Introducing Bosque Estatal de Guánica
The immense 10,000-acre expanse of the Guánica Biosphere Reserve is one of the island’s great natural treasures and a blank slate for the outdoor enthusiast. Trails of various lengths and difficulty make loops from the visitors center, lending themselves to casual hikes, mountain biking, bird-watching and broad views of the Caribbean.
This remote desert forest is among the best examples of subtropical dry forest vegetation in the world – a fact evident in the variety of extraordinary flora and fauna – present at every turn. Scientists estimate that only 1% of the earth’s dry forest of this kind remains, and the vast acreage makes this a rare sanctuary, crossed by 30-odd miles of trails that lead from the arid, rocky highlands, which are covered with scrubby brush, to more than 10 miles of remote, wholly untouched coast. Only a two-hour drive from the humid rainforests of El Yunque, this crumbling landscape and parched vegetation makes an unexpected, thrilling contrast.
In 1981 the UN acknowledged the value of this dry forest by designating it a Unesco ‘biosphere reserve.’ This accolade, Unesco says, makes it one of 529 such preserves in 105 countries around the world, where scientists and local people work with government agencies to create model land management.
To get to the eastern section of the reserve and the Ranger Station, which has some photocopied trail maps and brochures, follow Hwy 116 southeast toward Guánica town from Hwy 2. Turn left (east) onto Hwy 334 and follow this road as it winds up a steep hill through an outlying barrio of Guánica. Eventually, the road crests the hills, ending at the ranger station, a picnic area and a scenic overlook of the forest and the Caribbean.
The southern extent of the eastern section of the forest – including Bahía de la Ballena (Whale Bay) and the ferry to Gilligan’s Island – is also accessible by Hwy 333, to the south of Guánica. Parking is free.
There are no hotels in the forest but the nearby towns of Guánica, La Parguera and Ponce have many places to stay. Bring food and water for hikes; there are no kiosks or food stands anywhere inside the forest.