Just an hour outside of San Juan, El Yunque isn’t simply the only tropical rainforest in Puerto Rico – it’s the only tropical rainforest in any U.S. state or territory. But don’t come expecting gnarled trails or scary critters lurking in the undergrowth: thanks to its many paved walking trails and manageable dimensions, the forest also happens to be marvellously accessible for visitors of all ages and abilities (the fact that it’s between 20-27 degrees here all year round doesn’t hurt, either). Pack a waterproof camera, then, and maybe a mac. On any El Yunque Rainforest tour, you’re likely to get a little damp.
First, a bit of history: found in the midst of the Luquillo Mountains, El Yunque was first known to the local TaÃno Indians, who believed the rainforest was home to the benevolent god Yuquiyu. When Spanish settlers arrived in Puerto Rico centuries later, they misunderstood the native name for the region, translating it instead to “El Yunque,” or “The Anvil.” Indeed, one of the tallest peaks in the mountainous forest is anvil-shaped, making the misnomer actually quite fitting.
Stretching across 28,000 acres, the forest may be relatively small in size, but it’s rich in biodiversity. Hundreds of different tree species call it home, including close to two-dozen varieties that can’t be found anywhere else on Earth; roughly 70 different orchid species are also native to El Yunque. The forest is additionally famous for its small population of highly endangered, brilliant green Puerto Rican Parrots, as well as a number of frog species (broadly called “˜CoquÃ,’ thanks to their distinctive call). Luckily, you won’t find any snakes, big cats, or anything else too threatening.
Keep an eye out for the local fauna, then, on your El Yunque Rainforest tour. Though the forest can be explored quite easily by car – Route 191 runs straight through – getting out on foot is really the best way to see it. 13 paved hiking trails snake through the forest; La Mina and Big Tree Trails are two of the best known and most accessible.
Soak up the jungle ambiance as you go, stopping to trade the thick undergrowth for striking lookout points. One of the best views can be had at the YokahÃº Observation Tower, which offers a clear vantage on the expanse of green below. For those who’ve hiked higher into the forest, the Mount Britton Tower is another observation point; given its altitude, you may find yourself hidden within swirling clouds. If you can, try to spot El Toro peak – it’s the highest in the park.
Once you’ve spent an hour or two hiking, it’s time to cool off: El Yunque just so happens to host 25 different waterfalls, of which La Coca Falls (which trickles across a large rock face) and La Mina Falls are the most popular. Swimming is permitted, so you may want to bring a bathing suit.
After something a bit more blood-pumping? A number of tour providers offer experiences that range from zip-lining to intensive guided hikes. But no matter how you choose to spend your El Yunque Rainforest tour, you’re in for one of the country’s most incredible natural experiences.
Our codeshare agreement with Delta means San Juan is just a quick trip away, bringing you closer to your El Yunque adventure.
Have you gone on an El Yunque Rainforest tour? What were your favourite sights? Let us know in the comments below.
Written by Claire Bullen