El Yunque National Forest
Río Grande, Puerto Rico
El Yunque National Forest, formerly known as the Caribbean National Forest (or Caribe National Forest), is a forest located in the northeast of Puerto Rico in the rugged Sierra de Luquillo, 40 km southeast of San Juan ( latitude 18’19 “N, longitude 65’45” O).
It is the only rain forest included in the United States National Forest System and the United States Forest Service. It is known for its rare trees and birds. It is one of the smallest rain forests, but it has a diverse habitat and is the most biologically diverse.
The forest covers the lands of the municipalities of Canovanas, Las Piedras, Luquillo, Fajardo, Ceiba, Naguabo and Río Grande. It is one of the most precious natural resources of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, it is a thick emerald green forest that covers 29,000 acres with peaks that rise up to 3,000 feet. The highest mountain peak in the forest rises 3,494 feet (1,065 m) above sea level.
Abundant rain (over 20 feet a year in some areas) creates a jungle-like environment: lush foliage, bluffs, waterfalls, and rivers are breathtaking views.
The forest offers a series of panoramic views and trails from which you can appreciate the flora and fauna of the jungle territory. All of the El Yunque peaks offer wonderful views of the surrounding forest, neighboring peaks, incoming clouds, and the nearby Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
Birdwatching is only part of the attraction: the trails, spectacular waterfalls, mountain streams, observation towers, and panoramic views of the rain forest. There is also a great opportunity to see various types of wildlife in the forest, such as different types of birds and reptiles. This includes parrots, hawks, and frogs. You can even choose a specific type of guided tour with a guide who knows where the best places to see wildlife are.
El Yunque is the most visited attraction on the island and part of the United States National Forest. Most tourists and locals visit El Yunque as a morning or afternoon trip or visit with tour guides. To really appreciate this amazing ecosystem, it is recommended to spend at least a full day exploring the lush and misty forest walking along the trails and refreshing yourself under waterfalls and natural pools with spring waters.
One of the most wonderful things about El Yunque is that it offers the opportunity to enjoy and experience a true rain forest. You can walk less than a mile on the paved forest trails to the most beautiful waterfall. Enjoy watching the beautiful plant life, feeling the fresh and humid air and listening to the birds and our unique Coquí (tree frog).
Another hike of less than a mile can take you to the high peak of Mount Britton, where you can see much of the El Yunque Forest, the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and much of Puerto Rico. That is, of course, only for the brief moments when the clouds can clear. All of this and more can be accomplished in a relatively safe manner. There are no wild or poisonous animals to worry about.
It is recommended that you obtain information at the Visitor Center and stay on the paved road. It is also recommended to wear something to protect your skin from mosquitoes and to wear non-slip footwear.
El Yunque National Forest is known for having the highest quality waters in Puerto Rico and beautiful views of the water. Because it is a mountainous rain forest, there are many streams and rivers that cross the forest. The forest offers numerous charming waterfalls and small natural pools.
Eight main rivers originate in El Yunque and supply water to 20% of the island’s population. In 2002, the United States Congress designated the Mameyes, La Mina and Icacos rivers as part of the Río Silvestre and Escénico Federal System. Currently if you bring a swimsuit, you can take a dip in the rivers and waterfalls that you find. The two best and most popular places to go swimming in El Yunque are La Mina Falls and Juan Diego Falls.
The Caribbean National Forest is administered by the US Forest Service and maintains an extensive network of hiking trails, picnic areas, facilities, paved roads, and parking for tourist buses. The exhibition hall ‘El Portal’ and the observation towers are located on the north side. The southern part is the quietest area. There are currently 24 miles of recreational trails. These trails are restricted to pedestrian (hiking) traffic only. You can spend a few nights in the forest to really appreciate the peace and beauty.
El Yunque is part of the Luquillo range and is divided into four forests: Tabonuco forest, Palo Colorado forest, Sierra de Palma forest and En Las Nubes forest.
- The Tabonuco Forest located at elevations up to 2000 feet has trees that grow to a maximum of approximately 115 to 125 feet in height. Tabonuco and Ausubo are the dominant species, but there are also many Yagrumo, Guaraguao, Laurel Sabino and giant ferns.
- The Palo Colorado Forest is approximately 2,950 feet in elevation. Here you can find many Caimitillo, Caimitillo Verde and Palo Colorado.
- The Palma Sierra Forest is located at elevations of over 1958 feet, as its name describes it, the Sierra Palma is the dominant species.
- “Forest in the clouds ” ” (Bosque En Las Nubes) located 2,500 feet above sea level, it is limited to the tops of the highest mountains. These trees do not grow more than 12 feet. It is usually very windy and the land is saturated with water. Common tree species are Némoco, Roble de Sierra, Limoncillo Guayabota and Camasey.
