Kayaking the Sabana River: Ecotourism in Puerto Rico

I adore kayaking, so I booked a Kayak Tour of the Sabana River, which is at the other end of the playa from our condo in Luquillo. We got so much more than we bargained for! For just $30 apiece, Bob and I found ourselves on a fascinating eco and historical tour offered by Ramon of Sun Capital Paddlesports. Ramon introduced us to the Sabana River Estuary of the Northeast Ecological Corridor, a breathlessly beautiful a protected natural area.

This is Ramon of Sun Capital Paddlesports

After a short but very thorough lesson on how to kayak, Ramon led us and just three other people, he on a stand-up paddleboard and us in two-person kayaks, as we navigated several branches of the river. He pulled out a map before we started and explained the history of the area, what used to be here, what had happened to it.

We learned that Luquillo was the first place Christopher Columbus saw when he discovered Puerto Rice in the 1400s. The Taino Indians were living here at the time, and he has discovered their petroglyphs upriver, toward El Yunque peak and the rain forest, evidence that they traveled in that direction to avoid the invading Spaniards.

Roman told us about a past sugar cane plantation, a cow farm, and then how this area because a protected corridor in 2013, after the community rose up against developers who wanted to build more resorts on Puerto Rico.

Northeast Ecological Corridor

The Northeast Ecological Corridor consists of almost 3,000 lush acres of land along the Atlantic Coast in the northeast corner of Puerto Rico. It is home to native red bats, which we saw flying around over our heads as we passed under a bridge.

I did a little digging into this protected area, and found this from Sierra Club Puerto Rico:

The Northeast Ecological Corridor is an incredibly biodiverse tract of land covering nearly 3,000 acres of lowland tropical forest, mangroves, wetlands, sandy beaches, seagrass beds, and coral reefs. The Corridor stretches over five miles of undeveloped beach, from Luquillo to Fajardo, and not only serves as a beloved “backyard” for thousands of locals, but also is one of only two sites in the Caribbean where endangered leatherback sea turtles come on land to nest. The largest of all turtles, leatherbacks lay their eggs on the Corridor’s beaches from March until July. A few months later, the babies hatch and crawl back to the sea.

Only a few years ago, the Northeast Ecological Corridor’s status as one of the last remaining tracts of undeveloped coastline in Puerto Rico was under threat. Resort developers wanted to buy up the land and build hotels, a plan that would have both social and environmental consequences.

Here’s a map of the corridor:

Endangered Leatherback Turtles

Perhaps its most important function is to host the nesting grounds of endangered leatherback turtles (tinglars, in Spanish), which grow to be up to seven feet long.

Photo provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region

Ramon explained why the street lights along the coast in Luquillo are red – not just to reduce ambient light, as we had suspected, but to keep the turtles from going in the wrong direction after they lay their eggs. They look for the light of the moon reflected in the ocean, and white streetlights can confuse them. Isn’t that interesting?

The Sierra Club puts on a Leatherback Turtle Festival every spring to promote awareness of the gentle giants, attracting 25,000 people to Luquillo Beach with music, food trucks, activities, and turtle-themed crafts.

There’s also a local nonprofit called Tortugas del Sur that dedicates itself to helping these endangered creatures breed successfully during nesting season.

Other Creatures Along the River

We also passed this humongous iguana on the eco-tour, as well as the largest termite nest I have ever seen.

We also saw an osprey and a great blue heron, two majestic sea birds that I love, Unfortunately, they were in flight and my hands were occupied with paddles, so I couldn’t get their pictures.

Ramon made sure to take plenty of pictures of participants in the tour, the best souvenir imaginable.

Hats off to Ramon, who dedicates his life to taking care of this delicate region, taking groups on these tours to give them a fascinating experience and cultivate carrying about the Corridor and the turtles! Five Stars!

Want to join us on the kayaking journey? Watch Bob’s Youtube video!