The town of Guánica, in the southwest corner of Puerto Rico and part of the Porta Caribe region, has a long and storied history. According to some historians, Columbus himself landed here. Founded in 1508, Guánica was once a major indigenous capital. And it was the landing point for U.S. forces during the 1898 Spanish-American War that brought Puerto Rico under American control.
These days, Guánica is a quiet, secluded refuge that offers far more than a string of Caribbean beaches (although these are quite nice). Here are five reasons why you'll want to spend a weekend or more in El Pueblo de las Doce Calles, or "The Town of 12 Streets."
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You don't get too many chances to hike through a UN biosphere reserve, never mind a subtropical dry forest that lies less than two hours away from a subtropical rainforest. You'd be hard-pressed to find two more extremely different environments so close to each other, and both are well worth exploring. The dry forest's numerous trails take you to ancient forts, limestone caves, and through an arid landscape unlike any other in Puerto Rico.
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This small mangrove island just off the southwestern coast is among the more popular weekend destinations for locals, and more and more tourists are discovering its quaint charm. Named because it apparently looks like the original Gilligan's Island (although it's a bit small for that), this tiny collection of mangroves is about as rustic as it gets. Beyond a few barbecue pits, restroom facilities, and a wooden boardwalk, there's not much here. What you do get is pristine, clear waters ideal for snorkeling and kayaking.
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The Copamarina Beach Resort
As far as resorts go, Copamarina isn't just the largest place to rest your head in Guánica; it's also the most comfortable. Cozy, welcoming and well-equipped, it's a fine place to call home while you're in Guánica. It helps that's it's close to two of the best attractions in the area; the aforementioned dry forest and Gilligan's island. The Copamarina is also a beachfront hotel with a spa, ferry service to the island, and two excellent restaurants that you should take full advantage of after a day's hiking, swimming, and boating.
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Rum? Absolutely. Beer? Sure. Coffee? That too. But wine?
The brainchild of a Spaniard came to this part of Puerto Rico in 1980 and discovered a climate in which he could cultivate grapes. While his initial experiments brought no fruition and brought a halt to his dream, his son, Juan Andreu Solé, took up the baton 14 years later. He introduced artisanal wines, bearing the label doce calles, or 12 Streets, in honor of the town. He also sells a few bottles of artisanal liqueurs. The winery is open to the public, and only a limited supply is produced each year.
The wine leans on the sweeter side and would be ideally served as a substitute for port. It's a blend of Moscatel, cabernet, merlot, and Tempranillo. Whether you come to sample or purchase, a visit to a Puerto Rican winery is an experience only Guánica brings you.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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As most visitors to Puerto Rico will not leave without a trip to the beach, you'll be happy to know Guánica will provide miles of sandy coastline that is far less trafficked than the beaches of San Juan. Now, we have to admit, if you want to see the most beautiful beaches Puerto Rico has to offer, you're better off in Vieques, Culebra, or other destinations.
Having said that, Balneario Caña Gorda (the only public beach in the area, which means you get lifeguards and other facilities) is calm and pleasant, and its clean waters are part of the environmentally conscious Blue Flag Programme. Before you get to Caña Gorda, there is a small beach called Jaboncillo. And if you continue driving west on Rte. 333, past the Copamarina Beach Resort, you'll get to a string of beaches. The best of these is Playa Tamarindo, an unspoiled stretch of pristine golden sand. Many of these beaches also host nesting turtles during the season, and if you're interested in observing this phenomenon in a safe and unobtrusive manner, start by checking in at the Copamarina and asking the staff for any ranger-led programs to nesting areas.