Charco La Guitarra and Salto La Plazuela

Pellejas / Rio Bauta, Orocovis, Puerto Rico

About Charco La Guitarra and Salto La Plazuela


Hiking Distance: about 2.25 miles round-trip (steep 4x4 hike and lots of stream scrambling)
Suggested Time: allow about 2.5-3 hours

Date first visited: 2022-04-19
Date last visited: 2022-04-19

Waterfall Latitude: 18.21019
Waterfall Longitude: -66.44698

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

Charco La Guitarra was a pretty remote hourglass-shaped swimming hole on the Río Bauta (Bauta River) that someone envisioned looked like a guitar.

Besides this quirky aspect about its shape (which I’d imagine would be best appreciated from above with a drone or something), it also presented an opportunity to explore the impressively tall Salto La Plazuela Waterfall.

Charco_La_Guitarra_038_04192022 - The Salto La Plazuela Waterfall, which was on the way to the Charco La Guitarra swimming hole
The Salto La Plazuela Waterfall, which was on the way to the Charco La Guitarra swimming hole

This waterfall (which I’m guessing is about 40m tall) actually acted as more of an intermediate side waterfall to the longer excursion to the Charco La Guitarra.

That said, accessing both of these secluded attractions (near Puerto Rico’s geographic center at Orocovis) was not easy by any stretch of the imagination.

Indeed, this adventure involved a very steep hike down (and especially up on the way back) a paved 4wd road followed by some rough river scrambling over large slippery boulders.

It was definitely not the kind of place to be if there’s a flash flood (or even the threat of it) because I had to spend a lot of time scrambling both in and around the river itself.

Charco_La_Guitarra_085_04192022 - Looking directly across Charco La Guitarra towards a pair of cascades spilling into the deep hourglass-shaped swimming hole
Looking directly across Charco La Guitarra towards a pair of cascades spilling into the deep hourglass-shaped swimming hole

Overall, this adventure took me at least 2.5 hours in total, and the whole time I was worried about bad weather possibly making an already challenging scramble even more difficult!

But as you can see, cooling off at eccentric Charco La Guitarra with its pair of cascades pilling into it was quite the payoff for the effort.

And even the Salto La Plazuela held its own as a worthwhile waterfall attraction with its own charco that you can chill out in.

Getting Started On The Charco La Guitarra Adventure

First and foremost, I had to start the hike in the right place, and this involved driving down a steep, narrow road just to get to the start of an even steeper 4wd only road (see directions below).

Charco_La_Guitarra_003_04192022 - Approaching the start of the steep 4x4 road section of the PR-593 Road leading down to the Bauta River
Approaching the start of the steep 4×4 road section of the PR-593 Road leading down to the Bauta River

Even though the PR-593 Road is still paved at the steep 4×4 section, I was better off walking that half-mile stretch of road instead of trying to drive it!

It was very reminiscent of the steep Waipi’o Valley Road on the Big Island of Hawai’i (where there are actually locals there actively discouraging tourists from foolishly driving down the road without a 4×4).

Indeed, it’s the steepness of the road that could easily cause brake failure on the way down (if you’re not descending in low gear), and stalling on the way back up without additional traction and engine help in both low gear and in 4wd mode.

I’d imagine that can be especially tricky if there’s oncoming traffic on this sloping section of the mostly single-lane road.

Charco_La_Guitarra_012_04192022 - At a switchback in the steep 4x4 part of the PR-593. Notice how the lower part of the road on the lower left seems to drop off unseen.  That's how steep this road is!
At a switchback in the steep 4×4 part of the PR-593. Notice how the lower part of the road on the lower left seems to drop off unseen. That’s how steep this road is!

Anyways, I managed to find some pullover or space to park the car without blocking the PR-593 road near a residence at the top of the 4×4 only section, and then walk the rest of the way.

The River Scramble To Salto La Plazuela

Once I got to the bottom of the 4×4 road, I encountered an interesting rusted suspension bridge spanning the Río Bauta.

This bridge actually isn’t necessary to reach the target waterfalls and swimming holes, but it does make for an interesting photo op, I’d imagine.

Anyways, you’ll want to start scrambling upstream on the left side of the Río Bauta as you don’t need to go over neither the concrete ford nor the suspension bridge to get to the other side of the river at this point.

