A 316-acre nodule of land on Puerto Rico’s extreme northeast tip, the Las Cabezas de San Juan Reserva Natural ‘El Faro’ protects the Laguna Grande bioluminescent bay, rare flora and fauna, lush rainforest, various trails and boardwalks, and an important scientific research center. It’s popular, but you can only visit as part of a tour you book in advance by phone or via the website.
Despite its diminutive size, the reserve shelters seven – yes seven – different ecological systems, including beaches, lagoons, dry forest, coral reefs and mangroves. Animal species that forage here include big iguanas, fiddler crabs, myriad insects and all kinds of birds. Such condensed biodiversity is typical of Puerto Rico’s compact island status and Las Cabezas is highlighted as an integral part of the commonwealth’s vital threatened Northeast Ecological Corridor.
A historical highlight amid the natural beauty, the splendidly restored 1882 El Faro de las Cabezas de San Juan is Puerto Rico’s oldest lighthouse. Adorned with rich neoclassical detail and topped by a distinctive Spanish colonial tower, it overlooks the peninsula’s steep, craggy cliffs where the stormy Atlantic meets the Sonda de Vieques (Vieques Sound). Situated on a craggy headland, it today houses an information center and an observation deck with splendid views. It’s a highlight for many tours of the reserve.
There are about 2 miles of trails and boardwalks that lead through the park, but you can’t follow them on your own: you must take a guided walking tour. This lasts more than two hours, including a short tram ride through the dry forest section. Tours depart through the day, however most are in Spanish; the English tour is usually at 2pm.
You can get a glimpse of some of the reserve by simply walking east down the narrow beach from Playa Seven Seas. Better yet, take a kayak tour with a tour operator at sunset, and explore Laguna Grande after dark for the green-glowing, underwater ‘fireworks’ of bio-luminescent micro-organisms.
Map: GPS ( 18.381324, -65.618006 )