Hike the Meseta Coastal Trail in Guanica Dry Forest
The Guánica State Forest & Bioshpere Reserve (Bosque Estatal de Guánica) is an amazing place. While it is dry, there is still a wide variety of plants and other things to see. So much so, that it has been designated as a United Nations International Biosphere Reserve.
There are a number of trails throughout the forest, and then there is the Meseta Trail (Vereda Meseta), which offers a nice hiking trail along the coast.
The Guánica Dry Forest is located in the town of Guánica, on the south/western coast of the island. We had previously hiked in the dry forest itself, which was nice, but I think I enjoyed this coastal trail more. Maybe because this hike was so totally different from our usual rain forest hikes in El Yunque National Forest.
The Meseta Trail, which is about 4 miles round trip, begins at the end of Road 333, at the gate for Tamarindo Beach. The trail head is near the gate (where the road stops), not inside the beach parking area.
If the gate is open, go ahead and park in the Tamarindo Beach parking lot, and then pick up the trail on the north side of the parking area. During rainy season, the gate to the parking lot is locked because it is actually a nesting area for an endangered frog. So if the gate is locked, you can park at the end of Road 333 and walk in.
The Meseta Trail heads east along the southern coast. The trail starts out wide and gradually gets smaller and smaller until it seems to be only a few inches wide. The first ½ mile is the commonly used hiking trail. Beyond that it is mainly a mountain bike trail. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on the trail, but this trail is regularly used by mountain bikers. There are a whole load of mountain bike trails in this south/west area!
We enjoyed seeing the different types of plants, cactus, and shrubs along the trail. It is interesting to see which plants can survive in these harsh conditions — sea salt spray, little fresh water, and almost constant winds. Surprisingly, it is not all monocromatic, there were some flowering plants, too. There were many different types of birds, for those people that enjoy bird watching.
Not that I would ever recommend that anyone go off-trail, but there are loads of small paths that lead down to the coast all along the trail. Some lead to sandy coves, caves, and arches. The farther east you go there are magnificent cliffs.
The water in this area is definitely not for swimming. And you should stay well back from the edge of any of the cliffs. We did pass at least 3 grave markers along this trail, so not everyone is careful. We hiked off-trail along the coast on the way out, but hiked the trail on the way back to the car.
One weird thing about this trail is there were no trail markers. The trails/paths are not hard to find and follow, but (even with a map) we had no idea if/when we got to the end of the trail. As it turns out (from looking at our GPS once we got back home) we never made it to the end of the trail. We just decided to stop and turn around when we had about ½ of our water left. It really would have been nice to have a few markers along the way, just to let you know you are still on track, especially since the mountain bike path continues beyond the end of the trail.
If You Go
The info booklet the ranger (at the dry forest info center) gave us said the trail was "easy". The trail is flat and almost totally in full sun. While the trail is flat, the rocks are sharp and walking is a bit tricky, and some of the plants along the path have thorns. Add in the sun, and it is not a trail everyone should just trek out to without planning ahead. There is a wonderful (but deceivingly) cooling breeze. Make sure to hydrate!
There were almost no shaded areas along this trail, so sunscreen and a hat are a must. And bring lots of water.
I highly recommend shoes with sturdy bottoms (no flip-flops!), because the rocks and cactus thorns are sharp!
Go early in the morning, so avoid the hottest time of the day.
I am sure in summer it gets really HOT on this trail. We went in March in the morning, and by about noon we were happy to be heading to the air conditioned car. Another option is to cool off by jumping into the water at Tamarindo Beach!
It took us about 3 hours round-trip, though we spent a lot of time off-trail exploring the cliffs.
If you are interesting in doing some mountain biking along these trails, Combate Beach Resort in Cabo Rojo has mountain bikes for rent, and they provide a trail map of the area.
If you want to go mountain biking in other areas, Rent A Bike rentals includes a MTB helmet, rubber repair kit, and delivery/pickup all over the island.
If you would prefer a guided tour, Epic Tours offers guided MTB tours all over the island.
Use this map to locate places mentioned in this article. You can click on a placemark to view the GPS coordinates for that place.