Located on the north coast of Puerto Rico — only a 45-minute drive from SJU airport — the town of Manatí will captivate you with its scenic views and breathtaking natural pools.
It’s known as La Atenas de Puerto Rico (the Athens of Puerto Rico) for the homegrown cultural and intellectual movement that formed here at the start of the 20th century, and thus established the town as a hub of new ideas. But Manatí is fertile in more than just art and thought. It’s also an agricultural area that is the center of Puerto Rico’s pineapple-growing industry, along with the production of sugar cane and coffee.
Its name is derived from the Taíno word for the river that crosses the town — the Manatuabón — and the numerous manatees that lived at the outfall of the river.
Things to Do
Manatí is home to many natural reserves that are rich in springs, lakes, streams, lagoons, and rivers. As part of the northern karst, Manatí is a unique region distinguished by large limestone hills with white stone peaks poking out of the dense, green foliage. The small cave systems and landscapes resemble the ruins of lost cities consumed by tropical plants.
Some of the most impressive rock formations can be found at Mar Chiquita (Little Sea), one of the town’s most popular beaches. There, the karst cliffs create an opening that allows the crystal-blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean to rush in, resulting in a mesmerizing sight.
Other natural pools are located at La Poza de las Mujeres (The Women’s Pond), as well as nearby La Cueva de las Golondrinas (the Cave of the Swallows). Both are located near Hacienda La Esperanza, a nature reserve protected by the Trust for Conservation of Puerto Rico.
Manatí is also a haven for surfers looking to catch a wave. Los Tubos (The Pipes) is named for the formation of tubular waves that can reach up to 12 feet high. It’s also home to the annual Festival Playero de Verano (Beach and Summer Festival).
Where to Eat
If you’re looking for a quick bite and a staple Manatí fritter, be sure to stop by Pastelillos Lamboy, home to the town’s famous pastelillos. For more than 60 years, Lamboy has served its traditional mashed potatoes and meat turnover recipe, and it’s a local delicacy that’s not to be missed.
At El Tren de Cano you can savor local and traditional cuisine like rice and beans, deep-fried pork, and mofongo in a creatively designed location. Su Casa Steakhouse is another great stop and a well-known mesón gastronómico.
The town’s oldest food establishment is El Ferrocarril, which serves the best seafood in the area, just like abuelita (grandma) used to make.
Where to Stay
In 2014, Manatí welcomed its first hotel, the Hyatt Place Hotel. The hotel offers 104 rooms, three meeting venues, an outdoor swimming pool, and an on-site casino and restaurant. For additional lodging options, there are several apartments and vacation rentals, as well as a few bed-and-breakfasts.