El Yungue Rainforest, San Juan
The El Yunque rainforest is located about 1h east of San Juan, near the town of Rio Grande, and it therefore makes for a great day-trip destination. It's also very easy to book a guided tour from San Juan, which is what we did. Our guide Antonio picked us up at our hotel (there were 5 people in our group) and during the 1h drive to El Yunque, he entertained us with many interesting facts about the history and culture of Puerto Rico. Our first stop at El Yunque was at the Yokahu Tower where we were treated to a wonderful view of the tropical forest. We then went hiking around the Baño Grande area, where we got to learn a lot about the creation of the El Yunque National Forest and the different species of flora and fauna that are present in the park, all thanks to our wonderful guide. Antonio had a great sense of humor and a vast knowledge of the area, and he was very respectful of the environment (unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all the guides we met in the park - some will not hesitate to harm trees just to impress visitors...).
Our next stop was at the beautiful La Mina waterfalls. To get there, we hiked down the Big Tree trail - you had to watch your step, but it was a really nice trail along a small river. Once we got to the bottom of the falls, we went for a swim in its cool, pristine waters - it was so much fun! And quite refreshing! We then made a brief stop at La Coca falls, which are nice but not as impressive as La Mina, and stopped for a late lunch at "La Muralla", a small restaurant located on the side of the road. Their tacos were really good, and we also got to sample some papas rellenas (mashed potatoes stuffed with meat) and sorullos (fried corn sticks). All in all, it was a great experience and a fantastic way to spend a day in Puerto Rico!
When we first visited San Juan in the 1980's, we took a day trip which included visiting El Yunque Rainforest. We climbed Mount Britton tower but I could find no pictures in my travel odds and ends to post here. I remember walking trails to the rainforest to see a few structures such as this tower.
For a fair prospect of the surrounding forests and mountains, climb the circular staircase of the Mount Britton Tower on Mt. Britton of course, in El Yunque and climb the unique, stone observation tower. On clear days, the 3,075 ft. elevation may offer views of the Atlantic Ocean!
I've yet to find when and who built this beautiful stone tower, so if any one knows, I'd be glad to have the information!
One of the reasons I decided to go to Puerto Rico was because I had read an article about El Yunque and the Coqui frogs. Needless to say, I didn't see a single coqui frog other than the stuffed ones sold in the gift shops, but I sure did here them all over the place. The nice thing about hiking in El Yunque is also the thing I disliked the most. Seems the rainforest is so popular that they have manmade trails laid out all over. I feel that it takes away from much of the beauty El Yunque has to offer, but at the same time, it makes for nice hiking. I hiked the La Mina trail, I believe its the most popular one, because it leads to the Las Minas falls. When we reached the falls we did as most tourists do and went into the basin just to say we swam there. I did manage to get right up under the falls. The water was freezing to say the very least. I highly suggest people bring a variety of clothing when hiking this particular or any of the trails in El Yunque. When we were there it rained on and off for about an hour. Definately wear sneakers for this hike, I saw many, many a person tripping over their sandles and flip flops and sliding on the wet rocks. The hiking is free, but if you want to stop off at the visitor center its gonna cost ya a few bucks a person.
El Yunque is the only tropical forest in the United States. Located approximately, 40 km southeast of San Juan, is is said to be the rainiest of all national forests. It took an hour by car from the downtown San Juan area.
There are over 200 different varieties of trees and plants. In addition to the wide variety of foliage, you will also see and hear birds. Much of the wildlife found in the forest is very rare and includes the Puerto Rican Parrot. Fortunately, no hunting is allowed in the forest. There are many hiking trails. The trails maybe difficult to manage with small children. Camping (by permit) is allowed.
The forest is open daily from 7:30 AM until 6:00 PM
The rainforest was definitely worth the drive. Be prepared for a pretty long trek down slippery paths. You come out at a beautiful waterfall where you can swim but it might as well be Disneyland because it is jammed with people with their kids. The walk back seems shorter but still a pretty good haul. Wear sneakers.
La Mina trail is one of the most popular trails in the forest because it leads to La Mina Falls. The trail is approximately 1 mile long. Although it is not very difficult, there are many narrow concrete steps and the climb back is very steep. It took us about 1 1/2 hours round-trip, which included a 10-15 stop at the falls.
After the nice 30-40 minute hike down the trail we reached the faills. There were many people bathing in the water or simply sitting beneath the waterfall itself. The waterall drops about 35 feet. La Mina Falls is certainly no Yosemite, but its a nice visual once you have completed the trail
Visiting the rainforest is a perfect change of scenery from the beach scene. With its lush green ambience and the winding roads that wrap around the rising mountain of the jungle, El Yunque is like taking a trip into a different time and place. Its a part of San Juan that makes you feel as though your not in San Juan. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park! The weather is always changing and a sunny day can quickly dissipate into a violent, though refreshing rainstorm and then back into a sunny day all within a half hour. Enjoy the views and the many different waterfalls. There is no entrance to drive through the rainforest and to hike the trails, but make sure to get there early as the park closes at six. To not visit El Yunque when your in San Juan would be like visiting Cairo and not visiting the Pyramids. Don't make that mistake!
We took an organized tour to the rain forest. El Yunque covers 28,000 acres and is the only tropical rain forest in the US National Forest System. Our driver, "Papa Lion" was very knowledgeable and informative. After an overview of the area, he delivered us to the start of one of the trails. We were able to then go at our own pace, and hike to the nearby waterfall. The brave opted to take a quick dip in the chilly water. It was approximately 35 minutes each way, had over 200 steps, and a fairly steep incline to the finish. We didn't see any animals, but it was very beautiful.
Cascada La Mina (La Mina Falls), is an exquisite waterfall that drops over 35 feet through a jumble of huge rocks into a lovely pool where hikers can choose to swim in the cool refreshing water or merely rest and enjoy the view. Its located at the end of a trail that takes you through the rainforest and the waterfall is the reward for the effort! Besides lounging on the cool rocks or swimming in the pool, you can also choose to climb up into the falls which is a refreshing, exhilarating experience that you won't forget, its also very cold! Located in the El Yunque Rainforest, La Mina Falls is the primary reason that many people visit.
El Yunque is probably the only compulsory day trip in Puerto Rico.
Just 35 miles from San Juan, but taking longer to drive than you would expect. Signs for Puerto Ricos numero uno tourist attraction are conveniently handwritten on a few boards sellotaped to lamp posts.
When you do eventually find it, it’s worth stopping at the visitors centre on the main road up into the forest. Pretty impressive information centre and even if you don’t learn anything the toilets come in handy.
By this point you've probably realised it's more Last of The Summer Wine than Indiana Jones.
First stop to give a taster to come is La Coca Falls on the main road (little lay-by to park in). Further up the road, a small lookout tower gives good views of the forest, mountains and coastline.
If you’re feeling more adventurous and fancy a swim, La Mina falls can be reached by a short walk through the jungle. Try to avoid setting off just after large parties, as the path is only wide enough for one person and you’ll be forever stopping as someone in front takes a photo of a leaf. This got too infuriating even for my usually reserved English manners and we barged past in the end.
Note as well that if you decide to continue on the "jungle" trail after the falls, you will still come out on the main road - but about 1/2 mile downhill from where you set off. And it's a steep climb. We hitched a ride back up in a New Yorker's 4x4, but you might not be so lucky.
Yokahu Observation Tower is located within the El Yunque Rainforest just past the La Coca Falls. It was built in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps and offers 360 degree views of the rainforest. Its 66 feet high and has 98 steps so its a very easy climb to the top and well worth the effort considering the views from the top.