Vega Baja, a municipality located in the central part of the north coast of Puerto Rico, is known as the “City of Melao Melao,” which refers to its past of growing sugar cane. It is also known as the “City of Orange Groves” because oranges were the most commonly grown fruit in the town.
The municipality covers an area of 121.4 square kilometers (46.7 square mile). The patron saint is Nuestra Señora del Rosario. Currently, Vega Baja has 61,929 vegabajeños (2000 Census). The municipality is divided into the sectors of Algarrobo, Almirante Norte, Almirante Sur, Cabo Caribe, Ceiba, Cibuco, Puerto Nuevo, Pugnado Adentro, Pugnado Afuera, Quebrada Arenas, Río Abajo, Río Arriba, Vega Baja-Pueblo and Yeguada.
One distinctive element of Vega Baja is the military museum, which is located in the Tortuguero area and preserves materials from World War II and the Korean War. The municipality also has two important theaters in its urban center. The art deco style America Theater was inaugurated in 1924 as a cinema with a capacity of 527. This theater was in operation until 1985. The Phoenix theater was built in 1917 in a neo-classical style and seats 800 people. It has four dressing rooms and a spacious stage.
Vega Baja is also known for its archaeological findings. A discovery that has been called the Indian Route was found in Vega Baja and shows evidence of the Ostionoid culture. According to archaeologists who have worked at the site, the discovery of the bodies of indigenous people buried in Vega Baja ranks as a finding of worldwide significance and is possibly the most complete study of prehistoric human remains in Puerto Rico.
Vega Baja also offers visitors a variety of recreational areas, because of its diverse natural resources. Its beaches and recreational areas, such as Puerto Nuevo, Tortuguero and El Trece, make it appropriate for the development of eco-tourism. Beaches are another attraction in the town, as are its springs Ojo de Agua, Charco Azul and Encantada.
Vega Baja is bordered on the north by the Atlantic Ocean, on the south by Morovis, on the west by Manatí and on the east by Vega Alta. It is located in the northern coastal plain and the karst zone. It is mainly flat, which explains the wealth of sugar cane plantations. Some 40.2 percent of Vega Baja’s territory has been declared a nature preserve, which allows it to maintain its original state for the enjoyment of visitors. It includes six of the seven most important ecosystems in Puerto Rico: mangrove swamps, reefs, forests, caves, wetlands and estuaries.
The urban center is located at the border of the mountainous zone that extends to the south. Most of its soils and sub-soils are fertile. In the Algarrobo sector and surrounding areas are the island’s largest deposits of white sand, a mineral that is used in creating glass containers and utensils.
In part because the southern zone is mountainous and the north is practically flat, water is abundant in the region. Two rivers, three lagoons and several important streams, as well as wetlands along the coast and a well known spring, are among the water reserves of the municipality.
The most important rivers are El Indio and the Cibuco. El Indio River crosses the sectors of Río Arriba and Río Abajo, finally joining the Cibuco River. The Cibuco River, after crossing the plains where sugar cane was once planted, empties into the ocean at the Puerto Nuevo Beach, also known as Mar Bella. In the past, this river was a communications and commerce route of great importance for Vega Baja and neighboring towns.
Some of the most important streams are the Hicotea, in the Pugnado Adentro sector; El Toro, in the Quebrada Arenas sector; Las Lajas, in the Almirante Sur sector; and Quebrada Mueresolo, in the sector of the same name.
The natural resources, known as the Tortuguero lagoon is shared with the municipality of Manatí. The Torguguero is a valuable natural reserve, whose flora have been classified as the fourth most important on the island. The lagoon is considered the largest and most important freshwater body in Puerto Rico. Its ecology, with a diversity of soils and silicon sands, provides ideal conditions for a wide variety of plants and animals.
The flora of Tortuguero Lagoon include 717 species of plants from 119 different families. Of these, 265 are species native to swampy areas. There are 20 species of orchids (Orchidaceae), 38 species of ferns (Filicinae), 132 species of trees, 79 species of sedges (Cyperaceae) and 78 species of grasses (Graminae). Nineteen species of fish live in the lagoon, including: the horse-eye jack (Caranx latus), the silver perch (Diapterus rhombeus), snook (Centropmus undemalis) and snapper (Lutijanus sp). Also present are fish from the Poecilia family that bear live young. One of the best known is the guppy (Poecilla reticulata), along with the bluegill (Lepomis macrachirus), the white mullet (Mugil curema), the tilapia (Tilapia mossambica), sunfish (Gobiomus dormitor) and the yellow fin (Gerres cinereus).
Thirty-nine species of birds also live there -14 are migrate and the rest remains in Puerto Rico. Of the resident species, four are endemic. These are the Puerto Rican reinita (Coreba flaveola portorricencis), Puerto Rican Antillean oriole (Icterus dominicenis portorricencis), the Puerto Rican Antillean grackle (Quiscalus niger brachypterus) and the Puerto Rican stripe-headed tanager (Spindalis zena portorricencis). Also present are the least grebe (Podiceps dominicus), the ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicencis), the purple gallinule (Porphyrula matinica) and the sora (Porzana carolina), four species of birds that are very rare in Puerto Rico.
The birds of the lagoon feed on insects from about 25 different families. Unfortunately, the existence of caimans has made the lagoon popular. This exotic reptile species has reproduced rapidly and has become a threat to native and endemic species in the area.
Vega Baja has other lagoons, such as Chiquita and Puerto Nuevo, also called Quintín Valle. The latter was a site inhabited by aquatic birds, but today none of them remain because the site is now covered by vegetation. This is unfortunate because at one time the site was a bird refuge under the Department of Agriculture’s Division of Hunting and Fishing.
