With a planned early start, our group of eight had a quick breakfast at the hotel before packing into our two rentals and tackling the road. The drive was just over an hour and with some blind faith (as road signs were sparse off the highway) we arrived at our destination.
The world’s largest single-aperture telescope is an aluminum and steel colossus with a dish measuring 1,000 ft (305 m) in diameter. Completed in 1963, it was strategically located to fit into the surrounding mountains and be near the equator to be able to view all the Solar System’s planets. Cornell University quite actively helped with the design and later funding.
Built for astronomy, it was also used by the military to track Soviet radar stations by reading their signals that reflected off of the Moon. The unique structure is also featured in many films and TV shows, most notably Goldeneye (the movie and the N64 game), Contact, and the X-Files.
Upon arrival, you park and then climb up to the museum and observatory. Buy your tickets (Adults $10, $6 for kids and seniors) and enter. The museum area displays some meteor rocks and science experiments to educate kids. The tour starts in the theater where an introduction video is shown for about 15 minutes. A guide then leads you out to the viewing platform and gives a little more detail. Unfortunately, you cannot venture out onto the walkways to the center, so snap some pictures and be on your way!
Our next stop was the nearby cave attraction. But first we stopped for a quick lunch at what was possibly the best find all day.
Rio Camuy Cave Park
The third largest underground river in the world, the Rio Camuy, created the caves that have become such a well-known attraction. Discovered in 1958, the 68 acre park displays some impressive sinkholes, vast underground systems (only 10 miles discovered so far) and a myriad of stalactites and stalagmites.
After purchasing tickets, you board a train like shuttle for a surprisingly fast drive down into a sinkhole and the entrance of the cave. They ran out of room on the “train” shuttle so we got to ride in the smaller transports.
The guided tour takes you through a central cavern and another opening of the cave. You can spot Rio Camuy from the second opening and from one vantage point inside the cavern.
The cavern was impressive but the loud tour group wasn’t. Over the yelling, clapping, and crying I could barely hear the tour guide, so I glued my ear to the headset for the explanation of the cave.
After the tour we headed north to check out the coastline or Arecibo. We aimed for the historic Arecibo Lighthouse which turned out to have been transformed into a local amusement park.
We headed back to our hotel in Old San Juan, before I made a quick stop to the airport to pick up another member of the clan.
As a group, we strolled through the drizzling rain and admired the lighting for the upcoming “Three Kings Festival”. Sitting down at Pizza e Birra we ordered some… well, pizza and beer. The service was friendly and the pizza was good. We unwound by sipping on cold microbrews, recounting the day, and absorbing the lively local nightlife.
Tomorrow, we depart from Puerto Rico to explore some more of the Caribbean!