It's easy to be seduced by the warm waters and sandy beaches of Rincón, but there are a few adventures worth venturing out of town for and the falls at Gozalandia are definitely worth it!
Less than an hours drive inland (35 km) you can find the falls at Gozalandia, this stunning series of waterfalls and pools are a perfect destination for an afternoon hike and swimming adventure. Under an hours drive from Rincón, it is located about 4 km north of the town of San Sebastián, which is a vibrant and historical town worthy of a visit in its own right. More on San Sebastián below... for now let's go explore the gorgeous pools and waterfalls of Gozalandia!
Also known as the Robles Waterfalls, Gozalandia is accessible using your GPS. Cell service is good here so your phone app and a few simple signs along the way should guide you to San Sebastián and then along the narrow backroads to the privately owned parking lot at the trailhead for the falls. Take your time getting there and enjoy a slow drive through the mountain neighborhoods. Parking was attended and was $5 in a big grassy lot. Don't want to drive yourself? There are a few driving services based in Rincon that will drive you to the falls (or anywhere else you would like to go).
You will want to have your bathing suit and a comfortable pair of shoes for this adventure, and some water to drink. This is a pristine and beautiful natural area, so please pack out whatever you bring in and help preserve this special place!
When we visited, the on-site outdoor cafe was open—a convenient option for those interested in relaxing over refreshments before or after visiting the falls.
The trail to the waterfalls presents two options right from the start. We headed to the right, to the upper falls, first. The trail to the lower falls on the left includes a steep staircase down. We decided to save that for after we checked out the upper falls. The upper path is slightly uphill, mostly built of poured concrete with large platform steps through the jungle. The locals told us about the early years when this was just a wet, slippery track to follow, so we appreciated the solid footing. Most able-bodied folks of average fitness will find the trails accessible although if you are exploring with older folks or young children you will want to allocate extra time to take it at a leisurely pace. Everyone—regardless of fitness level—will want to step carefully and be cautious through wet areas and along the rocks surrounding the waterfalls.
As you ascend toward the upper falls the path follows a beautiful mountain stream and offers several access areas to take a peek or spend some time relaxing at the shallow rock pools along the way. You can also hike along the stream if you like, although in places you will need to scramble, and be cautious as the surface is a mix of rock and hard packed mud. We stayed on the main path and headed up.
You can hear the waterfall as you get close and soon you get a magnificent peek as the tropical forest opens up to reveal a magical pool. The concrete path ends here. To reach the falls, you will climb carefully down a short, narrow path holding onto tree roots and branches, but the scramble is well worth it!
It takes a few minutes to absorb how beautiful this place is. The day we visited, a busy Friday the day after Thanksgiving, there were about a dozen people at the upper falls, swimming in the pool, relaxing, and climbing up to the base of the falls. You can stand under the waterfall enjoying the cascade, swim or sit in the cool water, or just find a spot on a warm rock and enjoy the energy of this special place. For the adventurous and water savvy, the pool is deep enough to dive into from the base of the waterfall.
There is also a rope swing! During our visit, the rope swing had a wonderful caretaker who helped people get set up and encouraged them to take a swing. He a true master, and performed many advanced rope swing maneuvers, including swinging upside down, doing flips on the release, and generally showing off his skills. It was a pleasure to observe.
After an hour playing and relaxing at the upper falls, we retraced our steps through the jungle to visit the lower falls. The staircase to the lower falls is steep—not for the faint of heart. Although our legs were burning on the decent, the thought of the 'old path' described by friends and locals—sliding down on a wet muddy and rocky chute—was rather unnerving. Steep as they were, we were thankful for the stairs!
After a hundred feet or so you get your first glimpse of the lower pool, and it is a beauty.
It takes some doing....but as the falls comes into view, it is clear it is well worth the descent! Plan to spend a bit of time and enjoy the falls before climbing back up.
It's hard to say which was our favorite falls on this adventure because both are equally stunning.
While relaxing and swimming at the lower falls, occasionally we would see somebody's head and shoulders peek over the upper falls, so we deduced there was a way to reach that area by walking along the stream corridor. We didn't give that a try, but maybe next time.
The lower pool was filled with friendly fish—they darted about and seemed used to sharing their home with swimming humans.
These falls have a narrow ledge and the day we visited there were a few experienced divers scrambling up the side of the falls to dive from. [Obvious health and safety warning: cliff diving is an inherently dangerous and life threatening activity]. More our speed was to swim across the pool and climb a few feet up to enjoy the falls from behind in the rock alcove underneath.
This was such a great adventure we vowed to make it a regular visit when we come to Puerto Rico.
Our kindred spirit, a little lizard, guided us back.
The restroom when we visited was spacious and clean and also served as a suitable changing area. We loved the artwork, and the map even has a You Are Here pin!
We left the falls excited to return again.
We decided to explore a bit more before heading home, and stopped in to check out the town of San Sebastián. We were glad we did!
This town has a beautiful town square, a history museum, and a series of historical murals about an uprising that occurred on September 24, 1868.
San Sebastián was a farming community dating back to the 1600s originally called Las Vegas del Pepino. Pepino translates to english as cucumber, which was a principle crop, and vegas means valley or meadow, hence The Valley of the Cucumbers. It was also known as San Sebastián del Pepino, for it's patron Saint. By 1850 several wealthy Spanish families had settled there and renamed it San Sebastián in 1869 after violently taking over the local political powers.
The murals downtown chronicle this struggle for Puerto Rican independence, and the resulting persecution by the Spanish. The Spanish developed the coffee industry that exists today and built the large homes that surround the town square. You can find El Coqui coffee in local markets, the majority of which is produced in this region.
San Sebastián town square. There is a larger square a few blocks away that holds concerts and events.
The Spanish architecture in this town is evident. This building serves as a bank today.
This was once a wealthy family home; today it is the Museo de Historia.
The Iglesia San Sebastián Mártir (Church of Saint Sebastian the Martyr) was built in 1897 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It anchors the town square.
A series of large murals illustrate an important event in the history of Puerto Rico independence that occurred on September 24, 1868. The murals tell the story of the Grito de Lares, a planned uprising in the struggle for Puerto Rican independence that began in a neighboring town and ended in San Sebastian a day later when the Spanish Militia crushed the revolutionaries. Unsuccessful, approximately 475 revolutionaries were captured in this event, and charged with treason by the Spanish rulers, many of whom were later tortured and killed before a general amnesty was declared in 1869 allowing the release of the surviving prisoners.
Our visit to San Sebastian a short one, but just long enough to return again to explore in more depth the rich history of this city!
This was a fantastic day trip, and we made it back to Rincón just in time to enjoy a stunning Puerto Rico sunset.
Get your Rincón Lizard Map before you go or look for it in local shops!
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I had two seriously long days in the woods planned, for an estimated total of 44 miles of backpacking. My plan was to follow a slew of lesser-known trails to create a loop that incorporates both Black Forest Trail and West Rim Trail. I picked this route after studying the Pine Creek Lizard Map. There are countless trails on this excellent map, but some of them are old, neglected, and untravelled. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Winter is a great time to do this kind of exploring. There are no rattlesnakes, nettles, or ticks. Streams are easy to follow, and the cold temperatures can dress up the stream banks with ice sculptures. The lack of leaves creates winter vistas where in the summer there is only endless green. So off I went.