Coordinates: 18°26′46″N 66°23′15″O
At the time when sugarcane was cultivated in Puerto Rico, it was common to hear people say “I want melao, but from the melao, melao” It is said that the sweetest melao (molasses) was made in Vega Baja. Hence this northern town being known as The City of Melao Melao. In addition, the first modern sugar central, Central San Vicente, was inaugurated in Vega Baja in 1873.
Close to everything
Many tourists, who prefer to stay in short term rental properties, choose the municipality of Vega Baja for its proximity to other places around the island. From this town, you can get to Fajardo in approximately an hour and fifteen minutes; it takes the same time to get to Aguadilla and about an hour and a half to get to Ponce.
This type of traveler also prefers cozy places in authentic Puerto Rican communities where he can find the neighbors fishing or surfing in the ocean. By opting for a sweet and coastal town like Vega Baja, the travel experience for tourists can compare to visiting a near and dear relative. Among the memories they take home from vacation are stories and legends of the places they visited, since they can truly delve into the idiosyncrasy of the place.
"La China" Trail
One of the legends that accompanies the trail of route 686, which leads to the Puerto Nuevo beach, is La China’s turn. According to the locals, if a man drives past this sharp turn after midnight, in his rearview mirror he will see the vision of a woman sitting on his back seat. To this day, many do not dare look in their rearview mirror while driving on this road.
This legend was born around the time when the ceramic tableware factory, Caribbean China, was still running in Vega Baja. The legend says a woman who worked the night shift stood on that turn every night to ask for a ride home. One night she was ran over and the legend has lived ever since.
The Beach and the Rocks
At the end of route 686, one of the most beautiful and pristine beaches of Puerto Rico can be found. Surrounded by its famous rocks, which form a sort of bay, this beach is a popular spot for morning walks and a place of tranquility for locals. Ultimately, this place is visited by tourists from all over the world and a large number of Puerto Ricans from other towns who decide to do local tourism.
La Pasa and the Corsair
In between the two enormous rocks that characterize this place is a small pool, commonly known as "la pasa"; from which locals dive to the ocean. On the opposite side of this reservoir is the dreaded Corsair. This type of basin, dug over the years by the force of the ocean, is filled with water that rises from the open sea and then emptied with great force when the water is sucked out to the bay. During times of high tide, these rocks are embraced by the foam of the waves. From a considerable distance you can appreciate the natural spectacle, which is nothing less than solid proof of the supremacy of the ocean.
On every corner of the beach, Puerto Rican fritters can be enjoyed: bacalaítos, crayfish or meat alcapurrias, the famous marlin bites, among others. Coconut water and maví can also be found.
A Lagoon and Alligators
Following route 686, near the beach, you will find the Tortuguero Lagoon; the only sweet water lagoon in the island that has a direct connection to the ocean. The scenic beauty of this place can be compared to an exquisite work of art. Due to the ecological importance of the wetlands, flora and fauna, the deposits of siliceous white sand, springs and karst hills this area was declared a natural reserve. Because the lagoon is inhabited by alligators, swimming is not recommended. You can kayak, fish from the shore or walk on the labeled trails.
And in the City of Melao
Like most other towns in the island, Vega Baja has a town square surrounded by a church and the city hall. Decades ago, the José Francisco Náter town square was visited by several interesting characters who added flavor to the local culture. Catalina, for example, was a picturesque old woman who amused herself by pinching anyone who crossed her path.
The Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Our Lady of the Rosary) cathedral, built in 1860, was declared a national monument by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (1984) for its beauty and architectural value. Through this majestic neoclassical building walked the great Varo, an animated old man who was in charge of showing the parishioners to their seats. If anyone dared disobey his orders, this gentleman would form such a scandal that even the church prayers would have to stop.
Brillantine and Mentholated Bay rum
Close to the town square is the old Náter pharmacy. It is not a museum, but it could easily be considered a sort of antique gallery. Founded in 1873 and still running; treasures over five decades old can be found in this historic pharmacy, like the Sirena Brillantine (hair grease), Superior 70 Alcoholado (Puerto Rican mentholated bay rum) and Reuter soap.
For only a quarter...
An art and history museum is located in Betances Street. Built under the Spanish regimen, Casa Alonso is a two story house that hosts furniture and other objects from the Spanish colonial era. One of the most striking pieces is the china decorating the dining table. The 88-piece collection was created in the Caribbean China factory, where “La China” from the legend supposedly worked. This factory formed part of the industrial development of the era; China for hotels such as The Caribe Hilton, La Concha and The Sheraton were all manufactured there.
The Luis Muñoz Rivera and José Julián Acosta streets safeguard a neoclassical architectural treasure built in 1917, The Fénix Theatre. Very close to the Fénix, right on José Julián Acosta street, is the America Theatre, built in 1924. Another flashy character along with his inseparable suit walked the streets surrounding the theatres. They called him Sico Acuña and he was responsible for advertising the nearby businesses, for only a quarter.
Everyone who visits Vega Baja experiences legends, history and nature, and leaves with the pleasant sweetness of melao on their sun kissed skin.
Read more about this municipality in the section of Vega Baja.
Conscious Travel Practices:
1. Practice low impact water sports such as paddle boarding.
2. Enjoy natural beauty without leaving trash.
3. Get to know the history of the town and its characters.
4. Learn about the importance of Tortuguero Lagoon as a Natural Reserve.