Charco_La_Guitarra_018_04192022 - The somewhat rusted suspension bridge across the Bauta River at the bottom of the steep 4x4 road on the PR-593
The somewhat rusted suspension bridge across the Bauta River at the bottom of the steep 4×4 road on the PR-593

Like with other jungle hikes throughout Puerto Rico, the river scramble involved a lot of slippery footing as well as getting wet where crossing the stream couldn’t be done safely exclusively by hopping and balancing onto slick boulders.

Along the way, I encountered those “Avatar” ferns (that shrivel to the touch) as well as invasive tall grass along with the odd trees providing some semblance of shade when the sun did come back out.

Roughly a quarter-mile upstream on the Bauta River, I then started to see the uppermost sections of Salto La Plazuela in a side drainage coming in from the left side.

It was here that I then found a way to cross the river and scramble further upstream into this side stream to get up to the bottom of the Salto La Plazuela Waterfall.

Charco_La_Guitarra_059_04192022 - Salto La Plazuela and its algal-fringed stream
Salto La Plazuela and its algal-fringed stream

This scramble wasn’t easy because there was no trail and I had to pay special attention to where I was putting my weight on the slippery surfaces.

But eventually after some 300-400ft or so of scrambling, I arrived at the front of the Salto La Plazuela Waterfall, which was fronted by an algae-fringed stream.

Further downstream from the front of the falls was another minor cascade and swimming hole, and it would be here that you could linger and cool off with this 40m or so waterfall serving as the backdrop.

The River Scramble From Salto La Plazuela To Charco La Guitarra

After having my fill of the Salto La Plazuela, I then pretty much scrambled back the way I came and then crossed back over to the western banks of the Río Bauta.

Charco_La_Guitarra_066_04192022 - Continuing the river scramble beyond Salto La Plazuela in pursuit of Charco La Guitarra
Continuing the river scramble beyond Salto La Plazuela in pursuit of Charco La Guitarra

That was where I more or less stuck to a combination of use trails and boulder scrambling as the going was slow.

There were a few spots that I had to cross the river as well as trying to cling to ledges with a deep pool dropoff next to it (not good when you’re carrying electronics).

The scrambling continued to get rougher the further upstream I went, and I had to really watch out for the darker boulders and slabs, which were already slippery to begin with.

However, if they get wet, then it’s pretty much game over as I couldn’t stand a prayer to not slip and slide on it, especially if it sloped towards deep pools and dropoffs.

Charco_La_Guitarra_077_04192022 - The river scramble to Charco La Guitarra became especially rockier, more sketchier, and definitely more slick the further upstream on the Rio Bauta I went
The river scramble to Charco La Guitarra became especially rockier, more sketchier, and definitely more slick the further upstream on the Rio Bauta I went

There was one river crossing in particular that was surrounded by a deep pool upstream and a cascade downstream, where I had to take a little bit of a leap of faith to avoid dunking in that sketchy part of the river.

Eventually after about 0.4-mile of the scramble (taking me roughly 30-45 minutes in each direction), I finally reached the Charco La Guitarra.

Although I saw a sketchy ledge trail that seemed to go up to the top of the cascade spilling into the dual-noded plunge pool (possibly providing a way to scramble higher to the top of the neighboring cliff), I was content to be at the foot of the pool.

I then headed back the way I came, which seemed to be a lot easier knowing since I had the benefit of hindsight and memory of where I had gone before.

Charco_La_Guitarra_101_04192022 - Finally making it to the Charco La Guitarra
Finally making it to the Charco La Guitarra

But then, I had to deal with the brutally steep and slow climb up the 4×4 road back up to the parked car.

For the record, I did this hike solo, where my wife and daughter stayed behind in the car back by the start of the 4×4 road.

This certainly wasn’t the kind of excursion I’d want to put them into unnecessary risky situations.

Although I spent 2.5 hours away from the car on this excursion, I have seen videos of locals spending pretty much the whole day here (including doing cliff jumps into the steep pool).

Charco_La_Guitarra_128_04192022 - Getting a major leg workout on the steep climb back up the 4x4 road to regain the car after having my fill of the Charco La Guitarra
Getting a major leg workout on the steep climb back up the 4×4 road to regain the car after having my fill of the Charco La Guitarra

It’s definitely one of those places that you have to earn it, but it’s also for that reason that the experience is that much more rewarding!

