Puerto Rico
Rio Camuy Cave Park
These caves are among the world's largest. Who knew?

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Directions: Located on the northwest side of the island. Coming from San Juan, take Hwy. 22 to Rt. 129 and the exit to Lars. Rt. 129 will take you directly to the caves, on the left, at km. 20.

Hours of Operation: Wednesday through Sunday and most holidays from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Information: Call 787/898-3100 or 898-3136. Difficulty: The cave floor can be slick. It's 205 steps down to the Spiral Sinkhole, not really worth the effort since you can't go inside.

One of Puerto Rico's best-kept secrets is its extensive cave system, considered some of the most important in the Western Hemisphere. The Rio Camuy is the world's third-largest subterranean river.

Yet it and the caves are relatively unknown because most visitors never venture this far into the countryside to discover them.

More than 220 caves have been discovered so far in Puerto Rico's karst country. Some are great, huge systems of passageways; others are only small openings in the earth.

The biggest and best and most easily accessible system is The Rio Camuy Cave Park near Lares, which was discovered in 1958. Operated by the Administracion de Terrenos, the extensive system of passageways has been mapped for 7 miles, although not yet all of it is open to the public. The capacity is 1,500 visitors per day.

The time to visit is in the morning, noon at the latest. Rain the afternoon sometimes ends the tours early because of concerns about rising water.

After taking a bilingual tram tour through a vegetation-filled sinkhole to the mouth of Clara Cave, you are guided past huge stalactites and stalagmites and into caves as much as 200 feet high (you can fit a 20-story building into this particular chamber).

A walking side trip is also available to the 650-foot-wide Tres Pueblos sinkhole that overlooks the Rio Camuy 400 feet below, seething through during flood periods.

Across the street from Tres Pueblos is the Spiral Sinkhole, most notable for the scenic 205 steps down to it. The boardwalk stops at the cave mouth; you're not allowed inside.

And the sinkhole interior is almost black, making it difficult to see anything. If you're running a tight schedule and need to get to nearby Arecibo (below) skip this section and head to the observatory.

A separate excursion is rappelling and exploring in Cathedral Cave. It requires advance reservations.

If this park is closed, the smaller and privately run Cueva de Camuy is nearby. Don't let the signs to Cueva de Camuy fool you into believing this is the government park. The privately owned cave is primarily an amusement park. You don't find pony rides or go-karts at the larger cave.

Close to Rio Camuy is Arecibo, a place that will take you out of this world.

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