Island Icon: Abel Vale

Abel Vale has dedicated decades to protecting Puerto Rico’s karst landscape.

Abel Vale in Puerto Rico
Abel Vale has worked for more than two decades to keep his island country’s green spaces protected. Francisco Elias

In plato’s allegory of the cave, a prisoner finds enlightenment by emerging from the darkness of a cave into the sunlight. For Abel Vale, the journey was precisely the opposite. The first time he ventured into the karst (limestone) caves of Puerto Rico’s Mona Island, Abel’s wonder and awe at their geological marvels changed the course of his life. “I had the sense that I had been in the womb of the Earth,” he recalls.

In 1994, Vale helped establish Ciudadanos del Karso, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the karst region that accounts for more than a third of the landmass of Puerto Rico’s main island. This unique terrain is critical for conserving geological and biological diversity, as well as the underlying aquifers that are a vital source of fresh water for all life, agriculture and industry on the island.

CDK successfully lobbied the government to designate 235,000 acres of the karst region as protected land. Still, Vale and fellow CDK members continue in their public-education campaign to raise awareness and appreciation of the stunning and significant natural resource that surrounds them. “When you’re in the karst region and see the amazing shapes that the rocks and trees can take,” he says, “it makes your imagination run wild.”


What makes Puerto Rico’s karst region unique? In less than three hours, you can see all the different types of karst formations: caves, sinkholes, valleys, mogotes [steep-sided hills]. You’d have to travel far greater distances in order to do the same in the US or Mexico.

Where is the best spot for visitors to see and appreciate Puerto Rico’s karst landscape? Go along Highway 2 in the northern part of Puerto Rico to Guajataca. There’s a 200-foot-high train tunnel where you can see both the sea and the karst landscape. A lot of people stop there to take photos because it is so beautiful.

Abel Vale’s A-List for San José

Ropa Vieja Grill: Their cuisine is excellent, especially its namesake dish.


Café Cuatro Sombras: They serve very good panini and their own coffee. Its name means “the four shades” and refers to the four types of shade trees that protected the coffee plants.

El Tap: It’s a good bar for people into the latest craft beers.

Castillo San Felipe Del Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal: These landmark forts in Old San Juan were both constructed from quarried karst.


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