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The Story Of The Indian Face Rock Carving In Isabela

At the corner of Puerto Rico there is a giant carving of a Taíno chief. I’m told what it’s all about.

Taíno face rock carving Isabela
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ISABELA, Puerto Rico- “What about Isabela?” I asked Jose, a local guy I was hanging out with in San Juan.

Prior to arriving in Puerto Rico a local woman had suggested that I go there and, as you’re probably aware by now, I have a tendency of just going to wherever someone who is from a place recommends (tourists don’t count here).

“Isabela? You know, Isabela is beautiful. You got beautiful beaches and there’s also a big, huge Taino face crafted in a huge rock.”

“A what face?”

“Okay. Now, you cannot miss, you know, because once you go in through Isabela, you’re going to see the huge face. It’s huge. That’s one of the big attractions. People stop by, you know, they get out of the cars and they take pictures in front of it. You know, an Indian face.”

“What? How was that built? Where did that come from?” I asked.

“Man, you know, I really don’t know.”

Beaches and a giant Indian face. That’s what I was traveling towards when I got into the Jeep that I rented and set off for the western corner of Puerto Rico.

Taíno face rock carving Isabela

The roads here are remarkably good. Wide, smooth, well-maintained. The only challenge in driving is that half the people on the roads seem to like driving super slow and the other half super fast. But I can’t complain. This is a good place for driving. I rolled down the windows of the Jeep and enjoyed the ride.

Apparently, the people here refer to anywhere outside of San Juan as “the island.”

“The countryside,” Jose began. “We Puerto Ricans, we call it the island. So if you listen to someone saying, I’m going to the island, don’t  be like like what the hell is this guy saying. ‘Man, we’re already on an island jajaja!’ But what we call the island is the countryside.”

An hour and a half into my journey I was at the intersection of Route 2 and 113 where you turn to go north to Isabela, and there it was: the big Indian face.

Around a dozen cars were parked around the turn off and there was a small booth selling trinkets. People were out standing in the road taking pictures — which didn’t seem too safe as cars were turning off of a busy highway.

Taíno face rock carving Isabela

The face was around 30 feet tall and was carved into the native stone that rose up to form a small cliff that separated the coast from the inland. The carving was intended to honor the Taíno chief Cacique Mabodamaca who died while fighting the Spanish in 1511. While it was officially recorded that he was killed in battle, legend said he leapt from a cliff to avoid being captured. The latter rendition of the story is why his likeness is carved into the cliff today.

The sculpture was done in 2000 by Isaac Laboy Moctezuma … who was instructed to make it look like the Taínos were the ones who did it long ago.

The following day I asked some locals on Jobos Beach what they thought of the sculpture. I was expecting something about how the Indian face watches over the land today, but instead they just laughed.

“That’s just something some guy did,” said Raquel, the shaved-head server at a beach bar said with a laugh. “It’s not historic. When I first got here I thought it was historic but it’s just something they paid some fucking guy to do.”

A couple of cops were hanging out. One of them was told me that it wasn’t there when he was a kid, and then looked up the history on his phone. He read out the name of the Taíno chief and laughed as the group turned it into a tongue twister.


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Filed under: Puerto Rico, Travel Diary

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

2 comments… add one

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  • Rob May 8, 2023, 12:47 pm

    That was a pleasant story and an educational one!

    Link Reply
    • VBJ May 9, 2023, 11:56 am

      Thank you! Very much appreciated.

      Link Reply