Introducing Arecibo & Around
As you approach Arecibo in the crawl of traffic, it’s hard to imagine that this sprawling modern municipality of nearly 101,000 people is Puerto Rico’s third-oldest city, after San Juan and San Germán. Founded in 1556, the original town was named after an esteemed cacique (Taíno chief) and gained notoriety in 1702 when Spanish captain Antonio Correa thwarted a full-scale British invasion off the coast. Little of historical note remains in the present-day city, save a restored cathedral and Spanish-colonial lighthouse in a campy amusement park. Veer further inland and the view gets a lot more interesting.
Arecibo’s greatest claim to fame is the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope, the Observatorio de Arecibo, several miles up the hills to the south, in the heart of karst country. Harboring a fascinating museum and a view worthy of a futuristic James Bond film set, the observatory is open for public viewing and reigns as one of the island’s most rewarding must-sees. Back on the coast you can pass a short afternoon at the lighthouse and its surrounding historical park or saunter off in search of ancient Taíno petroglyphs in one of the north coast’s many karstic caves.
The popular Hatillo Mask Festival, held on December 28, is one of Puerto Rico’s most symbolic ceremonies whose innovative masks and costumes adorn the front of numerous books, postcards and tourist literature.