Guánica Forest Reserve near Ponce, Puerto Rico
Guánica is a town of about 10,000 people located on the southwest coast of Puerto Rico, roughly 20 miles west of the large city of Ponce. Originally named “Guaynía”, it was the place where Ponce de Leon, Puerto Rico’s first governor, landed and set up his capitol in 1508. The settlement was destroyed by a Taino Indian rebellion in 1511 and lay in ruins for many years as de Leon shifted the seat of government to San Juan on the northeast coast.
The people of Guánica are still protective of their territory and environment, famously turning down a proposed Club Med that would have likely provided jobs but may have adversely affected the environment.
The Guánica Forest Reserve, also known as the Guánica State Forest (Bosque Estatal de Guánica) was designated an international Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations’ Programme on Man and the Biosphere in 1981, due to the unique nature of the “Dry Forest” and its ecology. The flora and fauna that inhabit the Guánica Forest Reserve are quite different from the better-known Caribbean National Forest, which is a true tropical rainforest. At Guánica, the tropical dry coastal forest is situated in the driest part of Puerto Rico and is home to many rare and endangered plants and animals. Birds are very prominent in the forest, many of which are not only native to Puerto Rico but are found nowhere else on the island.
The Guánica Forest Reserve sprawls across approximately 9,500 acres and while not especially large as parks go, it is the largest tropical dry coastal forest in the world. Thankfully, the government of Puerto Rico has allowed access to the forest via a 36-mile long network of trails. One can hike through four different types of forest and view gnarled Guayacan, or “Wood of Life” trees that are up to 700 years old! The forest reserve extends down to the beach in some places, and if the time is right one might witness the grand spectacle of Green and Leatherback Sea Turtles struggling ashore to lay their eggs. Contact the local forest office to find out the best time for a visit – it’s certain to be a memorable trip!