FODOR'S GO LIST 2015
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The Ruta Panorámica, or Panoramic Route, is an overland journey that reveals rugged beauty and tranquil woodlands not found anywhere else in Puerto Rico. It's an unruly road that clambers its way through the forests of the island's mountainous interior. Towering trees create canopies over the narrow roads, and in their shade pink and purple impatiens bloom in profusion.
You'll drive through sleepy colonial villages named for their Taíno ancestors, discover trails leading to secret waterfalls, and behold one breathtaking vista after another.
The grandiose name may lead you to think that the Ruta Panorámica is a highway, but it's actually a network of mountain roads that snakes through the central region, or Cordillera Central. Some are nicely maintained, while others are little more than gravel. But the Panoramic Route certainly lives up to its name, rewarding travelers with sprawling scenery around every bend of the road.
You can explore the Ruta Panorámica in chunks, alternating rural and urban charms. Or you can plan an extended road trip, taking time to fully explore Puerto Rico's interior. Bring your sense of adventure, and on your journey perhaps you'll try lechon asado, mouthwatering pork, slow-roasted over open pits. Did we mention that these are whole pigs? You may decide to cool off with a cup of cold maví, a local drink made of fermented tree bark. The beaches and city recede from memory here, and you begin to adopt new, unhurried rhythms, allowing serendipity to be your guide. Tropical flora, like birds of paradise, begs to be photographed. On foggy stretches of road, umbrella-sized yagrumo leaves laden with water brush the roof of your car. Puerto Rico's highest mountain is tucked into the Toro Negro Forest, and lookout points afford views all the way to the ocean.
We've divided the Ruta into three discrete trips, each requiring a full day. Trip 1 takes you from Yabucoa to Aibonito; Trip 2, from Aibonito to Adjuntas; and Trip 3, from Adjuntas to Mayagüez. Put them together for the complete journey, which you can start from the east or the west (Yabucoa or San Juan for eastbound journey; Mayagüez for a west coast departure).