Ruins of Lazaretto de Isla de Cabras
The crumbling remnants of this 19th-century quarantine hospital hint at the touristy island's darker past.
Isla de Cabras (Goat’s Island), in the town of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, is known today for its beaches, spectacular views of Old San Juan, and other recreational activities. But atop a hill overlooking the coast, visitors will notice some ruins that are seemingly out of place. Their past reveals that Isla de Cabras wasn’t always a recreational getaway.
The island served as an inspection port for ships coming from Europe during the early 19th century, when the threat of cholera was imminent. As a safety measure, every product and occupant on said ships, including African slaves, were placed under quarantine to prevent potential victims from spreading the disease to the mainland.
Toward the end of the century, a colony for the victims of infectious diseases was officially established on the island. In 1876, construction began on four buildings that would serve as a shelter and hospital for the diseased. The brick structures were finished by 1883 and were known as the Lazaretto de Isla de Cabras (Lazaretto of Goat’s Island). They housed the victims of yellow fever, cholera, and leprosy, among other diseases. Since said diseases lacked a cure, admittance was pretty much a death sentence.
The facility remained operational even after the United States seized control of Puerto Rico in 1898 following the Spanish-American War. However, it was forced to shut down by 1923 due to its inhumane conditions. The remaining occupants were eventually moved to a new and safer institution in the town of Trujillo Alto.
In the following decades, Isla de Cabras was used for various other purposes until it was transformed into the recreational getaway it’s known as today. The decaying ruins of the old hospital remain a curious oddity to most visitors, though for those aware of the area’s former use, they serve as a reminder of the island’s morbid past.
Know Before You Go
The ruins can be explored at your own leisure. However, keep in mind that they are not being monitored or maintained, so use common sense and watch your footing since there are crumbling bricks all over the ground.
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