The Bottom Line
The Trust doesn’t seem to advertise in tourist publications, its properties are not easy to get to, and they’re not open every day. Thus, it takes planning to include their activities into a tourist’s busy schedule.
- A variety of eco-friendly tours ranging from birdwatching to hacienda visits.
- An inexpensive way to enjoy a different side of Puerto Rico.
- Your participation helps the trust in its conservation efforts around the island.
- As they are not offered daily, it takes some planning and coordination to join their tours.
- Some tours are mostly in Spanish; call ahead to confirm.
- Birding tours in Old San Juan are offered the second and fourth Saturday of each month beginning at 8 am. $20 pp.
- A "Discovering Nature in Old San Juan" tour runs every Friday and Saturday, beginning at 9 am. $5 pp.
- Visits to the Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve in Fajardo are conducted Saturdays at 8 am. (You have to get to Fajardo).
- Visits to the Hacienda Buena Vista Coffee Plantation in Ponce are organized Saturdays at 8 am. (You have to get to Ponce.)
- Check the Trust's website for tours to Hacienda la Esperanza in Manati and other programs.
Guide Review - Nature Tours in Puerto Rico
Every time I go to Puerto Rico I look for something off-the-beaten-path to do with my family. This past summer I tried one of the many activities offered by the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust, or Fideicomiso de Conservación de Puerto Rico. This private non-profit organization has under its wings some of the most beautiful and ecologically sensitive areas on the island, and has developed an extensive network of educational tours as a way to protect the island’s resources.
Birding in Old San Juan
I woke up my kids early on a Saturday morning and met my sister and her kids in Old San Juan for a morning of bird watching. Bird watching is not part of Puerto Rican culture. Pajarear means birding, but locally it’s used only as slang, as in goofing off or daydreaming. So the Conservation Trust calls its program Pajareando con sentido: "Goofing off with a purpose."
We met at 7:30 am at the Casa Ramón Power y Giralt, a hard-to-find but beautifully restored building on 155 Tetuán Street which serves as the Conservation Trust’s headquarters. Our guide, Omar, sports a forest ranger uniform and hat, and begins the tour with a slide presentation introducing us to bird watching. We have to know what we’re looking for – names of birds, flight patterns, plumage, wing spans, rings around the eyes, marks on the wings.
Armed with our new knowledge, binoculars, and a small handy bird guide which we get to keep, we set out to scout birds in OSJ. We went from Tetuán Street, down Calle Recinto Sur toward La Puntilla, around the city walls, through the San Juan Gate, back up Cristo Street and to the Parque de las Palomas pigeon park. Old San Juan is not for the experienced bird watcher. Yes, there are lots of pigeons. But I, for one, never knew there were so many different kinds of pigeons! A lot of the birds we saw were very common; but just to spot a bird, any bird, on a tree, on the walls, on the ground, while at the same time taking in the beauty of Old San Juan on a quiet Saturday morning, was spectacular.
Two of the most exciting birds we spotted were a female Magnificent Frigatebird (Tijereta), with its scissor-like tail, and a Brown Bobby (Boba Parda). We saw many beautiful non-native Monk Parakeets (Perico Monje), and Gray Kingbirds (Pitirre), which sing out their name in Spanish. We saw Pearly-eyed Thrasher (Zorzal Pardo), Caribbean Martin (Golondrina de Iglesias), Bananaquit (Reinita Común), lots of Greater Antillean Grackles (Mozanmbique) and, of course, doves and pigeons.
More than learning about birds, we learned that bird watching is a way for people to get involved in looking at nature. We learned to appreciate it so that we want to protect it. My sister, initially the most skeptical one in the group, had the most fun, getting competitive trying to spot and identify birds. As a result, not only did she become a member of the Conservation Trust, but she decided that bird watching will be her retirement hobby!