A visit to Puerto Rico should include a tour of El Yunque National Forest, the only rainforest in the U.S. National Forest system.
The forest boasts an abundance of native plants, trees and animals, many of which can only be found here. The tiny rainforest is located on the eastern part of Puerto Rico and enjoys moderate temperatures of 73°F (23°C) year round and is usually covered in mist or it’s raining. So after visiting Fort San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan, grab your bathing suit and a rain jacket because we can go swimming in this rainforest!
How To Get to El Yunque
The forest is only an hour drive from San Juan and easy to navigate to. If you don’t have a car, you can book a tour in town through your hotel or hostel. Puerto Rico is not cheap, so you might be better off renting a car for the day. There are two significant entrances, one from the North and one from the South. The South entrance will add another 30 minutes to your drive and includes the main visitor center.
Things To Do in El Yunque – South Entrance
Accessible from roads PR-191 via PR-31. PR-191 does not cross over the mountain ridge, but it does exist on both sides of the mountain range. 1.5 hour drive from San Juan, PR. We found the North park entrance much more exciting.
El Portal Visitor Center
The El Portal Visitor Center for El Yunque provides informative exhibits, rainforest education and a gift shop. This is not a must see.
There are several hiking trails available from this side, but the constant rain can make them almost impassable.
Serious hiking boots are required, as the mud can get almost knee deep in some places. A hike to the ridge of the Luquillo Mountains (Sierra de Luquillo) will take a full day and is only for the experienced hiker due to the constant concern of flash floods.
We attempted to hike the South trails, but the weather had been too wet and only 10 minutes into the trail we realized the mud was going to get 5″ inches deep. We turned around, got back in our rental car and drove an hour to the North side.
Things To Do in El Yunque – North Entrance
We highly recommend visiting the North entrance! You can access the park from roads PR-191 via PR-3.
This is a very popular tour for day visitors looking to walk the paved trail to waterfalls for a dip.
La Coca Falls
Along the winding road up to the rainforest of El Yunque you will pass several stop offs, one of which is the large La Coca Falls that cascades down right beside the road.
Take a few pictures, but be sure to jump back in your car and continue on up the mountain.
Yokahu Observation Tower of El Yunque
The tower is accessible from the North entrance. It’s another noticeable stop off the winding road and is properly labeled.
A paved 25 minute trail leads to the old tower which provides incredible views of the rainforest and the Northeastern part of Puerto Rico Island.
Big Tree Trail of El Yunque
The most popular trail walk from the North entrance is the Big Tree Trail.
The trail will vary in elevation, but it is paved and includes stairs.
We advise you to bring running shoes or hiking sandals.
The Big Tree trail begins with informational plaques that provide more detail of the rainforest.
The goal is to arrive at La Mina Falls and enjoy a cold dip in the water while the waterfall cascades down the rocks over your head.
This is why we suggest you wear the bathing suit. On a weekend, it can get very crowded. Several, more advanced trails branch out from La Mina Falls.
Don’t miss the experience of a rainforest in El Yunque, Puerto Rico. The changing climates, mist, constant rain and sounds of the tiny Coqui tree frogs are a must see.
If you are interested in purchasing any photos, please visit the El Yunque Photo Gallery.