The Botanical and Cultural Gardens of Caguas
Jardin Botanico y Cultural de Caguas
Another, much larger botanical garden is located in San Juan on the grounds of the University of Puerto Rico. There is a 3rd botanical garden located near Mayaguez, also run by the University. Both of which I plan to visit sometime down the road. There are also several smaller private gardens as well.
Getting to the Caguas Botanical Gardens is pretty straightforward. From San Juan, you take Hwy 18 South to Hwy 52 South and get off at Exit 18. Take Hwy 196 to the right. Hwy 196 ends at the driveway to the Jardin Botanico y Cultural de Caguas where it intersects Hwy 156.
You can easily see where it runs into Hwy 156 and the undeveloped area where the park resides. Google Maps needs to update the satellite view as it looks nothing like this now. All the maps I own show Hwy 156 off Hwy 52 so you could find it that way too. If you come in via Hwy 156 like we did, the Park is on your left. We missed the sign and drove on by. Someone has planted a full hedge in front of the marquee almost completely obliterating it. They need to make it more obvious for folks coming in from San Juan who have never been here.
As it turns out,
I think $7 was a fair price.
More than I would have hoped for, but there is a lot to see here. Guided tours are available at an additional cost and if you want it in English, you need to call ahead. One review I read said they never were able to make contact to set up the English tour. They also list a transportation fee to cover the ‘trams’, over-size golf carts, but I did not look into that. You are not allowed to bring food or drink in, but there are concession stands and restrooms located all over the park.
I was there on a Thursday.. the place was just short of deserted.
Upon entry, they tag you with a paper bracelet and hand out a very well done full color brochure with map. Its in Spanish and English. I did see a couple of minor errors in it.. one of the paths we took was not shown, the main roads outside the park were not labeled and the Web address did not work. more about that later. Still, very nicely done!
The original site was a commercial sugar mill. Hacienda San José served as an important sugar processing plant up until 1920. The railroad used to off-load cane here for processing. Ruins of the old facility are scattered over different parts of the Park.
The Park itself is divided into several areas.
These include a small museum with glass display cases and a multimedia presentation in Spanish running overhead, a library book store, a gift shop, a dedicated area for ‘Artesanos’ to sell their crafts (though there were none to be seen), Rum distillery ruins, a huge man-made pond (as clean as any swimming pool) with paddle-boat rental, dedicated bird observation areas, an Ancestral African Grove, an Ancestral Taino Indian Grove, a collection of Taino Indian Petroglyphs, an enclosed bird sanctuary, a lily-pad pond with small fish in it, a dedicated green house area and a working model of an old Puerto Rican peasant farm with garden. Whew!
But Wait! There’s More!
Most have little signs identifying them. Varieties from all over the world, are located here. Its worth noting that though the Botanical Garden is open year round, some of what’s in season changes every couple of months. Flowers and fruit bearing trees in particular.
A stream meanders through much of the Park. A natural attraction for birds and other critters. I have seen some big lizards and iguanas since I got to PR, but this place has them in spades. The iguanas try to avoid you and make a chatter kind of warning if you get too close. Then they run off!
Though I had telephoto lenses with me on this 1st pass through the Park, I never pulled them out. I used only my ‘normal’ and ‘wide angle’ zoom lenses to shoot everything here. The photo opportunities are absolutely outstanding! I will be back to make a day of it shooting birds from one of their dedicated viewing stands. They look down into a swampy lowland area with the stream running through it.
We turned right, through a long arbor, over to the museum, then onto the old sugar mill chimney, then on around to the paddle-boat area. We walked back next to the ‘pond’ where the old water well is located. This is the path that’s not on the map. We proceeded back up to the greenhouses, but 4 of the 6 were empty and the other 2 were padlocked. One had small trees in pots and the other looked like it was set up for hydroponics. The greenhouse area was obviously not ‘ready for prime-time’. Live and learn. After that, We headed to the old distillery ruins. Lots of photo opps there. Then it was off to the enclosed bird sanctuary where the cages made it hard to shoot the birds, then up to the lily-pond.
We backtracked to the back side of the big ‘pond’ (small lake?), to cross the 1st of two bridges. From there, I spotted a Crane in the stream, chasing after lunch. This path took us deeper into the park and onto the rustic ‘Jibaro’ house, a Puerto Rican country home with vegetable and herb garden. Lots to see and shoot here… Banana plants, coffee plants, pepper plants, flowering trees.. plants I had never seen before… chickens and roosters running around. This is the only path in the park that is a little hard to walk. No biggie. The rest of the paths are fine gravel.
We stopped next door at a funky little outdoor kiosk (for lack of a better description). They had cold bottled water, soda pop and fresh fried food. We split a ‘Bacalaito’… a fried fritter made from flour and bits of ‘Bacalao’, salted dried (rehydrated) Cod fish mixed in. It’s actually quite good fresh and this was. It cost a whopping buck.. water was a buck too. This is a popular road-side dish in PR and can be had almost anywhere.
After our little break, we headed back across the other bridge. Its a heavy-duty, long steel suspension foot bridge and sways a little in the wind. The views up and down the creek were magnificent as were the tall stands of Bamboo. This path continues on to the dedicated bird viewing area and where I saw another large iguana, chattering away in the trees. We have lizards at home in Coamo, but they are all very small in comparison…
I figure its ’cause the cats keep bringing them home as ‘gifts’ for us.
we headed back to the gate and home.
Elapsed time- 3 hours, 45 minutes!
A slightly overcast, but breezy day. All in all, I had a great time and have no problem giving the Caguas Botanical Gardens, a full five skull rating! As I already said, I will eventually make it back for more photography. Guanica could learn something by checking out what Caguas did here. There were covered benches everywhere. Much thought (and money) went into the design of this wonderful park.
A Few Words About their Web Presence…
There is a Web site for the Caguas Botanical Gardens, but I could not get to it via the address posted on the sign out front or printed on the colorful brochure. [caguas.com.pr] tossed up a “Could not find the server” message. What’s more, [caguas.com] was an ‘MFA’ site (Made For Ads) designed to make money on your ‘click-throughs’. I never do that… use links found on MFA sites. A Dogpile search gave me this link to their site courtesy of the Municipio Autonomo de Caguas.
From a marketing stand point, this is the Caguas Botanical Garden’s Achilles Heel. It needs a rich Web site extolling its many attributes. And it needs to be in English as well as Spanish. OH! and forget the Flash graphics, they don’t play well on most smart phones like the iPhone or Blackberry. K.I.S.S. You got kids? Ask them about surfing the Web from a phone. Its the future, ya know.
Just my 2 cents.
This place should be busy, every day! An easy day trip out of San Juan.
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