Yabucoa to Aibonito
To start exploring the Ruta Panorámica from San Juan, make your way south to the town of Yabucoa, picking up Route 901 Oeste (901 West). Don't be discouraged by all the traffic lights, fast-food outlets, pharmacies, and shops you'll first encounter (in fact, you may want to stock up on supplies here). The road will soon give way to the comparative isolation that characterizes the rest of the Ruta. Gas up at the Gulf station less than a mile into Yabucoa at the start of the Ruta; it's the last service station for a while.
The landscape from Yabucoa to Aibonito is stunning in its variety. From trees typical of the tropics—mango, almonds, palms, and the lush, leafy tree fern—to cedar and bamboo, this stretch offers a preview of the Ruta's diversity.
Don't let your eyes get too carried away by the scenery, though. The Ruta is notorious for its poor signage. Though brown and white "Ruta Panorámica" signs are more plentiful on this stretch of the road, they're easy to miss, often covered over by plants or obscured by filmy drippings from the flora. If you're in doubt about your direction, don't hesitate to stop and ask a local. Even if you have road numbers and detailed directions, the Ruta's twists and turns can be puzzling, but going off course and getting back again is all part of the adventure!
Once you're out of Yabucoa proper, there's little more than the flora to capture your attention—that and the road itself—until you reach Aibonito. Legend has it that Aibonito got its name when a Spaniard exclaimed "¡Ay, que bonito!" ("Oh, how pretty!") upon seeing the valley where the town now stands. Puerto Rico's highest city, Aibonito is known as the "Queen of Flowers" because flowering plants thrive in its temperate climate. The city hosts a flower festival every year, usually in late June or July, and gives awards for blossoms and garden design. Live music and craft stalls add to the festivities. A double-steepled cathedral graces the charming town square, which is surrounded by shops and restaurants. Local guides organize outings to nearby Cañón de San Cristóbal.