Much of Guánica’s seductive coastline falls within the Bosque Estatal de Guánica, a 37 square kilometre forest reserve that incorporates some of the driest and most unusual flora on the island. Its heart lies high above the coast, accessible via PR-334, which ends 3km from PR-116 at a car park and small information booth (t787/724-3724) supplying basic maps (if closed, check at the ranger station nearby). The reserve is crisscrossed by twelve well-kept and mostly signposted trails, with literally hundreds of species of bird flittering around the gnarled trees and bushes, in a withered landscape often reminiscent of outback Australia. Noting that Guánica is now the largest remaining tract of tropical dry coastal forest in the world, UNESCO made it a Biosphere Reserve in 1981.
It’s important to remember, however, that there are four different forest types here, with only one being truly exceptional: the dry scrub forest that lines the southern slopes, studded with the imaginatively named Spanish dildo cactus, squat melon cactus and gumbo-limbo trees with peeling red bark. Two-thirds of the reserve is covered in deciduous forest (most of the area around the information booth, which contains the majority of the bird life), while one-fifth (mostly in the sinkholes and ravines of the east side) is evergreen forest. Coastal forest lines the shore, characterized by bonsai-like shrubs and mangroves.
Impressive as all this sounds, you might find the forest a little underwhelming: unless you have a keen interest in botany, the dry landscape can get monotonous and you’ll have to be here at dawn to catch most of the birds. The best strategy is to take a whole day and tackle one of the longer trails in order to appreciate the bizarre diversity of the area, combining the hike with a few hours on the beach. You’ll need to bring plenty of water and preferably start early. December to April is the driest period, and you’ll find the most colour, flowers and odd bouts of rain, between September and January.