About Charco La Guitarra and Salto La Plazuela
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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).
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.
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.
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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