Guánica, Puerto Rico

This municipality is set on the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico, and comprises 96 square kilometers (37 mi2). Guánica is also known as «El Pueblo de la Amistad,» «Los Jueyeros,» «El Pueblo de las Doce Calles,»and «La Puerta de la Cultura» (Friendship Town, The Crabbers, Town of the Twelve Streets, Portal to Culture). According to the 2000 census, its general population consisted of 21,888 guaniqueños. Its territory is composed of eight wards: Arena, Caño, Carenero, Ciénaga, Ensenada, Guánica Pueblo, Montalva, and Susúa Baja. The town’s patron saint is Saint James the Apostle, whose festival is celebrated on July 25. Other important celebrations are the Fish Festival held every year in April, and the annual commemoration on August 12 of the day when Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León landed at Guánica’s bay.

Guánica has a number of natural attractions such as its beaches: Caña Gorda, Ballena, Santa, Jaboncillo, and Las Pardas, to name a few and the Guánica State Forest (a xerophytic, or dry, forest reserve). This forest is extraordinarily well preserved, and has been the subject of much study. Because of its scientific importance, it was designated as an international biosphere reserve in 1981 and a Forest Reserve in 1985. In Guánica there are also archeological sites, as well as historical monuments such as the Caprón fortress and its watchtower, an observation post used during the Spanish colonization situated on Cerro Caprón (Caprón Hill).

Guánica’s workforce is employed primarily in construction, retail sales, and the hospitality industry. The town’s economy, however, also centers on raising produce and cattle and on the extraction of salt from the sea. Other industries, including manufacturing (food and food products; electronic equipment; metal, rubber, and plastic goods), have also contributed to the local economy.


Guánica is situated on Puerto Rico’s southwestern coast, and is bounded by the Caribbean Sea to the south and by the towns of Sabana Grande to the north, Yauco to the east, and Lajas to the west. The coastal municipality offers its visitors a variety of beach destinations, such as: Ballena bay and Gilligan’s island—located at the eastern end of the municipality— and Pardas, Manglillo, and Playa Santa, located at the west. Guánica’s rugged, broken coastline begins in the east with Punta Ballena, the point or cape that helps form Ballena Bay. Just off this point we find the Caña Gorda cays. Moving to the west, Punta Jacinto marks the entrance to the broad and well-protected bay of Guánica. Continuing in the same westward direction we find Ensenada Las Pardas, Punta Brea, and the Frontón de la Brea, which is the southernmost point of the island of Puerto Rico. Also toward the west, near to the city limit of Lajas, we find two more points: Punta Jorobado and Punta del Obispo, between which cays named Terremoto and Don Luis can be seen.

The Guánica State Forest, better known as the Bosque Seco or Dry Forest, is located in the coastal region of the municipality. This is the driest, most arid zone of Puerto Rico. The state forest is a subtropical forest that boasts a rich diversity of species among its flora and fauna, including approximately 48 threatened or endangered species. In this forest, new types of ants, shrimp, algae, and other forms of life have been identified. It provides a habitat for hundreds of endemic animals such as the Puerto Rican Crested Toad (sapo concho), blind cave shrimp, ciddler (Violinista) crabs, and a variety of birds including flamingos and the Puerto Rican nightjar (guabairo). Other varieties that had been believed to be extinct have been found in this forest preserve. The Guánica dry forest is separated by the bay of Guánica into two sections totaling nearly 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares).

The highest surface elevation in the forest is 228 metros (748 feet) above sea level. The average annual rainfall there is 762 millimeters (30 inches). The mangroves of Guánica (Caña Gorda, Guánica lighthouse and Bay of Guánica, Ensenada Las Pardas, and Punta Manglillo) total 72 hectares (about 175 acres) of red mangrove. Within the forest, the red mangrove accounts for about 1 percent of its flora.

There are also two caves within the municipality: the Guánica State Forest cave, and the Cerro Abra cave in barrio Ciénaga.


The territory that makes up this municipality is primarily plains, except for a few small elevations including the Lajara hills — the tallest of which measures 178 meters (584 feet) — in Montalva; Lomas de Seboruco in Carenero; and the Abra and El Peñón, both located in Ciénaga. Various hills in barrio Montalva, including one named Montalva and others called Las Pardas and La Brea, reach lower heights, under 100 meters (328 feet).


The Río Loco which originates in the neighboring town of Yauco, flows into Guánica at the northeastern corner and empties into Guánica Bay. There is also a lagoon in the municipality, but it is almost completely blocked with sedimentation.

