What’s more to love about Puerto Rico apart from the food, the beaches, and its vibrant culture? How about El Yunque National Rain Forest. This incredible hub of luscious green and extremely rare species of animals is a must-see during your stay on the beautiful island, and I challenge you to find anyone who would say otherwise.
The forest lies just 25 miles southeast of San Juan, and is accessible by automotive transport. The name “El Yunque” actually belongs to the large mountain that covers about 28,000 acres of land, providing paradise-like tropics that sit atop. Places like these remind you of why Puerto Rico is named the way it is: a rich port. What is truly incredible about this beautiful piece of forest, actually the only rainforest in all of the U.S. and its territories, is that it is so close to modern civilization. Just drive an hour away from the hustle and bustle of San Juan and into the forest region of Sierra de Luquillo, and you’ll see nothing but green and splashing waters. Incredible and cheap!
To get there, it is highly recommendable to rent a car. Taxis can overcharge if they know you are a tourist and they may not always be the safest option. Renting a car can cost as low as $65 and you’ll have it to ride around the whole day! There are two entrances to the rainforest. If you go through the main visitor’s center, El Portal, you’ll be paying $4 to enter the forest. However, going through this entrance isn’t necessary and can easily be avoided if you choose to go through the Palo Colorado visitor center. Here you won’t pay anything to enjoy the very same tropics and waterfalls. Once you’ve entered into forest territory and driven up the very base of the mountain, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to pay a visit to the Mt. Britton observation tower, resembling something more like a castle turret. Although the stairs seem to wind endlessly upwards, you’ll thank yourself once you’ve reached the top and experienced the canopy view of the rainforest. It is absolutely fantastic.
After that, it’s time for some hiking. There are a few options as to how you can hike through the forest. The most popular is by foot, but some may choose to be more extravagant and go by horse (permit required). Tours are another option, but can be a bit pricey. Regardless, you may get a more educational experience with a knowledgeable tour guide. Either way, being in the presence of El Yunque should be enough to satisfy some of your curiosities. As you meander down the paths thickspread with the green of unique plants and trees, not to mention the colors and calls of rare animals, you’ll eventually start to hear the splashes of waterfalls as they crash into the rivers below. There are many waterfalls throughout the forest. Some are only meant to be enjoyed by the eye, but with the less rampant waters, it’s a different story. After a long hike, it is almost inevitable to take a dip in a waterfall. A popular site for this is La Mina Falls and the rivers right by it. Many tourists take to the waters to cool off because it is always refreshingly cold; and it’s definitely worth it. When faced with a paradise like this, who can resist taking a dip in its waters? Sure, your socks may be a bit wet on your way back, but hey, jumping off rocks definitely beats jumping off a diving board.
When you’ve finished getting a small taste of El Yunque’s beauties, and you feel it’s time to head home, don’t forget to make one more stop. Make sure to keep your eyes open as you’re on the road heading back to civilization. Aligning these roads are small snack bars, which sell probably some of the most authentic Puerto Rican food in the area. Make sure to treat yourself. You can choose from a variety of fried foods such as alcapurrias, arañitas, bacalauítos, and piononos. Don’t know what these mean? Go find out for yourself and savor it! After all that hiking and swimming, surely you’ll be hungry and you won’t want to miss this opportunity.
Summing up, you’ve seen canopy views, hiked through the luscious greens of the forest, maybe taken a dip in the natural running waters of the falls, and had a couple of soul food delicacies on your way home. Not too bad for a vacation day, not too bad at all.
[photos courtesy of Diana Baide]