Copamarina Beach Resort, Guanica
Located near the famous Phosphorescent Bay at La Parguera

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The $5.5 million improvement and expansion of the Copamarina Beach Resort at Guanica was a welcome development on Puerto Rico's sprawling south coast where accommodations are limited.

Just 90 minutes from San Juan, Copamarina is convenient to the architecturally rich cities of Ponce and San German, the Tibes Indian Ceremonial Center (a possible pre-Columbian version of Stonehenge) and the famed Phosphorescent Bay at La Parguera.

In Copamarina's back yard, literally, is the Guanica Dry Forest, a UNESCO world biosphere reserve with more protected bird species than El Yunque's rainforest.

  

Despite its closeness to so many diverse sites, you do have to make a slight detour from the main tourist route to reach the 106-room resort and not a lot of travelers seem to have found Copamarina yet.

Those who do are a diverse group: hikers and bird watchers who come to explore the dry forest, divers attracted by the resort's PADI Dive Center, and couples seeking a secluded getaway.

The 20-acre resort originally was built in the 1950s as a private family retreat. In 1991 it was enlarged and turned into a hotel.

Despite an addition of 38 rooms, the resort has kept its casual, low-key atmosphere. Because accommodations are spread out in low-rise 2-story wings, the resort blends nicely into the lushly landscaped grounds instead of dominating them.

Room furnishings are made of thick pine and decorated in bright tropical fabrics. Amenities include a mini-refrigerator, color cable TV, coffee maker, hair dryer, data ports in the direct-dial telephones and private terrace or balcony.

  

The fitness center has panoramic floor to ceiling windows for a garden or Caribbean view, offers weight machines, aerobic cycles, treadmills and a steam sauna. Extensive spa treatments include massage, aromatherapy, body mud baths and manicures and pedicures.

Copamarina may not be well known, but it's already famous for quality dining. Breakfast and lunch are served a la carte in an open-air café where the creative menu offers such intriguing items as conch and octopus tacos (they're great!).

Evening meals are served in an air-conditioned restaurant where the formal silver, china place settings and continental menu easily could generate an uncomfortable stuffy atmosphere but how can they when you're in shorts and tennis shoes? You're also welcome to dress up as much as you like; casual or formal, you'll fit right in.

The evening entrees of fish, veal, lamb and beef match anything served in Puerto Rico's finest restaurants. That's not an exaggeration since the kitchen staff was trained by one of the island's most famous chefs, Wilo Benet.

Yet this can be almost too much of a good thing. Families with small children and those tired from a hectic day of touring might prefer a sandwich or something light instead of these heavier meals but for the moment that's not possible since the outside café closes at 6 p.m. When Copamarina attracts the number of guests it deserves, I imagine both options will be available in the evening.

  

In any case, there's plenty to do here to build up a hearty appetite. The dive center offers specialty courses, certification ranging from open water to assistant instructor and daily trips in its 42-foot dive boat to the 22-mile long wall that runs in front of Copamarina.

Snorkeling is popular at nearby Guilligan Island, a small cay you can reach by ferry or by one of Copamarina's own small motor craft.

  

Behind Copamarina is the world's largest dry forest and the home to more than 400 different plants, 254 kinds of trees and more than 100 resident and migratory bird species.

But you don't need to go to the dry forest to see and hear a variety of birds. A sizable number show up in Copamarina's gardens every morning and many remain during the day around the resort's two swimming pools.

  

Between the hiking, diving and snorkeling it's easy to forget the general sightseeing within a 30-minute drive. You truly can spend a week exploring nearby Ponce and San German and still feel like you've missed a lot.

  

Copamarina is a hidden gem that deserves to be much better known. With so much going for it, Copamarina isn't likely to stay undiscovered much longer.

For more information or reservations, call 800/468-4553 or visit the resort's web site: www.copamarina.com .

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