About Las Tinajas Waterfall and Charco Frio
Las Tinajas Waterfall struck me as one of those really fun swimming hole waterfalls featuring a deep pool that can accommodate a high rope swing as well as cliff jumps.
If anything, I think of this waterfall as really a backdrop to the swimming hole commotion, especially after the muddy and muggy hike it took for us to get there.
…And we took the easy way to reach Las Tinajas (which I’ll explain shortly)!
By the way, there could be more waterfalls and natural water slides further upstream from Las Tinajas Waterfall pictured above.
However, with all the tour groups occupying the scrambling paths during our April 2022 visit (which took place on Good Friday), I didn’t pursue those paths to prolong our visit.
This was especially since afternoon thunderstorms had already popped up and started dumping buckets of on-and-off rain during our visit.
Finally, I’ve seen this place associated with the place name “Charco Frío” (Cold Pool), which actually caused me a bit of confusion concerning what exactly this pool is and whether it’s the same spot as the Las Tinajas Waterfall.
I’ll unpack this confusion (on my part at least), which actually caused me to do the two different approaches to access Las Tinajas Waterfall from the car parks at the start (see directions below).
What’s Up With This Easy Way Versus Hard Way?
What I’m calling the “easy way” to access Las Tinajas Waterfall is basically a wide but muddy 4wd track through someone’s property that ultimately reaches the swimming hole and falls after about 3/4-mile or so.
It took us roughly about 45 minutes to an hour in each direction, but most of that time was spent trying to avoid the deep mud patches along this trail as well as the slippery, rooty descent down to the Río Fajardo.
By the way, that river defines the border between the municipalities of Ceiba to the south and Fajardo to the north.
I learned that most of the political boundaries throughout Puerto Rico are defined by these rivers, which makes sense since natural landmarks are easier to identify than the imaginary ones (e.g. the state line between California and Nevada).
Anyways, in order to get started on this hike, there are two ways you can go about doing this.
First, you can try to approach the private property gate with the access road leading directly to the falls.
Alternatively, you can park in a large grassy area at a different property (i.e. a different owner) and then either walk up to the gated entrance for the property owner with the easy access or try to bypass his property by hiking along the river itself.
As of our April 2022 visit, the owner with the easy access charged us $10 for the vehicle and $2 per person (so $16 total for the three of us).
We were lucky apparently with our visit because he accommodated us even though there were tours who have contractual agreements with the landowner to occupy most (if not all) of his parking space behind the gate.
Now if this parking area is closed or full, then you can backtrack to the owner with the large grassy area, where he charged $5 per vehicle.
From there, it’s up to you to decide whether to walk to the gate and landowner with the easy access and pay $2 per person, or whether you’d want to scramble up the river to eventually reach the Las Tinajas Waterfall.
Just to give you an idea of how hard the “hard way” is, it involves a very muddy (even muddier than the “easy way”) and rocky river scramble where the trail is not always defined.
If I had to guess, it would take perhaps twice as long to reach Las Tinajas via the hard way as compared to the easy way.
Trail Description Of the Easy Way
From the car park area within the property with the easy access, we basically just followed the main 4wd road uphill for roughly 45 minutes or so.
The “road” passed through a fairly typical Puerto Rican jungle with some non-native bamboo, non-native tall grass, and some other interesting vegetation rich with wildlife (we saw a giant snail clinging to one of the leaves).
Along the way, there were at least two or three gates, which seemed kind of superfluous until I realized after the fact that they were there to deter visitors from trespassing through his property should they enter from the river (bypassing the first gate).
We encountered one such intermediate river access route that seemed well-worn about a quarter-mile from the start of the hike.
Although the trail was pretty straightforward to follow, we were slowed down by not only trying to avoid the most slippery and messiest parts of the mud, but we also had to wait for tour groups to pass by in the more narrower sections.
Towards the end of the hike, we noticed a narrow gully to the right that dropped directly down to the river, but we also noticed a more well-used trail that involved going on muddy rocks and roots as it went around a large tree down to the river.
Both approaches were slippery and messy, but I’d imagine you might have a harder time climbing up out of the narrower path on the way out given the lack of footholds.
In order to start seeing the Las Tinajas Waterfall, we had to wade out towards the far side of the Fajardo River, where we caught a distance look at the narrow chute waterfall spilling into the deepest parts of the plunge pool.
I did see tour groups climbing up to the cliffs and rope swings for cliff jumps, but I also saw some of the more adventurous tours go even further upstream towards water slides and other aspects of the waterfall (which I didn’t pursue).
Overall, our visit would only take less than 90 minutes for just doing the out-and-back hike in this manner without spending even more time swimming and cliff jumping like a lot of the tour participants did here.
However, I did extend my visit because I needed to better understand what the Charco Frío was all about, which I had assumed were swimming holes closer to the trailhead.
The Charco Frío Confusion & The Hard Way
In my confusion, I actually decided to do another hike within the Fajardo River from the larger parking area thinking that there ought to be more obvious “cold swimming holes” (as per the “Charco Frío” place name).
However, after about an hour of pretty fruitless scrambling in the river and discovering a muddy trail that seemed to parallel the northern banks of the river, I concluded that it got way too rough and that there was really nothing there.
According to my GPS logs, I had only gone about 1/3 of the way upstream to Las Tinajas Waterfall, and I suspected that it would have taken me twice as long to reach Las Tinajas Waterfall doing it this way instead of the easy way.
So I apparently concluded that my initial assumptions about what Charco Frío were wrong, and all I had to show for my efforts were just smaller miscellaneous cascades and swimming holes on the Fajardo River along the way.
This was confirmed when I spoke to a guide who explained to me that Charco Frío was just a generic term for a cold pool, and that the real target of this adventure was the Las Tinajas Waterfall itself.
Thus, I could have also concluded that Charco Frío was really that deep pool fronting the main waterfall!
Anyways, the main takeaway from this experience was that you can access Las Tinajas without going through the property owner with the most convenient access (whether you don’t want to pay or it’s just not available).
However, doing it in this manner is way more involved and will likely take twice as long while assuming a lot more risk in the process.
According to the helpful Puerto Rico Day Trips website, the owner of the property with the most convenient access is named Mr. Basilio, and his number as of March 2019 is (787) 342-2415. You may want to consult that website for the latest information since it is run by Americans who have moved from New Jersey to Río Grande. Thus, they can reconn or have connections to locals and can provide updates to the latest conditions and ownership situations.
The way we accessed Las Tinajas Waterfall was from the north, where the most straightforward approach would be to take the PR-3 towards Fajardo, and then turn onto the PR-976 to the PR-971.
Note that staying with the PR-976 and going onto the PR-971 looks easy on say Google Maps, but in practice, there are actually a myriad of turns at stop signs on seemingly small or residential streets.
So we really had to pay attention to our GPS tracking while correlating where we were on the map relative to what we were seeing in reality.
Anyways by the time we were on the PR-971, there were signs pointing the way to Las Tinajas, and then we turned right just after the bridge over the Fajardo River onto a narrow access road leading to the car parks for Las Tinajas.
The drive from Fajardo to Las Tinajas would take around 20 minutes to do the 11km depending on the traffic.
We didn’t take the southern approach from the Toll Highway Route 53 (though we could have when we came back to Fajardo from Cayey at the end of the trip), and that would involve leaving the highway at Naguabo then accessing PR-571 from the PR-31.
Overall, Fajardo is about 9km (about 15 minutes drive depending on traffic) east of Luquillo, about 8km (about 10 minutes drive) north of Ceiba, and about 60km (over over an hour drive depending on traffic while also using the toll PR-66) east of San Juan.
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