In comparison with other municipalities, Guánica is young, but it has a long historical tradition. The town was founded in 1914. Part of the territory had already been acknowledged by certain Spanish chroniclers who mentioned this zone as the place where, in 1508, Juan Ponce de León landed, together with a group of Spaniards. In 1898 it was troops from the United States who chose this point to enter the island. According to some sources, the name «Guánica» originated as a combination of three indigenous roots: Gua, «behold»;ni, «water»; and ca, which is a contraction of coa, «place.» Putting the three root words together we have a phrase meaning, «Behold, a place with water.»

Previous to the Spanish conquest, there were around four inhabited indigenous settlements in the Guánica region, which were part of Guaynía, the domain of the cacique Agüeybana. Historian Luis Hernández Aquino maintains that this was also the place of a lesser cacique named Huanicoy. During the Spanish Conquest, Cristóbal de Sotomayor founded a town, Villa de Tavora—also named Tavara or Tábora—in this area.

In the second decade of the 16th century, the island was divided into two jurisdictions, or partidos: the northern partido of Caparra, or Puerto Rico, and the southern partido of San Germán. The region of Guánica came under the jurisdiction of San Germán, a relationship that lasted for more than 350 years. Throughout the 16th century, the coastal settlements of the partido were the object of constant threats and attacks from the indigenous Taínos and Caribes, as well as from pirates and corsairs. This resulted in the loss of everything that the Spaniards had built and planted until that time. It also caused the townspeople to move to other locations.

In the 18th century, Friar Iñigo Abbad y Lasierra indicated that there was no existing town organized in this region. He also observed that «a sufficient number of colonists has been established» to be able to found one. He described the Guánica bay as one that offered «admirable situations for raising up towns.» By the middle of the 19th century, several owners of cattle ranches near the important villa of San Germán were showing interest in founding a town in this zone. In order to meet the requirements, they offered the government the land that would be necessary for establishing what was to be called the Pueblo de Nuestra Señora del Socorro y San Vicente Ferrer de Guánica (Town of Our Lady of Help and Saint Vincent Ferrer of Guánica). Even though the land had been donated, the founding of the town did not take place.

In 1873, the residents of Guánica — which at that time was considered a barrio of San Germán — petitioned Governor José Laureano Sanz to allow them to separate from that municipality and become part of the town of Yauco. Yauco was Guánica’s nearest neighbor, and would benefit by the use of its harbor for trade. The request was granted two years later, thanks to the support of three brothers — Antonio, Eduardo, and José Arena. A quarter of a century later, the settlement had 2,700 inhabitants and was now a barrio of Yauco.

On July 25, 1898, as part of the Spanish-American War, the United States army invaded Puerto Rico with a force of around 3,300 men. The initial landing of the troops took place in Guánica, although the plan had been to land in Fajardo. Almost the entire population of Guánica fled to Yauco or to the nearly countryside. At that time, the settlement of Guánica was a kilometer (about 0.6 mile) from the beach and consisted of 20 wooden houses and 40 huts (bohíos). There were four structures, including the home of Quartermaster (cabo de mar) Vicente Ferré, and a rundown barrel factory that the U.S. soldiers used to take cover.

Another attempt at founding the town of Guánica took place in 1912. Delegates from Guánica and Yauco met to sign the Acuerdo de Santa Rita (Santa Rita Accord), a pact that would later become the Autonomous Charter of Guánica. However, it was not until March 12, 1914, that the legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico passed Law No. 9 designating Guánica an independent municipality. The Assembly awarded to Guánica the territory that it already occupied as a barrio of Yauco and part of barrio Susúa Baja, also segregated from Yauco. Sixteen years later, population growth had spread to barrios Caños, Carenero, Ciénaga, Ensenada, Montalva, and Susúa Baja. Later, barrio Limón was formed. In 1948, The Puerto Rico planning board decided to join the village of Ensenada to barrio Ensenada, and to change the names of two barrios: Caños became Caño and Limón became barrio Arena.

Since the early days of the 20th century, Guánica has been associated with the production of sugar. In 1902, the South Porto Rico Sugar Company built the Guánica Sugar Mill (Central Guánica), with a distinguished production record that lasted over three decades. When the Land Use Authority and the Sugar Corporation were created during the 1940s, the Puerto Rican government acquired the Guánica Sugar Mill. By 1976, this sugar mill set a cane-grinding record: 536,081 tons of sugarcane, which produced 49,319 tons of sugar and 3,618,547 gallons of syrup. The Guánica Sugar Mill was active until the 1980s. When the central was shut down, the municipality sought out other sources of employment for its inhabitants, such as manufacturing (sponsored by the Industrial Development Company), the fishing industry, and tourism. In addition, the fields of the former sugarcane plantations have been used for growing produce.


