Once you arrive at El Yunque National Forest be sure to stop by El Portal Visitor Center before hitting the trails. Take some time to grab some water, if you don't already have some, and a map while you're there. Make sure that you bring a bathing suit, a towel, some sunblock, and insect repellant.
El Yunque National Forest, formerly known as the Caribbean National Forest, is in the rugged Sierra de Luquillo, 40 km (25 mi) southeast of San Juan. The forest covers lands of the municipalities of Canóvanas, Las Piedras, Luquillo, Fajardo, Ceiba, Naguabo, and Rio Grande. It gets its name from an Indian spirit Yuquiye (which means "Forest of Clouds") that gave the mountain that dominates the 28,000 acres of tropical forest.
The forest was set aside in 1876 by the Spanish Crown, and represents one of the oldest reserves in the Western Hemisphere.
The over 240 species (26 species found nowhere else) of trees and plants cause the government of Puerto Rico to spend a great deal of money to preserve floral species and animals that are on the verge of extinction. The total area is 11,270 ha (75% of Puerto Rico's virgin forest is here).
The landscape varies (see below) but is generally very steep and thickly forested, ranging from lowland rainforest (though not the giant trees and wild swamps found in rainforests further south) to stunted cloud forest and rocky cliffs at the top. The peak of El Yunque tops out at 1000 m (3200 ft).
Flora and fauna
El Yunque National Forest is a cool, mountainous, and sub-tropical rainforest. The eastern portion of the Luquillo mountains get the most rain. El Yunque is the rainiest of all the National Forests with up to 240 inches per year. More than 100 billion gallons (380 billion L) of rainwater fall on the forest per year. The climate is frost-free and ranges in moisture from semi-desert to rain forest conditions within very short distances. There are strong easterly trade-winds and cool weather is normal at the higher elevations. The mountains create their own weather, which changes rapidly. If you see clouds at the top as you arrive, it will rain. If you don't, it will probably rain anyway.
Considering arranging for a rental car. You can enjoy a day at the rainforest without a car, but you'll be severely limited in terms of going off the beaten path or spending any extra time at the park. The drive from San Juan to El Yunque will take about an hour regardless of which one of the most common routes you take. From San Juan, all of them will take you along Route 3 for the majority of the trip, so head east on it until you reach Route 191. Transitioning from Route 3 to Route 191 will take you through the small town of Palmer in Río Grande.
Fees and permits
There are no entrance fees to visit the forest, you just drive up, though El Portal Visitors Center cost $4 per person. A Forest Service one-hour guided tour cost a $5 donation.
Group tours will show you the animals, caves, and water falls, but trails are open to self-guided visitors. Consider wearing boots or shoes with a bit of ankle support - while most of the trails in the forest are fairly well worn it is still uneven terrain and a sprained ankle is no fun no matter where you are. Most trails are steep and wet, but well maintained.
- The El Yunque Art Gallery. Features very organic paintings and constructions by its artist, David. Located in Palmer, a town on the highway road 191, near El Yunque.
You can hike, go kayaking and guided scuba diving.
- La Mina Trail. At some point in your life in a picture, movie, or television show you've seen La Mina Falls, and this trail will take you there. Once you arrive at the falls you'll have the opportunity to wade through the waist-high water and stand under the falls. Unsurprisingly, this is a popular tourist spot, so be ready share the area.
- Espíritu Santo Waterfall. Popular waterfall and swimming hole on the west side of the park, not accessible from the main park road. Take Route 186 south from Rio Grande.
You won't be able to procure a proper lunch once you arrive at the rainforest (unless you want to forage for it) it's a good idea to bring food with you.
Camping is generally prohibited in order to protect wildlife, and would be unpleasant in the rain.
- Casa Cubuy. Billed as an "eco lodge", this is a relatively affordable retreat set on the southern outskirts of the forest. There is a waterfall a few hundred yards downhill from the resort and as the only access to it is the path from the lodge you have it all to yourself (and other lodge guests). There are several private hiking paths as well. Or, you can sit on a balcony and look out at a 180 degree sweep of rainforest covered hillsides. There are community-style meals served at the lodge and the kitchen is more than competent. The bar is self serve and its on an honor system. The Forest contains rare wildlife including the Puerto Rican Parrot, which is one of the ten most endangered species of birds in the world. Its scientific name is Amazona vitatta. The Puerto Rican parrot is a small amazon parrot, about a foot in length, bright green, with red forehead, blue primary wing feathers, and flesh-colored bill and feet. Its primary habitat is the upper zones of the Luquillo Mountains. Approximately 50 other bird species are found on the Forest.
El Yunque lacks large or dangerous wildlife. The main dangers are slips and falls on wet trails and streams, but the forest does have a few poisonous plants, notably a giant stinging nettle (ortiga) which will do no permanent damage but is much more painful than mainland nettles; you can identify it by the warts and hairs on its large and broad leaves. Stay alert for the different animals and insects that you come close to.