[Editor’s Note: In this issue, we render tribute to the magazine’s first publication by republishing it as we are celebrating ecotreasures magazine’s fifth anniversary. We are very happy and grateful for having been able to share our experiences, findings, and learnings during our journey so far.
Enjoy the remembrance as we go back through time and relive our experience at Carite Forest, Puerto Rico, where we hiked a trail towards Charco Azul.]
“Immersing in the Carite Humid Tropical Forest”, article published in February 2016 ecotreasures ® issue:
Carite Forest comprises around 7,000 “cuerdas” (6,797 acres) of humid tropical forest land across Patillas, Cayey, Caguas, San Lorenzo and Guayama. A hiking trail worth to explore is accessible from Road # 184, Km. 17.5, Patillas, Puerto Rico (nearby Guavate, Cayey).
This forest was established in 1935 to protect river basins of three important rivers in Puerto Rico: “Río Grande de Patillas”, “Río Grande de Loíza” and “Río La Plata”, according to Mr. Hécsor Serrano, the Management Officer of Carite Forest. The forest is administered by the Puerto Rico Natural & Environmental Resources Department.
Around 200 plant species (flora), 50 bird species, 12 reptile species and 15 amphibian species may be found in Carite Forest, including migrating species, as stated by Mr. Serrano.
Besides its diverse plant and animal life, the final destination at the end of this hiking trail takes your breath away into another relaxing and precious ecotreasure. Keep reading and you will find out about it after learning about our exploration.
Right before starting the hike, we found lots of ornamental cranberry-colored plants, named red ginger plants (Alpinia purpurata), welcoming us. Then we began to hike down the trail, crossing part of the river named “Río Grande de Patillas”. Shortly after, Mr. Serrano began to interpret plant and animal life as we immersed in the Carite Forest.
We encountered a huge and imposing “Guaraguao” tree (Guarea guidonia), showing a strong personality while at the same time some kind of delicateness as bromeliad plants had grown into its trunk. Not too far away, a “Pomarrosa” tree (Syzygium jambos) with bromeliad plants stood out from the rest of the trees. While admiring this scenery, we listened to the sounds of a small gray and white bird named “pitirre” or Gray Kingbird (Tyrannus dominicencis).
Among the amphibian species in Carite Forest, you may find different coqui (“Eleutherodactylus”) species. Find out more about the coqui as you read the "delve!" subsection in this article.
As we kept hiking Carite’s trail, we were amazed at the diverse flora along our way. We found the “Granadillo” tree (Buchenavia capitata), which in the 20th century was used to provide shadow for coffee plants, as explained by Mr. Serrano. We also saw an endemic Puerto Rican tree fern named “Helecho Arbóreo” (Cyathea arborea), also known as “Helecho Gigante”, which may grow up to around 20-25 feet according to Mr. Serrano.
While admiring the biodiversity, we were lucky to listen to the melodious sounds of the “Reinita Común” or Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola), a small white, gray and yellow bird with a curved beak. Mr. Serrano explained that various “reinitas” bird species may be found in Carite Forest, specially migrating ones. During December and January, one may listen to the migrating and small “Reinita Azul” or Black Throated Blue Warbler (Dendroica caerulescens), as he stated. We also listened to the Black-Whiskered Vireo (Vireo altiloquus) also known in Puerto Rico as the “Julian Chiví”, a small native bird, as stated by Mr. Serrano.
As we continued hiking, we encountered impressive bamboo trees.
Be attentive so you don’t miss a big fungus species, a small and delicate tree snail or a long narrow-shaped land snail, all living on the sides of the forest trail. It was surprising to watch how the color of the tree snail Caracolus caracolla helps camouflage the snail within the forest land.
Then we found ourselves surrounded by giant Eucalyptus robusta trees. One of these trees was around 60 feet tall and 50-60 years old, as stated by Mr. Serrano. A curious fact is that fallen leaves from these trees turn red rather than brown as explained by him.
We kept hiking as we listened to the sounds of the river and streams that kept surrounding us. Right before approaching our goal, we admired a huge “Guaraguao” tree (Guarea guidonia) that welcomed us nearby the ecotreasure “Charco Azul”.
Wow! That was the natural expression as we arrived at “Charco Azul”, a river pool with a depth that ranges from around 2 - 15 feet, according to Mr. Serrano. It was amazing to see how “Charco Azul” shows a combination of color effects on its water, predominantly a precious turquoise blue. Mr. Serrano explained that the temperature and the PH nutrients on the water encourage the growth of a greenish blue algae species, resulting in the greenish blue color in “Charco Azul”.
Serenity was the end result at “Charco Azul” along with relaxing sounds of a small waterfall and surrounding biodiversity, including various trees, such as “Helechos Gigantes”, and the Green Heron (Butorides virescens), a small bird also known as “Martinete” or “Martín Pescador”. This bird showed a natural camouflage color that serves as a disguise among the trees.
While looking at the sky, we stared at two enormous “Tabonuco” trees (Dacryodes excelsa) watching over us as we immersed in Charcho Azul.
Carite Forest is definitely a highly recommended place to visit, and specially to learn about during a guided tour with Mr. Serrano, the forest’s Management Officer. Those interested to visit Carite Forest may request the Puerto Rico Natural Resources & Environmental Department (NRED) permits for guided tours, camping, or hiking the trail with 10+ persons. For permits, fees need to be paid at the NRED Forests Permits Office, located at Cupey area, San Juan, Puerto Rico. For guided tours, contact both the Management Officer and the NRED Forests Permits Office. [See updated information below.]
NRED Forest Permits Office- T.: 787- 999-2200 x. 5610, 5613.
Forest Management Officer’s Office- Road #184, Km. 25.5, T.: 787-747-4510 or 787- 747-4545 [See updated information below.]
Carite Forest’s hours of operation: 9:00 a.m.- 5:00 p.m. [See updated information below.]
Keep discovering more about this nature encounter place as you enjoy the photographs and read related information available in the subsections of this article, and most of all, pack your backpack and start hiking this ecotreasure.
UPDATED INFORMATION: At present, you may hike the trail towards Charco Azul but camping is not allowed in that recreational area. Guided tours are not currently available. Carite Forest’s entrance at Road # 184, Km. 17.5, Municipality of Patillas, is open Tuesday – Sunday, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm. For more information, you may contact the Forest Management Officer by phone at 787-747-4510 or email (email@example.com).
Remember to be responsible and follow the required protocol and recommended precautions in view of COVID-19 pandemic (e.g.: wearing a mask, washing hands, social distancing) while exploring natural areas. In general, people in Puerto Rico are required to keep a minimum of 6 feet between people who are not from the same family unit. However, currently people visiting any Puerto Rico beach are required to keep a minimum of 10 feet between people who are not from the same family unit whether they are at the sand or body of water.