Authorities

Charco La Guitarra and Salto La Plazuela reside in the municipality of Orocovis, Puerto Rico. To my knowledge, it is not formally governed though I’d imagine it defaults to the local government. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can try to visit their Facebook page (in Spanish).

Charco_La_Guitarra_002_iPhone_04192022 - Approaching the 4x4 part of the PR-593 road, which was the end of the line for our 2wd passenger rental car
Charco_La_Guitarra_002_04192022 - Noticing that there was an incoming rain squall just as I was getting started on my excursion to Charco La Guitarra
Charco_La_Guitarra_005_04192022 - Closer look at the sign discouraging anyone without a 4x4 to go any further
Charco_La_Guitarra_006_04192022 - Looking past this home next to the start of the 4wd part of the PR-593 that looked like it was being renovated or repaired
Charco_La_Guitarra_015_iPhone_04192022 - I was surprised to see this passenger vehicle near the bottom of the 4wd road, but then again, I'd imagine this might have been driven by a local who knows what he's doing
Charco_La_Guitarra_014_04192022 - Once I made it down to the Rio Bauta, I encountered this concrete ford as well as a rusted suspension bridge.  In order to reach Charco La Guitarra, you don't need cross neither of these things
Charco_La_Guitarra_017_04192022 - Looking directly across the rusted suspension bridge traversing the Rio Bauta
Charco_La_Guitarra_019_04192022 - Just to give you an idea of how steep the road was that went down to the Rio Bauta, this is a view looking back towards that road from the other side of the rusted suspension bridge
Charco_La_Guitarra_014_iPhone_04192022 - Juxtaposition of the rusted suspension bridge and the concrete ford across the Rio Bauta
Charco_La_Guitarra_023_04192022 - On the river scramble making my way upstream towards both Salto La Plazuela and the Charco La Guitarra
Charco_La_Guitarra_024_04192022 - Looking across some pool obstacle as I was making my way further upstream along the Rio Bauta towards Salto La Plazuela and Charco La Guitarra
Charco_La_Guitarra_025_04192022 - At this point, the river scramble encountered this pool, so I ended up crossing to the other side of the river to proceed
Charco_La_Guitarra_027_04192022 - Dealing with the slick surface while river scrambling towards both Salto La Plazuela and Charco La Guitarra
Charco_La_Guitarra_032_04192022 - Starting to notice the upper sections of the Salto La Plazuela coming in from a side canyon on a tributary that fed the Rio Bauta
Charco_La_Guitarra_036_04192022 - Approaching the Salto La Plazuela after a bit of a rough scramble
Charco_La_Guitarra_039_04192022 - Getting even closer to the impressive Salto La Plazuela
Charco_La_Guitarra_044_04192022 - More direct look at Salto La Plazuela though the momentary overcast skies made me nervous a bit since the boulder scrambling was already tricky when it was dry and I'd hate to imagine how much harder it would have been in the rain
Charco_La_Guitarra_050_04192022 - Another look at Salto La Plazuela but this time from the other side of its algal-fringed stream
Charco_La_Guitarra_052_04192022 - Last look back at Salto La Plazuela before going back downstream towards the Rio Bauta again
Charco_La_Guitarra_056_04192022 - Looking at a swimming hole a short distance downstream from the base of Salto La Plazuela
Charco_La_Guitarra_064_04192022 - Resuming the river scrambling on the way upstream to Charco La Guitarra
Charco_La_Guitarra_068_04192022 - Spotting a hidden cascade spilling into the Rio Bauta on the way up to the Charco La Guitarra
Charco_La_Guitarra_071_04192022 - Closer look at more 'Avatar' ferns on the way to Charco La Guitarra
Charco_La_Guitarra_022_iPhone_04192022 - This was a particularly hairy boulder obstacle because it was too risky to try to cling to a dark-rocked ledge and go straight ahead, and I ultimately opted to scramble inland around this obstacle, which also presented its set of challenges
Charco_La_Guitarra_074_04192022 - As the scrambling became rougher and riskier the further upstream I went, I had to cross the river at this dicey part where there was a deep pool to the left and a slick cascade to the right. With the gear I was carrying, getting dunked in the water was not an option for me!
Charco_La_Guitarra_078_04192022 - Continuing with the slick and rough boulder scrambling in the Rio Bauta on the way up to Charco La Guitarra
Charco_La_Guitarra_081_04192022 - Continuing with the river scramble as I started to wonder how much further Charco La Guitarra was at this point
Charco_La_Guitarra_083_04192022 - Finally approaching the Charco La Guitarra and the turnaround point of my river scramble
Charco_La_Guitarra_093_04192022 - Trying to get a perspective where I can show that Charco La Guitarra really does resemble a guitar without the handle
Charco_La_Guitarra_104_04192022 - As hard as it was to even get to Charco La Guitarra, you know it's sad when you have this sign urging people not to litter
Charco_La_Guitarra_108_04192022 - Looking back across the river towards some partially-visible upper sections of the Salto La Plazuela as I returned from Charco La Guitarra
Charco_La_Guitarra_120_04192022 - Now starting the arduous uphill climb along the steep 4wd road
Charco_La_Guitarra_121_04192022 - Pictures don't do it justice, but believe me, your thighs and calves will burn on this ascent
Charco_La_Guitarra_123_04192022 - Going up this switchback, which perhaps best shows the steepness of the 4wd road


