The municipality of Manati, Puerto Rico is located on the north coast of the island. Manati, Puerto Rico is north of Morovis and Ciales, east of Florida and Barceloneta and west of Vega Baja, while the northern border of the municipality faces the Atlantic Ocean.
Manati, Puerto Rico covers a total of 119 square kilometres of territory, and has a population of approximately 45,409 inhabitants (according to the 2000 Census). The highest point of the region can be found at Pelota Ridge, 250 meters above sea level, however, Manati is best known not for its heights, but for its rivers and rock formations.
The third highest volume river on the island, Rio Grande de Manati passes through Manati, Puerto Rico, having originated in Barranquitas at around 680 meters above sea level.
At 73km in length, the river is one of several on the island which enter the Atlantic. Manati has what is described by geologists as a karst region – rock formations such as haystacks, caves and underground rivers created naturally over millions of years of passing water eroding the stone away.
History of Manati, Puerto Rico
It is believed that the area of Manati, Puerto Rico has been used by humans as a settlement area for thousands of years. At the site known as Angostura, archaeological remains were discovered in 1988 during clearing work for the development of a commercial centre and highway.
Carbon dating of items found in middens suggested that Orotoid people likely settled in this area at around 4000 BC. Angostura is positioned above normal flood levels, with four middens surrounding a large central plaza. The site stretches over 6.2 hectares and is thought to have been occupied consistently over a 1000 year long period.
These findings, close to Manati, Puerto Rico, are significant as they offer evidence and greater knowledge about the islands earliest settlers and their ways of life.
It was not until much later that Manati, Puerto Rico was “discovered” by the Spanish. It is widely believed that in 1508, when Juan Ponce de Leon and his men landed on the island, Manati was considered as a point for constructing a main settlement.
Some historians believe that the “Rio Ana” mentioned as being a source for gold in Ponce de Leon’s writing is Rio Grande de Manati. However, Ponce de Leon decided to move on from Manati (to Caparra and then San Juan) due to unpredictable tides which made navigating the coastline difficult.
Historical records make no further mention of Manati, Puerto Rico until 1729. Bishop Sebastian Lorenzo Pizarro toured the region and noted that he had seen a hermitage in honour of Our Lady of Candlemas, on the banks of the river. In 1733, the population of what is now Manati, Puerto Rico was slowly increasing.
The Spanish Crown granted a man called Pedro Menendez Valdes around 200 acres of land along the banks of Rio Grande de Manati, to be used for agricultural purposes.
Just five years later, in the June of 1738, Manati was founded, making it the ninth settlement officially recognised by the Spanish Crown . Although some sources name, Pedro Menendez Valdes as the founder of Manati, Puerto Rico, others suggest that he was in fact the first mayor of the settlement, while Sebastian Antonio de Villafaňa was the founder.
The first months of life in Manati, Puerto Rico were troubled due to the passing of two hurricanes. Santa Rosa, on August 30, and San Leonicio, on September 12, caused damage to structures and crops, and according to Memorias by Pedro T de Cordova, a pest caused damage to crops that had been planted.
Despite these early difficulties Manati, Puerto Rico soon began to thrive. In 1776 Friar Inigo Abbad y Lasierra wrote about the settlement, noting that 447 families lived in the town, with a population totalling around 3000.
The town had a well established church and most domestic properties were solidly built, with tiled roofs. In 1786, Manati, Puerto Rico was again struck by disaster when the settlement was damaged by an earthquake, but the settlers quickly rebuilt their community.
Manati, Puerto Rico continued to grow in prosperity, as the local economy changed from mining to agriculture. In 1853, the colony had 8 streets and 2 plazas as well as facilities including a school and many small businesses : 5 potter’s workshops, 2 carpenters and 3 barrel makers.
With 280 houses and 2000 bohio huts, the population continued to grow. Most importantly, 12 sugar mills were now in operation, 4 powered by wind and 1 by steam.
Over the years these sugar mills would play a central role in the economy of Manati, Puerto Rico. Other crops produced in the area have traditionally included tobacco, pineapple and coconut, as well as the production of livestock, especially cattle.
Facts About Manati, Puerto Rico
Manati, Puerto Rico is nicknamed The Athens of Puerto Rico. This is because, in the period of 1910 – 1940, the city became a central meeting point for great minds, drawing comparison with the Greek city of Athens.