The municipal flag  is composed of three wavy blue lines and two yellow ones. The central figure is that of Caprón Fortress. The blue waves symbolize the Guánica Bay and the yellow ones represent the indigenous territory of Guaynía, a name that has ties to that of Guánica. According to Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, in his Historia General de las Indias (General History of the Indies), Guaynía was associated with various gold-bearing rivers that ran through this region. Another explanation of the wavy blue and yellow lines is that they are an allusion to the name of Tavara or Tábora, which was the maternal surname of don Cristóbal de Sotomayor as well as the name of the villa founded by the Bay of Guánica. Among the blazons of the Tábora family from Portugal is one that heraldry expert Santos Taveira describes thus: «In a field of gold, three wavy stripes of blue.»

Coat of Arms
The coat of arms  is composed of four quarters or sections. In the first there is a yellow bohío or caney (Taíno cacique’s house) with a golden crown on a blue field. These symbols represent the indigenous authority in the island of Puerto Rico. The second quarter shows a rampant lion, purple on a silver (white) field, blazon of the Puerto Rican branch of the Ponce de León family. This quarter honors the memory of don Juan Ponce de León, the first colonizer and governor of the island. The third quarter shows the arms of the noble and very old Sotomayor family. On this silver (white) field, we find three stripes with red (gules) and yellow (gold) squares, each one set in a sable belt. The fourth quarter is a representation of the Guánica Bay, with blue and gold waves alluding to the waves of the sea and to the sands of the municipality’s beaches. At the bottom there are two green branches representing sugarcane and the town’s sugar industry. Above the shield is a three-turreted crown, the municipal insignia of Guánica.

Places of Interest
• Guánica State Forest – Subtropical dry (xerophytic) forest. Designated as a Forest Reserve and as an International Biosphere Reserve.
• Guánica Sugar Mill – Located in barrio Ensenada. Was one of the largest sugar mills on the island.
• Guánica Nautical School
• Guánica Lighthouse – Built in 1892. Used as a hospital during the U.S. invasion.
• Caprón Fortress – Located atop the hill of the same name; provides a panoramic view of the entire area.
• Hacienda Guánica
• Hacienda Igualdad
• Hacienda Santa Rita – Now Convent of the Sisters of Fatima
• Gilligan’s Island
• Malecón de Guánica
• Guánica Monument to Veterans of the Spanish-American War – Located on the spot where the U.S. troops made landfall. Erected in 1938 and dedicated on July 25 of the same year, by Mayor Clemente J. Rodríguez Carlo, to the veterans of the war in 1898 between the United States and Spain.
• Azul Beach
• Caña Gorda Beach – Government-maintained beach with picnic area and showers
• Manglillo Beach
• Rosada Beach
• Santa Beach
• Serra Beach
• Punta de Brea
• Punta Jorobado
• Ballena [Whale] Bay Natural Reserve

Illustrious Citizens

Primitivo Anglada – Activist in obtaining Guánica’s municipal independence. First secretary of the Town Council.

Rose Franco – First Puerto Rican woman to be named a chief warrant officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Miguel A. Morciglio – Member of the House of Representatives for District 24 (1961-1964).
Carmen Ramírez Vargas (Lolita Vargas) – Singer, actress, and educator.

Rubén del Rosario – Educator, writer, and linguist.

Víctor Sallaberry – First mayor elected by the people, in 1914.

Pedro Santana Ronda – Writer, poet, and journalist. Was published in the weekly paper El Erizo.

Domingo Suárez Cruz – Civic leader, political orator, and writer. Was keeper of the Guánica Lighthouse. The public library was named in his honor.

María Heliodora Vargas – Educator and author of the poem «La bandera de los guaniqueños» [The Flag of the Guaniqueños].

Pedro Juan Vargas Mercado – Journalist and historian.

Pedro Vargas Rodríguez – Secretary of the Separation Committee that achieved the emancipation of the municipality. Poet, orator, musician, writer, and journalist. Founded El Fósforo (1908) and Brisas del Caribe (1915), the first newspapers in Guánica.


Fish Festival – April
Patron Saint’s Festival – July
July 25th Parade
Juan Ponce de León Celebration


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