Another natural feature distinctive of Vega Baja is the limestone haystack hills called mogotes. The tallest of these is Miraflores, located in the Almirante Norte sector. Caverns, sinkholes and caves are common in the karst zone where mogotes are found, and they are home to an important diversity of flora and fauna, some in danger of extinction.
In Vega Baja, there are various types of mangroves, which make the coastal zone distinctive. Meanwhile, its labyrinth of caves and sinkholes is unique in Puerto Rico. The most important system of caverns is called Las Carmelitas. The caves, which are numerous in the area where this system is located, connect through a broad network of galleries that extends more than a kilometer, according to the maps that have been made so far. A detailed inspection of the geological characteristics of the galleries indicates that the system of caves was created by the flow of water underground. On many of the walls are fossils of shells encrusted in stone. Inspections of the system by paleontologists have uncovered bones of the Puerto Rican shrew (Nesophontes edithae), which is now extinct on the island.
This system of caves, caverns and sinkholes is rich in pre-Columbian cultural artifacts such as petrogylphs and pictographs.
The Cibuco area was populated slowly by rural settlers who primarily raised livestock. The town of Vega Baja was founded, according to historians, in 1776. Its original name was Vega Baxa del Naranjal de Nuestra Señora del Rosario. The “Baxa” or Baja was meant to distinguish it from Vega Alta and “Naranjal” referred to the abundance of orange trees in the region. Antonio Viera, a leader among the settlers, was selected as spokesman to formally request recognition of Vega Baja as a town. Manuel Negrón Benítez donated 200 cuerdas of land for the construction of the town.
The first council consisted of Manuel Joaquín de Navedo as mayor, Manuel de Jesús Torres and Juan Antonio Negrón as aldermen, and Victoriano Soriana as municipal attorney. On June 30, 1814, King Fernando VII of Spain repealed the Constitution and established the Board of Visitors, named by thegovernor, for the municipalities.
Agriculture developed greatly during the 19th century, especially the cultivation of sugar cane. One consequence of this was an increase in the number of slaves. In 1848, there was a slave revolt in Vega Baja, because of the cruel treatment they received from their owners. The uprising failed and, to teach them a lesson, a mulatto named Miguel, who was considered the leader of the slave revolt, was killed by firing squad.
In 1862, Vega Baja was classified as a first class settlement in both civil and ecclesiastical terms and continued as a parish. Efforts were immediately begun to acquire the title of “villa” for the settlement, as the town had progressed by various measures. The town had a hospital and public streetlights. In 1881, Vega Baja had 9,665 inhabitants.On May 6, 1882, by royal order, the city was granted the title of Villa de Vega Baja. Three years later, the Council was granted the use of the title “Illustrious Council,” which was given only to certain towns.
In 1947, when the Puerto Rico Planning Board prepared the map of Vega Baja and its sectors, the urban zone was extended to include part of the Cabo Caribe sector. Apart from this small change, the organization of Vega Baja’s territory is the same today as it was in 1898.
Today, Vega Baja’s economy is mainly industrial. In the Cabo Caribe sector is an industrial zone where factories produce goods and parts related to electronics.
The flag of Vega Baja consists of a yellow pane crossed by a diagonal green band. The colors, yellow and green, are the colors traditionally in the town during civic, sporting and cultural activities. The angled band refers to the plain and the river.
Coat of Arms
The coat of arms has an angled peak of green on a gold background, with five silver roses superimposed and three orange trees with golden fruit. Above is a crown of five towers in silver, black and green.
All of the elements of the original and current name of the town are represented on the coat of arms. The roses allude to the Virgen del Rosario, the patron saint of Vega Baja. The angled peak refers to the plain and the orange trees refer to the orange groves that gave the town its original name, Naranjal. The main colors of the coat of arms, gold and green, are those traditionally used in civic, sporting and educational activities. The crowned wall with five towers signifies that the town was raised to the level of “villa” by royal decree. On the base is a silver trim that reads “MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT OF VEGA BAJA.”
Hon. Edgar A. Santana Rivera
Places of Interest
• El Trece recreational area
• Tortuguero recreational complex
• Alonso House Museum of Art
• Orange groves
• José F. Náter Plaza
• America Theater
• Phoenix Theater
• Puerto Nuevo Beach
• Vega Baja Nautical Club
• Jorge Otero Military Museum
• Burro Caves
• Tortuguero lagoon
• Nuestra Señora del Rosario Church
• Relief sculpture of the history of Vega Baja
• Las Trinitarias Park
• Man of the Cane monument
• Monument to the Vega Baja Trio
• Migrant Plaza
• Melao Melao artisans center
• Vega Baja Sports Hall of Fame
Rafael Balseiro Dávila – pianist and composer, known as the king of the waltz.
José I. de Diego Padró – Poet, journalist and novelist. In 1925 with the poet Luis Palés Matos created the poetic movement Diepalism. Published the poetry collection La última lámpara de los dioses (1925) and the novels Sebastián Guernard (1924) and En babia (1930).
Trinidad “Trina” Padilla de Sanz – short story writer and poet. Daughter of the doctor and poet José Gualberto Padilla ” el Caribe” she was known as ” la hija del Caribe” (the daughter of Caribe). Published two poetry collection: De mi collar (1926) and Cálices Abiertos (1943).
Rafael López Landrón – writer
Pedro Regalado de Diego González – poet
Facundo Rivera Natal – poet
Emiliano Martínez Avilés – writer
Carmen Rivera de Alvarado – social worker
Adrián Santos Tirado – writer
• Three Kings Festival – January
• Triathlon – March
• Annual Tournament of Champions – June
• San Juan Night – June
• Virgen del Carmen Festival – July
• Socio-Cultural Fair – May
• Patron Saint Festival – October
• Melao Melao Festival – October
• Christmas Festival – December
Text taken from enciclopediapr.org
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