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Things To Do in El Yunque National Forest

A visit to Puerto Rico should include a tour of El Yunque National Forest, the only rainforest in the U.S. National Forest system.

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El Yunque National Forest - Misty Rainforest

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!

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El Yunque National Forest

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El Yunque National Forest - Big Tree Trail

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.

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View from El Yunque El Portal Visitor Center by PLeia2, on Flickr

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.

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El Yunque National Forest - A Snail

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.

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El Yunque National Forest - Bamboo at South Entrance Hiking

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El Yunque National Forest - Bamboo at South Entrance Hiking Trails

Hiking Trails

There are several hiking trails available from this side, but the constant rain can make them almost impassable.

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El Yunque National Forest - Bamboo at South Entrance Hiking Trails

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.

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El Yunque National Forest - Bamboo

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.

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El Yunque National Forest - Plants & Flowers

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.

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El Yunque National Forest - Big Tree Trail

This is a very popular tour for day visitors looking to walk the paved trail to waterfalls for a dip.

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El Yunque National Forest - Rainforest Flower

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.

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El Yunque Rainforest La Coca Falls by BluEyedA73, on Flickr

Take a few pictures, but be sure to jump back in your car and continue on up the mountain.

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Adam at La Coca Falls, El Yunque Rainforest by BluEyedA73, on Flickr

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.

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Yokahu Observation Tower, El Yunque Rainforest by BluEyedA73, on Flickr

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.

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From Inside Yokahu Observation Tower by urbanshoregirl, on Flickr

Big Tree Trail of El Yunque

The most popular trail walk from the North entrance is the Big Tree Trail.

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El Yunque National Forest - Hundreds of Plants Growing on a Tree Trunk

The trail will vary in elevation, but it is paved and includes stairs.

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El Yunque National Forest - Palm Tree Roots

We advise you to bring running shoes or hiking sandals.

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El Yunque National Forest - Palm Tree Roots

The Big Tree trail begins with informational plaques that provide more detail of the rainforest.

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El Yunque National Forest - Rainforest Lizard

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.

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El Yunque National Forest - Misty Rainforest

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.

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El Yunque National Forest - Misty Rainforest

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.

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El Yunque National Forest - Bamboo

If you are interested in purchasing any photos, please visit the El Yunque Photo Gallery.

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Sheir says:

Hello,
Any idea on how much a taxi would cost to get from the San Juan cruise ship port to the north side of El Yunque? I think I read somewhere that it is about 1hr drive but not sure of the cost.

Thanks
sheir

Cailin says:

I wish I could of visited El Yunque when I was there, but it was closed because of a hurricane :( Just means I will have to go back I guess! :)

We have to go back too Cailin. We went during the tropical rainy season and didn’t really get to enjoy much of the beach or surrounding islands.

Brooke says:

Thanks for this photo tour — I love rainforests!

Abby says:

Oh, wow, so beautiful. I love wet rainforests like this. Your pictures are so vibrant, especially considering how misty it was. Great work.

Jason says:

Thanks Abby, it was definitely wet.

Beautiful but weird. Never realized a PR park/forest would have the signage that is so familiar in the states. Guess I should have figured.

Jason says:

Much of Puerto Rico resembles the states in terms of government signage. You will notice that on the highways, driving through tolls and through the city.

Stephanie says:

Did you see the coqui -the frog endemic to Puerto Rico and El Yunque? That is what I will be looking for when I go.

Jason says:

You hear them everywhere! I can hear them in downtown San Juan and in the rainforest, but I never could find them. They are very small and live in the trees, but make a big noise.

Andrea says:

I love rainforest walks – so many interesting plant and animal species!

Jason says:

I love them too. It was quite unique that this rainforest had no large animals. The only mammal is a bat. There are frogs, lizards and very few snakes.

Melvin says:

Nice post! I really like rain forrests, especially the sounds of it! And if you got a good eye (or guide) you’ll spot some amazing fauna & flora!

Jason says:

In the beginning of the walk there are small plaques describing the fauna and animals. It was enjoyable to learn a little bit.

Sophie says:

I’m quite unfamiliar with Puerto Rico and didn’t know it had such vibrant rainforests. Very beautiful photos here.

Jason says:

Thanks Sophie. It’s a tiny rainforest, but it is one indeed. The mountains rise up from the east side of the Puerto Rico, just enough to enjoy some cool temps while walking through the forest.

Heidi says:

I literally *never* thought I would say this in my life, but what a beautiful snail! The colors in all of these pictures are gorgeous, I just want to be there right now!! Maybe one day. :)

Heidi

Jason says:

Strange thing about the snails is that they were EVERYWHERE! I took too many pictures of snails that day. Each tree, branch and leaf had snails on it.

Kevin says:

Awesome post! We were planning to go to El Yunque last year, but it didn’t happen.

Jason says:

Glad you liked it. Well, there is always the future, and it’s never too late.

Maria says:

So close to home and yet just far enough away with a landscape that definitely makes you feel somewhere ‘lost’ – Enjoying the photos – El Yunque National Forest – Bamboo at South Entrance Hiking Trails (your companion at the foot of monstrous sized bamboo) is my fav.

Jason says:

Yup, I had Aracely stand next to the bamboo to put the giant size in perspective. They were huge!

Andi says:

Wow it looks insanely gorgeous! I would LOVE to spend the day there exploring!!!

Jason says:

Andi, it was gorgeous and an easy day walk for almost everyone. The paved trail was perfectly maintained through the rainforest.

Soooo beautiful!!! When I traveled PR agea ago I was a total budget traveler and my friend and I rented a van for 2 weeks and we slept in this park. Well we tried to until some phantom cars started passing us around 1 in the morning and then we high tailed it out of there :)

But it was so fun!

Jason says:

Now that sounds like fun. we wanted to do a lot of camping, but the weather wasn’t good during that time of year. It rained continuously, because it was rainy season.

Jason says:

Some of the biggest bamboo I have ever seen!

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