At the time of the Spanish Conquest, the island of Puerto Rico was known by the local taíno people as Borikén. Although a great number of caciques (chiefs) ruled throughout the land, they all answered to “The Great Sun,” a man known as Agueybaná. His tribe inhabited the region that is now the municipalities of Guayanilla and neighboring Yauco. Agueybaná exchanged names with Juan Ponce de León in 1508 in a ritual called “guaitiao,” meant to create a lasting bond between the two families, a bond clearly broken when the Spaniards enslaved the taínos.
Guayanillenses have not let go of the welcoming arts, despite this sad episode in the island’s history. Not that they could have afforded to: Guayanilla’s accessibility by sea –through its local port in Guayanilla Bay— helped the town develop commercially. Adding to the burgeoning economy were the fertile lands used to grow a variety of crops, including tropical fruits. Formerly a borough of Yauco, Guayanilla earned its right to be a separate municipality in 1833.
The natural harbor is also the site of Guayanilla Beach with its inviting Malecón (an oceanfront boardwalk). Along the boardwalk the Plaza del Pescador Desaparecido is named in honor of fishermen who have lost their lives at sea. Guayanilla’s other beaches include Punta Ventana (no car access) and Playa de Tamarindo.
Among the region’s other natural wonders are the Chorro de Oro Waterfall (the name suggests that gold gushes from it) and Cuevas del Convento, a cave system that extends to neighboring Peñuelas. The caves stand out for its “out-of-place” vegetation and wildlife that are more typical of humid forests but are found beneath this dry Southern land.
Guayanilla has recently started to attract more and more tourism, and new projects aimed at visitors are in development. The centerpiece of these plans seems to be the Marine Centre, which will include a sports stadium, lookout towers, a swimming pool, among other services which will bring together out-of-towners and locals. Call it a modern-day guaitiao.