WHEN THE PUERTO RICO TOURISM BOARD started pushing its "Explore Beyond the Shore" theme a year ago, it must have had activities such as the Toro Negro Rainforest Adventure in mind. I've just gone "beyond the shore" on this excursion, offered by tour operator Acampa. Considered the "other" rainforest in Puerto Rico, after the more famous El Yunque, Toro Negro is much less traveled and about 1,000 feet higher than El Yunque. It might be Puerto Rico's best-kept secret. Book this for ecotourists and soft-adventure seekers.
They are 100 percent guaranteed to get soaked from head to toe and will at times get nearly as muddy as a fan at Woodstock, so tell clients to wear clothes they don't care about: old sneakers with good traction, a T-shirt and a pair of running shorts. Some people told me I was crazy for wearing shorts in a rainforest where mosquitoes are plentiful. But wet pants restrict leg movement and flexibility when climbing rocks, which requires you to stretch your limbs to the max. Plus, Toro Negro is humid, and shorts are more convenient for taking a refreshing dip in the waterfalls.
Good to Know
Request Ray Sepulveda, the co-owner of Acampa, or Roberto "Rocqui" (pronounced "Rocky") Bello as the guide for your clients, who will need one guide for every six people. Note: Clients return to the van for lunch; they should leave a bottle of insect repellent there and put some on before the second half of the hike, when mosquitoes are more likely to be hungry. It is not recommended that they bring a digital camera, or anything for that matter that they have to carry and try to keep dry. Hands need to be free the whole time.
I am in pretty fair shape (Acampa actually has final say over whether you are fit enough based on a medical survey you fill out) and was more than ready to play Tarzan for a full day. The morning hike was challenging, as we scrambled over boulders, along the water's edge, across pools and through the current.
Before lunchtime, we were strapped into harnesses to climb up a waterfall to a peaceful pool. The waterfall is gentle but since it flows over the rocks, it's very difficult to plant your feet for leverage. For the record, no one in the Acapma's eight-year history has ever been seriously injured, but this is the point where a scraped knee or two becomes possible. The trick is to take your time, listen to everything your guide says and not panic...or you can cheat, as I did.
Climbing the Falls
I was the sixth person to go out of the 12 in my group. I sat on the bottom of the rock and watched closely as my peers struggled their way around rocks, paying close attention to which parts were the most slippery, which spots were good for planting my feet on and exactly when to switch from the right side of the rock to the left. Consequently, when it was my turn, I looked like a pro and was able to climb over the rocks in under 10 seconds.
The excursion includes a buffet lunch, served on the covered porch of a small wooden house in the middle of a local farm. The meal is prepared by a local family and consists of typical "platos criollos," which may include rice with pigeon peas, chicken, ribs, Puerto Rican sweet potatoes and beans.
After lunch, the adventure continues with a short hike through the rainforest to Acampa's rappelling site at the top of a 60-foot cliff. From the edge, your clients will lower themselves down a rope alongside a waterfall into a cool pool below.
After a final dip in the water, Acampa took us on a walk to its zipline high above the Quebrada Rosa river. I felt like I was in an action movie as I zipped in the pouring rain across 200 feet of space while taking in a beautiful view from above the treetops of the valley.
Acampa charges clients $150 for the entire day, including lunch and transportation to and from your guests' hotel. Agents get a 15 percent commission and can either book directly online at www.acampapr.com or call Sepulveda at 787-706-0695. —JOE PIKE