Given ongoing concerns over COVID-19, outdoor activities continue to be the most recommended and safe way to spend time with family. Not only because open-spaced environments help maintain the recommended physical distance, but also because it is proven that contact with nature contributes positively to health and improves mood.
With this in mind, the interpretive walks and volunteer activities offered by Para la Naturaleza are presented as a suitable alternative. Para la Naturaleza is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to offering transformative experiences through lands of high ecological value that it guards in different parts of the island.
After more than a year without offering direct service to the public, due to the emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the entity resumed its ideal routes, both for people who seek to connect with our natural environment and improve their physical and emotional health, as well as for those who wish to learn more about the characteristics of our ecosystems - flora, fauna, and endemic and native species - and learn to work the land, even for students who require hours of green contact.
“With this type of activity, our environmental interpreters carry a message of conservation towards our natural resources. Puerto Rico has a wide diversity of ecosystems and protected natural areas that are for the enjoyment of all, which we must conserve to continue enjoying,” said César Echevarría, service representative at Para La Naturaleza, told THE WEEKLY JOURNAL.
According to Echevarría, the routes are classified according to the level of difficulty. For example, the historical or classic ones are classified as level 1. And those that require a higher physical activity can be classified between level 2 and 4. “In any of the cases it is recommended to have water available, clothing and shoes that are suitable for walking, hat or cap, and sunscreen, as well as garbage bags, to not leave anything in the area,” he stated.
He also explained that “in keeping with the current situation, participation for the tours is limited to groups of between 7 to 10 people maximum, so it is required to book in advance.” You can do so by calling 787.722.5882 or visiting the reservation portal, paralanaturaleza.org, where you can also find a description of the available offers. You could also join and participate as a volunteer in the plantings, orchards, and other activities. Social distancing and mask use are required.
“For the moment, we urge participants to present a vaccination document against COVID-19. What we do urge is to respect physical distancing and to arrive in time so that you can go through the COVID-19 screening process. Rigorous questions will be asked and, once the process is completed, the participant can already be part of the tour. All events have been affected in the number of participants that we can attend, to safeguard the health and physical integrity, both of the colleagues who work daily in the properties and of the participants. The protocol is quite rigorous in all areas,” Echevarría assured.
Next, we present two of the protected natural areas that Para la Naturaleza guards in the northern and eastern regions of the island:
Hacienda la Esperanza, in Manatí
It is a historic site that preserves the only existing steam trap in the world, and that has become a tourist reference for the northern town. The reserve occupies an extensive area, which allows it to offer a variety of experiences to its visitors, who can take the self-interpreting walk or participate in a variety of tours, accompanied by an environmental interpreter. For example, La conquista del azúcar,’ ‘La Esperanza en bici,’ and voluntary programs.
La Conquista del Azúcar
‘La conquista del azúcar (The Conquest of Sugar) is a guided tour that - following all health security measures - relives the history of sugar in Puerto Rico from one of the most important farms of the 19th century. You will visit a cane field, explore the ruins of the historic site, and visit the Casa del Marqués de La Esperanza. You will be able to observe the interior of the house - carefully restored - and you will have the opportunity to appreciate the wide collection of machetes that were used to work in the sugar plantations during the 19th and 20th centuries. The tour lasts an hour and a half.
La Esperanza en Bici
As part of th4e ‘La Esperanza en bici’ (La Esperanza on a Bike) tour, you will be able to pedal along paths through grasslands and forests while you delight in the imposing landscape made up of “mogotes” of the Carso Norteño, the mountains of the Cordillera Central, and the waters of the Río Grande de Manatí, “which divides a valley green that disappears on the horizon,” as Echevarría described. This journey lasts approximately four hours and is classified as level 2 due to the type of physical activity it requires. However, children from the age of 12 can participate.
The experience of volunteer work is very satisfactory and important, such as the “Help Us Protect Sea Turtles” program, where you can start the day with a walk along the coast, while you learn to protect and mark the nests of the stingray, the green turtle, and the hawksbill - an endangered species of sea turtles - that nest on the beaches of the nature reserve.
You can also contribute to the 33 percent reforestation goal that the entity maintains projected for 2023 through the initiative of planting native trees in order to create stronger and more resilient forests in Puerto Rico. The endemic and native trees are better adapted to the tropical climate of our island. For this reason, they are more resistant to the impact of hurricanes and droughts.
Medio Mundo y Daguao in Ceiba
It is an area located on the grounds of the old Roosevelt Roads Naval Base, where 40 percent of the land has been dedicated to conservation and where a variety of experiences is also offered, such as:
Discover the History and Nature of This Protected Area
Interpretive tour through the extensive protected natural area, which houses ecosystems such as wetlands, estuaries, a mangrove forest, a coral system, the marine habitat, riverbanks, and a dry forest, as well as countless species. The approximate duration of the journey is two hours.
Cycling Through the Los Machos Wetland
This alternative invites you to learn about the biodiversity and ecosystems of what was the Roosevelt Roads Naval Base while learning about the Medio Mundo y Daguao Protected Natural Area and the history of the Los Machos wetland. The journey covers a six-mile bike ride. Another similar tour combines the sport of cycling with kayaking to enter canals surrounded by mangroves and wetland wildlife. The combined experience comprises six miles by bike and approximately 1.3 miles by kayak. The minimum age to participate in this tour is 15 years old and a bicycle for rocky terrain is required, with a helmet and closed comfortable shoes.
Likewise, Medio Mundo y Daguao has areas designated for the planting of native trees and activities for the maintenance of orchards.