The most important mountain peaks in El Yunque are:
El Yunque Trail & Peak
El Yunque has the best hiking in Puerto Rico. You can spend a full day walking along some of the trails, especially the one that will take you to Pico El Yunque. No matter which trail (s) you choose, you must wear sturdy walking shoes. Given the cool and humid climate of El Yunque, packing is recommended, especially if you are carrying a camera or other things in your backpack that should not get wet.
El Yunque Peak has stunning views of the water, but you can also enjoy the entire National Forest, including Mount Britton Tower from a distance. The peak is one of the highest in Puerto Rico, just over 3,500 feet above sea level. You will see an observation tower with a platform to take 360 ° photos. If you’re at the top long enough, especially in the afternoon, expect to encounter a weather system wandering through clouds, fog, and a gust of fresh air in between gusts of sun.
La Mina Falls
La Mina Falls is the most popular waterfall. The Mine is visited by a ton of visitors on most days, not only because of the beauty of the waterfall but also because you can take a dip in the waterfall pool. There is a 45-minute walk that descends for .7 miles before reaching the falls.
Coca Falls is the easiest waterfall to see due to its location just off the main road, PR-151, about 8 km away. from the park entrance. There is an extraction area just in front of the waterfall. There are no parking lots, but cars can stop when they leave the road.
The Coca Trail
The Coca Trail is a challenging trail that starts right in front of La Coca Falls. The trailhead is located uphill from La Coca Falls. It will take at least 1.5 hours one way. Most hikes to this trail will take around 4 hours for a round trip.
The hike is steep and muddy with several stream crossings. The reward comes at the end, where sometimes you can jump into a natural well.
Juan Diego Trail
Juan Diego Trail is a relatively easy trail that leads to a small waterfall. It used to be isolated, but (as one of the few waterfalls now accessible within the forest) this is where most people now stop. Access is restricted to the lower waterfall on this trail.
Juan Diego Creek
Not far from La Coca Falls, you can walk to Juan Diego Creek. It is an easy walk to access the first set of waterfalls and pools to jump. This can get crowded as most El Yunque tourist groups tend to stop here.
Make this your morning stop and continue up the trail to more isolated falls and pools. Expect the soil to be wet, muddy, and slippery on the rocks.
To get to the Caimatillo Trail you can park on Route 191 in the 11.8 km parking area and start the trail here. This leads directly to the El Yunque Peak trail.
Los Picachos Trail
This trail with amazing and breathtaking views leads east from the El Yunque Peak trail.
Baño Grande is not a waterfall, but a large natural pool just a short walk from the main road. You can walk around Big Bath, which includes a stone bridge that acts as an observation point overlooking the water. It is located further up the road past Juan Diego Creek and La Mina Falls on the way to the bush along the Britton Trail route. A stop here should take no more than 10 minutes. Parking is available in Palo Colorado.
Mount Bbritton trail
You can park on Highway 9938 and take this route to Route 10. From there, take a short walk down the road and you can access the short route that leads to Mount Britton Tower.
Mount Britton Trail is a fairly steep climb along a narrow trail of about 1 mile. The walk should take approximately 45 minutes one way to the tower. Once you get to the tower, it’s a short trip up a narrow flight of stairs to the top of the tower.
The tower offers panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Once you’ve completed the Mount Britton Trail, you can step down from the tower and hike up Mount Britton Spur which takes you to the beginning of the trail to El Yunque Peak, the highest peak in the forest. This section of the trek to Pico El Yunque should take approximately one hour.
Mount Britton Tower Spur
This trail connects the El Yunque trail with Route 10. You can use this to hike from Mt. Torre Britton area to the top of El Yunque.
It has a picnic area, parking area and food stand with some picnic tables available.
Broken Bridge “Puente Roto”
It is a swimming and picnic area located on route 988
Angelito Trail is a nice trail through the small bridge to the swimming pit.
El Toro Trail
You can reach the highest point of the El Yunque National Forest on this “El Toro” trail, accessible from Highway 186. This is a difficult hike. Note that most of this hike is in full sun.
The forest region was initially reserved in 1876 by King Alfonso XII of Spain and represents one of the oldest reserves in the western hemisphere. It was established as the Luquillo Forest Reserve on January 17, 1903 by the General Land Office with 65,950 acres (266.9 km2), and became a National Forest in 1906. It was renamed the Caribbean National Forest on June 4, 1935.
An executive order signed by President George W. Bush on April 2, 2007 changed the name of the Caribbean National Forest to El Yunque National Forest, better reflecting the cultural and historical sentiments of the Puerto Rican people.
The weather is fairly constant throughout the year. In the summer, the average high temperature is 80° F with a low of 68°. In winter, the average high temperature is 72° with a minimum of 58°. What makes this forest have the ideal climate for lush tropical vegetation. The rain forest is characterized by its biodiversity; It is the “home” of thousands of native plants, including 150 species of ferns, 240 species of trees.