The nearest town to the start of the Charco La Guitarra excursion is Orocovis, but we managed to make our visit from Las Cabanas de Doña Juana (which was a lechonera that was closed when we showed up; bummer).

I’ll describe how we did the drive from there.

Drive_to_Charco_La_Guitarra_006_iPhone_04192022 - Driving the narrow PR-593 through some residential streets before it made its steep descent down to the start of the 4x4 portion of the road
Driving the narrow PR-593 through some residential streets before it made its steep descent down to the start of the 4×4 portion of the road

So driving east from Las Cabanas de Doña Juana along the PR-143, we continued for just under 10 miles to its intersection with the PR-155.

Then, we drove north on the PR-155 for about 3.6 miles to its intersection with the PR-566 on the left (it’s easy to miss).

From there, we drove up the PR-566 road for about 2 miles before it joined up with the PR-593 road.

Then, we followed the PR-593 road for about 2 miles where we then encountered a sign saying “Solo 4×4” (Only 4×4), and then we turned around and looked for parking without blocking the road.

Charco_La_Guitarra_004_04192022 - Looking back at where we parked the rental car to avoid getting in the way of the PR-593 while at the same time not getting unnecessarily stuck on the 4wd portion of the steep road
Looking back at where we parked the rental car to avoid getting in the way of the PR-593 while at the same time not getting unnecessarily stuck on the 4wd portion of the steep road

Overall, this drive took us around an hour, but we definitely hesitated a bit in the final half-mile stretch where we thought the steep (nearly single-lane road) was even sketchy for 2wd passenger cars before even getting to the 4×4 part!

By the way, if you’re coming from Orocovis, then you can take the PR-593 road all the way to the aforementioned start of the excursion (right before the 4×4 part).

Alternatively, you can go south on the PR-155 before heading west on the PR-566 and eventually picking up the PR-593.

For geographical context, Orocovis was 16km (about 30 minutes drive) northwest of Barranquitas, 28km (around an hour drive) southeast of Ciales, about 41km (around 90 minutes drive) east of Jayuya, about 42km (over an hour drive) northeast of Juana Díaz about 61km (about 90 minutes drive) northeast of Ponce, 94km (over 90 minutes drive) east of Utuado, and about 78km (about 90 minutes drive) southwest of San Juan.

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Downstream to upstream sweep of the Cascada de la Plazuela under overcast skies


Brief downstream to upstream sweep from across the creek in front of the Cascada de la Plazuela Waterfall


Long sweep starting with the context of the guitar-shaped pool before scrambling to the edge of the pool directly across the falls feeding it and doing a 360 sweep from there


Watching the response of the so-called Avatar ferns seen along the Charco La Guitarra scramble

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Tagged with: salto la plazuela, 4x4 road, orocovis, pellejas, rio bauta, pr-593, central puerto rico, ruta panoramica, puerto rico



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About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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