Just half an hour away from Puerto Rico’s capital city of San Juan, the Caguas Botanical Garden “William Miranda Marin” is a treasure throve of archaeological beauty and historical splendor. If your idea of a botanical garden is limited to flowers and trees, you are in for a pleasant surprise with this one. The place is straight out of the History Channel and Versailles all rolled into one.
The Garden imbibes Puerto Rican culture as it relates to tropical agriculture and nature. The ruins of the San Jose Sugar Plantation is to Puerto Rico as the antebellum Winter Quarters cotton plantation is to Louisiana, both representations of economic development and bondage of slavery. Artifacts abound in the Garden from the time of the original inhabitants of the island, the Mesoamerican tribe of Taino Indians.
Named after William “Willie” Miranda Marin, the mayor of Caguas until his death in 2010, the Garden was one of Marin’s projects. His ashes are buried under one of the Garden’s trees with a plaque marking the location. The standout attractions of the Garden are the educational and recreational zones that emphasize historical values of the region as well as demo projects on environment-friendly technologies.
The exhibits in the Garden is a cornucopia of multiple cultures and the particular influences that they have imparted to the 21st century Cagüeños, a fascinating mix of Creole heritage which is a sum of the African, Taino, and Spanish races. The Ancestral Taino Grove, for instance, has the monumental project “batey,” the ancient Mesoamerican ball game played as a ceremony.
The Groves of Taino and African Ancestors
The Taino Grove also highlights tree species and ancient petroglyphs which were considered of value to the tribe. The Conscience Grove, on the other hand, is a spot dedicated to the trees endemic to Puerto Rico that are in danger of extinction. This grove was put up in the hope that visitors will take time to reflect on the significance of protecting natural resources the way the ancient peoples of Puerto Rico did.
The Ancestral African Grove, “La Arboleda Ancetral Africana,” has 40 species of plants and trees indigenous to Madagascar and Africa as well as those that came to the island through Africa. A monument to the “spiritual doctor” Osain, of the African Yoruba culture, has been built within the African Grove, also considered as a commemorative space for the African ancestors of Puerto Ricans.
A visit to Puerto Rico will not be complete without experiencing a golf cart ride all over the 113-acre Caguas Botanical Garden. The knowledgeable and expert guides explain the history of the trees, the groves, the exhibits, and everything else behind every attraction, from hydroponic cultivation in the Urban Agricultural Plaza to the “chicken trees” dotting the Palo de Pollo Plantation.