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Somos Peñuelas: Get to Know The Fantasy of the Valley of the Flamboyanes

Peñuelas has history, legends, culture and many natural attractions that make it an ideal stop when touring southern Puerto Rico

April 19, 2024 - 11:00 PM

For any visitor, the most iconic point of the city is the Plaza de Recreo where the artistic expression of the Flamboyán Mosaic, the sculptures of the legend that gives rise to the name of the Guayanés River and the recreation, appear to be a perfect combination for the local traveler. (Xavier García)

Lee la historia en español aquí.

Peñuelas.- Surrounded by legends, the coastal town of Peñuelas honors its nickname “Valle de los Flamboyanes” (Valley of the Flamboyants) by showcasing nature’s charms, along with its architecture, taking visitors to the times of yesteryear while conserving its rustic identity in many of its areas.

From the downtown area to the rural areas, romanticism, history, and fantasy are the protagonists of the great stories that attract dozens of visitors who visit this town every week.

The young peñolano José Manuel Velázquez Santiago has become the raconteur of the historical events that have attracted local tourism into this town. “The flow of people in recent months has been high. Mostly it is local tourism and diaspora peñolanos who bring their extended family. Since the hotel in town (Royal Delonix Hotel) opened about six months ago, we have more visitors and we’ve forged cultural links with other towns,” said the young man.

Hiking, rappelling, and other extreme sports attract foreign tourists who, seduced by the social media posts of other visitors, visit this town in search of adventure. “Many American tourists come, as well as city folk from the metropolitan area who visit the mountain, which they also call the Devil’s Throat, which is about an hour and forty-five (1:45) minute walk. It is a challenging trip because there’s a lot of walking,” explained the enthusiastic guide.

For any visitor, the most iconic point of the city is the town square, where the artistic expressions of the Flamboyán Mosaic, the sculptures alluding to the legend that gives origin to the name of the Guayanés River, as well as leisure, come together to welcome local travelers.

“We show the history of Peñuelas and, with the new arrangement in the square, we talk about the legend of the Guayanés River. It is the story of Guay, a Taíno native, and Anés, a Spanish girl. Similar to the story of Romeo and Juliet, it is an impossible love that was cut short by the Spanish girl’s father. He killed the Taíno and she threw herself into the river, drowning next to him,” said the guide as he pointed to the recreation of this legend on one side of the center.

There you can see the sculptures of this story’s protagonists, separated by the current of a simulated river, which includes stones extracted from the river itself. “There is a song that is sung a lot at Christmas and it says that ‘si bebes del agua del Río Guayanés, quedas encantado de la cabeza a los pies,” (if you drink from the Guayanés River, you will be enchanted from head to toe) he hummed as he walked along Pedro Velázquez Díaz street, the main access to this urban area.

The Acoustic Shell is flanked by the imposing image of a colorful Flamboyant tree, painted by peñolano visual artist Israel Rosario. Both points of interest are at each end of the main recreational square for the citizens. The San José Catholic Church, a building that dates from 1793, has suffered earthquakes, such as the one in 1918, and hurricanes like San Felipe, in 1928. It has undergone renovations throughout the years.

This building is dedicated to the Santo Cristo de la Salud, to whom the miracle of 1867 is attributed. According to this young historian, “the Santo Cristo de la Salud is a Christ made of carved Chinese wood. He is credited with the miracle of removing the waters caused by a tidal wave. The Catholic priest of the small town of Tallaboa Encarnación went out with the parishioners carrying the Santo Cristo de la Salud. When the sea reached the procession, it stopped and, as they walked along, kept moving backwards”.

”La negra cocola” is a locomotive that dates back to 1924 and was used to transport sugarcane.
”La negra cocola” is a locomotive that dates back to 1924 and was used to transport sugarcane. (El Nuevo Día / Isabel Ferré Sadurní)

Another one of the town’s many stories is illustrated with the remains of “La negra cocola,” a locomotive from 1924 that was used to transport sugarcane. This machine, at the time, represented a breakthrough for sugarcane transport work. It was imported from Philadelphia and was powered by coal. The historical piece is located in the Parque del Retiro Ángel M. Román Cruz, and it was donated by the Valdivieso family.

When walking through downtown Peñuelas, one can still perceive the image of a humble, hard-working town where small businesses like hardware stores, funeral homes, pharmacies, banks, and medical offices line the streets, without altering the area’s traditional facades.

Ramón Rivera “Bonyé” Museum

Also in this area is the town’s only museum; it gathers a series of distinctive pieces of the history of Peñuelas, from its founding to popular activities. All events have been evidenced in the Ramón Rivera “Bonyé” House Museum, a tribute to the eponymous former mayor who died unexpectedly during the first months of his tenure.

“He was a well-liked man of the people. In addition to the history of “Bonyé”, the museum has three archaeological rooms of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, as well as a permanent history and art room. It is also a cultural center where activities such as reading fairs were held and, before the pandemic, community cinema. It also has a library with national, Peñuelas and Latin American literature,” said the young man.

The Ramón Rivera “Bonyé” House Museum features a collection of pieces from the Taíno era. 
The Ramón Rivera “Bonyé” House Museum features a collection of pieces from the Taíno era.  (El Nuevo Día / Isabel Ferré Sadurní)

Steps away from this recreational and cultural center is the Plaza Artesanal, which brings together the offerings of local art and the many artisans in the area.

“Here in Plaza Artesanal is where bazaars are held, where artisans present their work and it is quite crowded on weekends,” said Velázquez, who is also a passionate seed artisan.

On the outskirts of downtown one can observe what remains of the famous Chimenea de Peñuelas. Today, only bricks remain of the thirty-foot high structure built in the 1940s, still standing in the Santo Domingo barrio.

Imposing show of nature

At Cerro Los Cabros, the majesty of nature is represented by the grandiose Ceiba tree that attracts visitors to this southern town. Its impressive roots and natural constitution do not go unnoticed to those who seek to gaze upon this marvel. The Torres Piñeiro family, owners of the land where this jewel of nature is located, have established a perimeter to protect the legendary tree.

The ceiba, which appears to be more than a hundred feet tall, has a thick trunk, making it a refuge for some exotic birds such as the monk parakeet and the pitirre, among others.

The picture shows the centennial ceiba tree on Cerro Los Cabros. 
The picture shows the centennial ceiba tree on Cerro Los Cabros.  (El Nuevo Día / Isabel Ferré Sadurní)
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