Ecology and conservation
ts ecosystem is specifically examined by the Ecosystem Management Team. Due to its location in the northeast part of Puerto Rico, the incoming trade winds from the Atlantic Ocean hit the mountains, leading to a recorded excess rainfall of approximately 240 inches (6.1 m) per year. This process is called the orographic elevation and it has the intense rain and the constant presence of clouds in this mountainous region. This constant cloud cover and the persistent winds produced by the adiabatic process of air particles that rush through the mountainside have affected the morphology of El Yunque, but the greatest effect has been in the dwarf forest.
El Yunque is made up of four different areas of forest vegetation: Tabonuco Forest, Palo Colorado Forest, Sierra Palm Forest and Dwarf Forest.
- Dwarf Forest – The Dwarf forest ecosystem is about 3,000 feet (910 m) and makes up the smallest subregion of El Yunque. The forest is characterized by the variation of the vegetation that is only found in Puerto Rico. The vegetation shows stunted growth in which the diameter of the trunk widens and the number of leaves on the branches is less than expected. Other specific factors that affect the growth of this subregion are the high level of acidity and the scarcity of soil water.
In El Yunque there are three types of fauna: reptiles, birds and amphibians. There are 8 types of lizards, 13 types of coquies (Puerto Rican tree frogs). 50 types of birds, including the Puerto Rican parrot, which is an endangered species. There is only one type of natural mammal in El Yunque and that is the bat, there are 11 types. There are also many varieties of fish, shrimp, and other aquatic animals. They are also found, but very rare are snakes. The Puerto Rican boa can reach a length of 90 inches. Hunting in El Yunque is prohibited and punished by law.
Approximately 16 species of common coqui, members of the diverse neotropical frog genus Eleutherodactylus, are known in Puerto Rico. Of these 16, 13 have been found in the El Yunque National Forest.
This little frog earned its Puerto Rican common name due to the call of the most common coqui species in Puerto Rico, Eleutherodactylus coqui, which begins at sunset and ends at dawn. This has made it a very loving animal for Puerto Ricans.
Puerto Rican Amazon
In El Yunque there are 50 types of birds, including the Puerto Rican parrot, which is an endangered species.
The Puerto Rican parrot is a small parrot that measures 11.0 – 11.8 inches (28–30 cm). The bird is a predominantly green parrot with a red forehead and white rings around the eyes.
The species is the only native parrot left in Puerto Rico. The estimated total population was 58 to 80 of these in the wild and more than 300 in captivity.
The Portal Rain Forest Center
Opened in 1996, the El Portal Rain Forest Center was designed to give visitors an introduction or a beautiful start on what the rain forest looks like.
Built in a 28,434 acre tropical forest. The Portal was built as a model headquarters for ecotourism and economic development and training.
The center was built to educate those concerned with the well-being of the Caribbean National Forest and preserve the unique heritage and environment of tropical forests.
The entry experience begins at the top of an elevated pathway that links the facility with the surrounding forest and offers views of mountain peaks, the ocean, and reforested terrain.
The Center contains 9,000 square feet of exhibits, a closed theater, conference center classrooms and labs, as well as administrative offices. To preserve natural conditions, care was taken to use existing openings for roads, parking areas, and buildings, while the arrival sequence and parking lots were designed with contours to save existing trees.
The Portal has survived several major hurricanes, including Hurricane Georges. On September 21, 1998, Hurricane Maria caused significant damage to the center and reforms are underway starting in 2020.
Rates and Hours
El Yunque is open 7 days a week and closes at 6 p.m. The Tropical Forest Center Portal on Route 191 is open daily from 9 a.m. at 5 p.m. The El Yunque Catalina field office along the road on the north side of the forest provides information on hiking and will help you plan tours of El Yunque, including those at night.
The entrance to the rain forest is free. There is a fee to access the visitor center.
Overnight camping is not allowed in wilderness areas. But there are some camps in the national forest. Camping reservations can be made at the El Portal Visitor Center on Highway 191 at the entrance to the National Forest.
How to get from San Juan to the El Yunque rain forest
From San Juan take Rte. 26 / Baldorioty de Castro Highway east to Carolina, from where you will reach Rte. 66 / Roberto Sanchez Vilella Highway. Go east on Rte. 3, continue east to the intersection of Rte.191, a 2-lane highway that leads south to the rain forest. Then take 191 for about 3 miles. As the path climbs, you will enter the El Yunque rain forest. The address of the visitor center is PR-191 Río Grande, PR 00745.
Stop at the visitor center for maps and more information on the rain forest.
What to Bring
Bring some snacks, drinks, walking shoes, a bathing suit if you want to get into the falls, also insect repellent and if you have children bring all their nneds. There is a place for selling items, snacks and soft drinks.