Writers, scientists, poets and progressive thinkers gathered together at the salons of the famous Casino Espanol to share thoughts and engage in literary competitions known as floral games. Amongst these men were Jose de Jesus Esteves, Enrique Zorrilla and Angel A Villamil of Manati, while others, including Cristobal Real and Jose Adsuar travelled from other locations on the island to participate.
Manati is also sometimes referred to as Metropolitan City.
Manati was the Taíno word for manatee – a sea mammal which was once abundant around the mouth of the Rio Grande de Manati. The Taíno word translates roughly as “woman’s breast”, describing the voluptuous body shape of the manatee, which can grow up to 4 meters in length and 900 kilograms in weight.
The Taíno saw the manatee as sacred, and hunted them, using every part of the carcass, either as food or to make tools. The manatee were also hunted by the Spanish colonists in Puerto Rico. This fascinating plant eating species is now protected, and can be seen off the coast in some areas of the island.
Manati, Puerto Rico is one of the few places where the Wakes of the Cross are performed. This Catholic ceremony is believed to have originated in southern Spain and involves singing with rosary beads. Historians believe that the tradition of the Wakes of the Cross began in Manati after the earthquake of 1786.
The ceremony is only ever performed on three occasions : after the death of a loved one, to make a dedication to a saint, and during May, which is the month of the cross according to the Catholic faith. The singing of the wakes takes place on nine consecutive nights, followed by a dance, and a procession to the beach.
Manati, Puerto Rico is part of a new tourism region called Porta Atlantico. Hotels and other businesses in Manati and several other municipalities are involved in developing the economy of this new region and increasing the number of jobs in the area, by providing better facilities and attractions for international visitors.
The flag of Manati, Puerto Rico is made up of three horizontal stripes in white, red and blue, these being the colours of the founder of the settlement. The coat of arms is divided into four quarters, two of which feature a Greek style temple in honour of the nickname Athens of Puerto Rico, and two with manatee symbols. A central shield decorated with flames references the bonfires lit during the festival of the Patron Saint Our Lady of Candlemas, which takes place in February.
Places to See in Manati, Puerto Rico
Manati, Puerto Rico offers an excellent combination of attractions for visitors, both of historical interest and natural wonder.
The church of Nuestro Senora de la Candelaria & San Matias Apostle was built in 1729 and is of particular interest for its architecture and decoration. The church was added to the register of National Historic Monuments in 1984 and remains in active service today.
La Monserrate Sugar Mill played an important role in the economy of Manati, Puerto Rico. The mill was founded by a moneylender, who also sold parts for sugar mill equipment to other mill owners in the area. Salvador Calaf y Serra was originally from the Catalan area of Spain and started the mill in 1845, with a plantation on 50 cuerdas of land. Over the following years, he extended his business by taking more land in lieu of payment of debts.
He also married a woman called Petrona Vega, who was from a wealthy family and owned land herself. The couple named the plantation Hacienda Victoria, however in 1863, the name was changed to La Monserrate. Eventually, La Monserrate grew to consist of 11 haciendas and 7 fincas.
The business continued to thrive under the management of Calaf’s son (whose mother was a Manati local called Joaquina Rivera). The key to the success of La Monserrate was a careful process of modernisation, which included a rail connection for transporting goods. However in 1972, economic pressures proved too much and the mill closed for good.
The Plaza de la Historia is a black granite mural with gold lettering (written by Dr Carmelo Rosari Natal, a local historian) which tells the history of Manati, Puerto Rico. Nearby stands a bust by the sculptor Severo Romero, the subject being Antonio Velez Alvarado who is credited with designing the official flag of Puerto Rico.
Teatro Taboas is an art deco style cinema which was built in 1938 by the Pacifico Brothers and Teodomiri Taboas Gandara. It has been restored following some years of minimal maintenance and provides a colourful addition to Manati.
During the 1800s Hacienda La Esperanza was one of the most important sugar businesses in Manati, Puerto Rico. Established by Fernando Fernandez, originally from the Castille region of Spain, the majority of work at the hacienda was performed by slaves, as was custom in that period. In 1850, the Hacienda was inherited by Jose Ramon Fernandez y Martinez who continued to expand the business his father had founded.
