As you step into the Guánica State Forest, one of the largest tropical dry coastal forests in the world, the first thing you’ll probably hear are the birds chattering in the trees. What many people don’t realize is that one of those trees is the Guayacán Centenario—a tree that is between 700 and 1,400 years old, depending on who you ask.
The Guayacán Centenario is located in a small ravine just off one of the Ballena (Whale) Trail. From here, you can marvel at what this ancient tree has survived over the years. Guayacán are slow-growing trees that take hundreds of years to reach this size. Given enough time, they can reach heights of 30-40 feet. Their leathery, dark green leaves are occasionally punctuated by clusters of purple-blue flowers and small yellow berries.
Most likely, this particular tree has been thriving since the Taíno arrived in Puerto Rico around the year 1,000. The Taíno are Indigenous people who inhabited what is now Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands. When European settlers arrived in the 1400s, the Taíno population was devastated by disease, slavery, and war.
The Guánica State Forest is home to a number of plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world. In its 9,000 acres, there are more than 700 plant species, including a number of endangered species and 16 that only occur in the forest. It is also home to the last known natural population of Puerto Rican crested toads (Peltophryne lemur), which take advantage of the freshwater pools that emerge during seasonal rains. In 1981, the United Nations Biosphere Reserve recognized the Guánica State Forest’s ecological importance as a home to more than 40 endangered species.
Know Before You Go
Plan to start hiking early due to the heat, and be sure to bring water, sun protection, and snacks. There's no drinking water or cell signal in this region, so planning is key.
There's no fee to visit the park and the visitor's area is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, as well as during holidays.
You can get to the park by following Highway 334 until you reach the parking area. From San Juan, it's a two-hour drive; and less than a half hour from Ponce. A ranger will give you a trail map of Guánica State Forest and Biosphere Reserve, which has 12 trails total.
The Ballena Trail is closed during the breeding season of the Puerto Rican crested toad.