With a population slightly below 20,000 and some 100 miles away from the hustle-and-bustle of San Juan (which, in Puerto Rican terms, is practically worlds away), the sleepy town of Guánica may not seem like much on paper. But the intrepid traveler willing to look beyond the surface will find that “El Pueblo de la Amistad” (the Town of Friendliness) rewards visitors with a truly unique getaway.
Guánica has a bit of everything: adventure, beaches, scenic beauty, great seafood and even history. Starting with the past, the town entered the pages of Puerto Rican history by being the site of the landing of American troops during the Spanish-American War of 1898. Then a barrio (ward) of the nearby municipality of Yauco, Guánica’s sheltered harbor provided a safe and strategic entry into the island, since most of the Spanish armed presence was concentrated in San Juan. The historical event is immortalized by a monument on the town’s malecón or waterfront.
Another worthwhile historical structure in Guánica is Fort Caprón, located on the hill of the same name just east of the bay. The tiny stone fort, proudly displayed in Guánica’s official flag, rewards visitors who brave the 450-foot hike with stunning views of the Caribbean Sea.
The fort and the hill are located within one of Puerto Rico’s most cherished and unique natural reserves: Guánica State Forest. Perhaps the perfect yang to El Yunque National Forest’s yin, the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is considered the best-preserved subtropical dry forest in the Caribbean. The forest is the driest part of the island, but don’t expect endless sand dunes. El Bosque Seco’s approximately 9,500 acres are home to more than 700 plant species and 150 species of birds, and you can enjoy the beauty of nature on trails that cover some 38 miles. On the southern edge, the forest’s 10-mile-long coastline is marked by limestone coves, mangrove clusters and beaches, including the rugged Jaboncillo and Balneario Caña Gorda.
Just off the coast, Cayo Aurora – affectionately known as Gilligan’s Island – is one of the most famous attractions in Guánica among locals. Luckily, getting here won’t require a three-hour tour; a quick, 10-minute motorboat ride from Punta Jacinto will do the trick (you may also rent a kayak). The mangrove cay welcomes visitors with a modest wooden pier and a wide, shallow beach that’s perfect for lounging away. Not far, Punta Ballena is another popular spot comprised of a narrow canal of crystal-clear water between the mainland and a mangrove cay.
Guánica’s Caribbean setting makes it an ideal place to sample seafood. You’ll find restaurants in the malecón, such as Blue Marlin and Brisas del Mar. If you crave something more informal but no less delicious, the kiosks and roadside eateries along PR-333 just outside downtown Guánica offer a veritable cornucopia of the sea’s bounty. Don’t miss the fresh conch and octopus salad or the seafood fritters and let the friendly charms of Guánica win you over.