One of his additions was a West Point Foundry Beam Steam Engine in 1861, which can be seen on the site today and as it is the only surviving engine of its type, is listed as a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. Fernandez y Martinez became one of the richest men in Puerto Rico, eventually acquiring the title of Marques de la Esperanza. In its heyday, an estimated 175 slaves worked on La Esperanza, facing harsh conditions and undertaking dangerous tasks.
However, when slavery was outlawed in 1873, the business began to feel the strain, and in 1879 the land was sold. By 1975, Hacienda La Esperanza had fallen into disrepair, and 2000 acres of land in the area was purchased by the Puerto Rico Conservation trust.
Restoration work took place, and since 2010, guided historical tours of the Hacienda have been available for visitors. The area is listed on the National Historic Register and is also an important natural reserve, with a large number of different eco-systems including mangroves and reefs.
Manati, Puerto Rico is well known for its beautiful beaches. Mar Chiquita is a natural formed cove, protected by limestone walls with a small opening to the sea. With golden sand , the beach is a little piece of paradise, popular with visitors and locals alike. Legend has it that many years ago, a child was hunting for pirate treasure and found a bundle of papers which told the story of the Miracle of Mar Chiquita.
The papers described a beautiful woman called Fini-Ana who had a habit of skipping over the rocks on the sea shore. One day, she fell in a sink hole and would have drowned, had it not been for an earth tremor which created Mar Chiquita and threw her safely to the shore.
Near to Mar Chiquita is Cueva Las Golondrias (The Swallows Cave). This cave is of particular interest due to the rare stone structures created when stalactites and stalagmites join together. Petroglyph stone carvings can be seen on the walls, which suggest that the caves were used by Taíno people for religious ceremonies during the island’s early history.
As an interesting note, during archaeological investigations of the cave, some workers claimed to hear strange voices, and refused to continue excavations…
Another of Manati’s beaches is Los Tubos which offers good waves for surfing, and is the location of the annual beach festival. The festival takes place in July, attracting 50,000 or more spectators to participate and enjoy sports activities and music from internationally successful artists. Los Tubos means “the tubes” – some people say the beach was given this name after 1912, when (tube shaped) drains from Laguna Tortugero were constructed to exit at the beach.
The Tortugero Lagoon Natural Reserve is located between Manati and Vega Baja, and is the only natural lake in Puerto Rico. The lake is fed by underwater springs and at 2.43 square kilometres, is one of the largest bodies of non-salt water on the island. 717 plant species and 23 fish species are found in the area, as well as examples of karst rock structures.
During the 1970s, the reserve experienced a problem with caiman infestation. It is thought that large number of young caiman were released into the water by people who had bought them as pets, but realised that they were incapable of looking after them. The caiman bred and this growing population began to threaten the eco-system, so an eradication program was put in place in the 1980s.
Although mostly unsuccessful, the caiman problem is under control, and it is rare to see one unless you are visiting the area at night, when caution is advised. Popular activities in the area include kayaking and fishing.
Rio Encantado, the Enchanted River, is an underground system which flows under Manati, Florida and Ciales. The longest cave in Puerto Rico, and the second longest fully navigable underground river in the world, only 17.1km (up to a depth of 250 m below ground) has been explored.
In Mata de Platano Reserve, endangered Puerto Rican Boas can be seen around the the opening of the Cueva de Culebrones, where they feed on the bats which inhabit the caves. Six species of bats have been identified in the area, with a population of around 300,000 in total. Also in the reserve is the Manati Bridge, also known as Bridge #321 or Puente Juan Jose Jimenez. The large metal structure crosses a deep canyon and once provided the main connection between Ciales and Manati.
Other attractions in Manati, Puerto Rico include the Acropolis Sports Complex, offering a variety of fitness activities for all ages, and the Premium Outlets Mall shopping centre with a wide range of US brand name stores.
Famous People from Manati, Puerto Rico
Francisco Alvarez y Marrero – Poet, journalist and founder of La Voz del Norte newspaper.
Jose Miguel Class – singer.
Epifano Fernandez Vanga – campaigned for Spanish to be used in Puerto Rican schooling.
Miguellito Miranda – trumpet player.
Angel Ramod – founder of Telemundo, a major Spanish language television network.