailhead for the path that leads to Cueva del Agua. Walking on the paved road was relatively easy, though it seemed to be (slightly) uphill most of the way. The good news is that means it’s downhill on the way back to the car!
There is a sign, installed by an Eagle Scout, that marks the trail to Cueva del Agua. If you’re walking from your car, the trail will be to the left of the paved road. The trail was wide most of the way. It appeared to have been a forest road at one time.
For the most part, you just need to follow the trail. At one point, you come to a V in the road, where you take the trail to the right. Thankfully, the Eagle Scout put another sign with an arrow pointing to the correct trail.
After a little while, the wide trail goes downhill, and gets considerably narrow. At that point, you need to start looking for marker tape tied to trees to help stay on the trail. The trail then turns uphill, and ends at the entrance to the cave. The walk on the forest trail (from the paved road to the cave) is about 20 minutes.
Cueva del Agua is actually three caves, stacked on top of each other. The lower cave is the one that you arrive at when you follow the forest trail. This cave is not very deep (front to back) at all. The waterfall, and the resulting stream, are to far right as you enter the cave.
Let’s talk about that waterfall … The thought of exploring a cave with a waterfall inside conjured up all kinds of images in my mind’s eye … I was expecting to see something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark or Romancing the Stone.
Instead, what we found was a cascade maybe 8 feet tall (if that). Granted, we went during the drought. Despite that, there was a decent amount of water coming over the cascade. But it just wasn’t that impressive. My imagination had gotten the best of me, and I had mis-set my own expectations from the beginning.
Though I was a little disappointed in the visual aspect of the waterfall, the sound of the water cascading down the rocks, and echoing in the cave … that was pretty cool. I also really enjoyed exploring the rest of the cave system there. So, all in all … I left as a happy camper!
Outside and to the right of the mouth of the lower cave, you will find a trail that leads up and around to the mouth of the upper cave. Once inside the entrance of the upper cave, you will notice that it has a very low ceiling. Exploring this cave requires duck-walking at best, and crawling on your elbows and knees at worst. We were not prepared (with knee pads and helmets), so we did not explore deep into this upper cave.
The mouth of the middle cave is just below the mouth of the upper cave, and continues through to the top of the waterfall that drops into the lower cave. This middle cave also has a very low ceiling, and this is where the water runs that feeds the waterfall.
We went during the drought in 2015, so there was only about 1″ of water in the middle cave. But I could imagine that, during non-drought conditions, this middle cave could be filled to the ceiling with water. Or, at very least, could have a flash-flood of water rushing through it. For these reasons, we cannot recommend entering and exploring this middle cave.
As compared to Cueva Alta, Cueva del Agua had no bats (nor guano) in it. We did notice a few birds coming and going. And we saw crickets and whip scorpions, on the ceiling and walls.
A Short Hike to Cueva Alta
After finishing at Cueva del Agua, we retraced our steps on the forest trail, back to the paved road, where we turned right to return to our car. We had a quick lunch at the car, and then took the short walk to Cueva Alta. All in all, we were at the forest for about 4 hours total.
The Río Abajo Forest is open for hiking from dawn to dusk. Camping overnight requires a permit.
The walk to Cueva del Agua is about 45 minutes total (25 minutes on the paved road, and 20 minutes on the forest trail).
If you want to visit both Cueva del Agua and Cueva Alta, allow about 4 hours total.
Bring plenty of drinking water. Though there are water faucets in the camping area, it’s not potable water. Wear appropriate footwear (sneaker or some type of hiking shoe).
There is no cellular service in the area. If you are depending on GPS that requires cellular service (like Google Maps) … it’s not going to work. Your best bet would be to download a GPS/compass app for your smartphone that doesn’t require an internet connection to work. For our iPhones, we use iArrow and Commander Compass.
The Río Abajo Forest Manager’s office is on Road 621 KM 4.4 (approximately). If the office is open. you can stop in and see if they have any info on other trails, or trail maps. I would love to know if there are other trails.
To get to Río Abajo Forest, take Route 22 to exit 75b, then Route 10 south to KM 67 (approximately). Then take Road 6612 to the end, then turn left onto Road 621. Follow Road 621 to the end (KM 7.4), and park on the side of the road, being careful not to block the road or any of the gates. You can enter the camping area to the right of the fence.
We are in the process of updating the maps we use on our web site. While we're working on that, you can click on the GPS coordinates below to view the location on Google Maps ...
- Cueva Agua (Rio Abajo Forest) front entrance: (18.323697, -66.716364)
- Cueva Agua trailhead: (18.329123, -66.716129)
- Cueva Alta (Rio Abajo Forest) entrance: (18.334433, -66.706783)
- Rio Abajo Forest Reserve, parking: (18.330700, -66.706683)
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!