It’s not often that a machete is a standard piece of climbing gear, but when professional climber, Josh Larson accepted an invitation to climb in Puerto Rico to explore the emerging climbing community on the island, it was on his list of must-haves.
“It’s not like there are any professional parks or trails,” he said. “You will need a machete for the trails mostly, as they grow in very quickly, and if you want to develop something, you will want a saw to trim thicker bushes.”
The 30-year-old Larson has been climbing since the age of 14 and competing for six years at both indoor competitions and World Cups across the globe. But he, like most climbers around the world, was unfamiliar with the opportunities in Puerto Rico until meeting someone from the island at a competition.
“I was talking to a friend, and he introduced me to Bryant Huffman, who is really passionate about climbing in Puerto Rico,” Larson said. “So we got to talking, and it took a year of playing calendar tag with each other to find a date that worked. I was finally able to get down there in 2015.”
Since then, Larson has spent more than nine weeks climbing on the island—and he now considers himself passionate about the area and all the opportunities it has to offer climbers.
He recalls deep-water soloing on wild shaped limestone cliffs over the ocean, 50- to 70-foot granite towers that protrude out of the jungle, and countless limestone sport climbing caves all over the island. But, what really excites Larson are the near-perfect granite blocs around Yabucoa, a city on the southwest part of the island.
“It’s a place any climber would love,” he said.
Getting to Know Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is on the small side, just 3,515 square miles, with a population of 3.5 million. San Juan, the island’s capital, is a well-known tourist destination. Its “Old San Juan” section includes the historic Fort San Felipe del Morro, cobblestone streets, and plenty of shops, bars, restaurants and cafes. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated U.S. territory, which means that U.S. citizens can travel to the island without a passport, and you don’t have to go through customs.
“And there’s no need for a currency exchange,” Larson said. “They use U.S. dollars, so it’s a very easy trip. And cheap—the cost of living is much lower there. Airfare is usually inexpensive, so as far as taking an extended trip, you can really do it on the cheap.”
You will, however, need to rent a car to travel to Yabucoa when you fly into San Juan.
Larson suggests renting something that will go up insanely steep—but paved—roads.
“A 4x4 isn't needed, but something with power,” he said.
In his initial exploration of climbing around Yabucoa, Larson divided the climbing into three sectors: “Yabucoa” (the biggest cluster of blocs and problems), “Peidra Blanca,” and “The Bull Farm.” (Read Larson’s blog post to find a map of each section as well as more details about his adventures.)
The Bull Farm section is currently closed because local climbing enthusiasts are working to finalize issues with parking and land access.
“A lot of the climbing is still new to the residents of Yabucoa, and we don't want to disrupt the homeowners and their land by overloading them with parking and random people on their property,” Larson said. “Please take consideration that we are all responsible for the climbing in Yabucoa — one wrong move or action and it could be jeopardized.”
As for the other areas that Larson explored, he suggests including these in any rock-climbing trip to the island:
The Flag Blocs: “ This area is one of my favorites because of setting, view and problem quality all spread across these three massive blocs.”
The Slide Area: “ This area can be seen from the Flag boulders, if you look across the main section of the field, you'll see all the blocs lined along the jungle’s edge,” he said. “We call this jungle ‘the underworld’ and you'll see why when you adventure around in there.”
The ‘Big Mama’ project: This area between the Flag and Slide sits just below the jungle. There is very little development here, but a few projects are in the works. “When the locals first introduced this area to me, I thought it was perfect,” Larson said. “I returned a few times late in the evening for night sessions, but still the upper two moves haven’t gone. Next trip back, I will focus more time on the beauty!”
One nice thing about climbing in Puerto Rico—nothing on the island is deadly! According to Larson, you don’t have to worry about poisonous bugs, plants, or “monkeys that would maul your face open.” But there are a few things to know that will help you prepare for the trip:
- The mosquitoes can be bothersome, so bug spray is probably a good idea.
- There are some nettle-like plants that will cause about 10 to 20 minutes of itching. Avoid these if you can.
- You might run into “piss ants,” as they’re nicknamed on the island. These small, nearly invisible ants actually pee on you. It sounds gross, but according to Larson, it was the “worst itching pain I've ever had.” So be careful when shaking trees or grabbing branches. The good thing is that they are only really bad in the “Peidra Blanca” area.
Specific climbing tips for Puerto Rico
- Bring plenty of chalk, as it’s difficult to find on the Island. Larson said that while you can find some climbing supplies on the island (more on that below), it’s better to bring what you need with you.
- Remember wire cleaning brushes if you want to clean, which is recommended because so much is available for development. Bring a short rope and harness for cleaning as well.
- About that machete: You can buy one for less than $10. “Go to the local ‘Hector’s Hardware’ store in Yabucoa and buy yourself a machete,” Larson said. “Ask for Hector and tell him you are a climber. He will be psyched to know that climbers can bring him money. He will also try to sell you everything in his store. But if it’s in season, buy the local honey!”
- When to go: You’re in the tropics, so it’s going to be warm—sometimes even too warm to climb. The coolest temps are in winter months between December and March, but the coldest are around January and February. “The best time of the day to climb is in the evenings before dark and after a rain storm,” Larson said.
If you’re interested in climbing in Puerto Rico, reach out to Climbing PR , the local group that is working hard to grow the sport on the island. They can help by guiding as well as directing you to the limited climbing resources on the island.
“They’re doing a great job growing the sport on the island,” Larson said. “But there’s still so much just waiting to be climbed for the first time.”
Originally written for Gramicci.