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Spotlight: Tropical El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico

Spotlight: Tropical El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico

Enjoy El Yunque’s mild year-round climate and immense biodiversity — no passport required

El Yunque La Coca Falls in El Yunque National Forest, a tropical paradise. (Yoed Lebron/Share the Experience)

What You’ll Find

Located in Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island in the Greater Antilles group, El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System. The forest’s relatively small 28,000-acre size belies its importance. It differs significantly from all other U.S. National Forests because of its year-round tropical climate and immense biodiversity. Only in El Yunque can you see giant tree ferns and a variety of tropical birds. You may even catch a rare glimpse of a Puerto Rican parrot or the Elfin-woods warbler.

Getting There

From San Juan, follow Puerto Rico Route 66 (PR-66) or PR-3 east to Rio Grande. Look for the sign for El Yunque Rain Forest and PR-191. Turn there and go up the hill. If you miss that, just go to the intersection with PR-955. There’s another big sign for El Yunque. Follow PR-955 to PR-191. Turn onto PR-191, head up the hill and you’re there!

Stay Here

El Yunque offers camping by permit on a first-come, first-served basis. Request free permits at least two weeks in advance of your stay. Download the forest’s Camping Information and Guidelines brochure then download the permit application or contact forest headquarters at 787-888-1880 to apply by phone (note: El Yunque is in the Atlantic time zone).

Lodging is also available in several of the nearby towns surrounding the rain forest ranging from full service seaside resorts to smaller guesthouses and short term rentals near the beach or in the mountains.

Make Sure You

Visit El Portal Rain Forest Visitor Center. You’ll enter the visitor center via an elevated walkway that allows you to see the rain forest treetops and experience the sights and sounds of birds and other forest animals. Another pathway winds through the forest understory. Search for “coquíes”—frogs that are members of a unique group endemic to Puerto Rico (10 of 17 species inhabit El Yunque). Inside El Portal you’ll see exhibits that focus on rain forest plants and animals, the importance of rain forests around the world, and current threats to rain forests and efforts to conserve them.

Hike to the top of Mt Britton named for the botanist who catalogued many of the tropical plants in the area, or climb the Trade Winds Trail through the cloud (dwarf) forest and up peaks that rise 3,500 feet above sea level. Note: the Trade Winds Trail will close for trail maintenance during part of 2014. Please check current trail conditions before you go.

Try This

Take a drive through the forest for opportunities to view lush tropical vegetation, colorful birds and panoramic views. Stop and take a photo at La Coca Falls or climb Yokahu Tower to see beyond El Yunque to the eastern coastal plain and the Atlantic Ocean.

A short drive from the forest you’ll find Monserrate Beach (also known as Luquillo Beach) or visit Fajardo and attend the night time viewing of the glow-in-the-dark (bioluminescent) lagoon created by single-celled living organisms known as dinoflagellates. Take a ferry or fly to the nearby islands of Culebra or Vieques; both offer public beaches that many list among the most beautiful in the world and coral reefs and sea grass beds for snorkeling. Vieques is also home to Vieques National Wildlife Refuge and 170 species of birds, several marine mammals and four species of sea turtles.

Eat This

Visit the forest’s “Yuquiyu Delights” food concession operating at both El Portal Rain Forest Center and at the Sierra Palm Recreation area. Other local restaurants and food kiosks offer an array of local cuisine or “comida criolla” and refreshing cool drinks like fresh coconuts and fruit juices.

Don’t Forget

Islanders typically visit the forest in the hot summer months of July and August when they take advantage of cool river pools and shady picnic areas. Most of our off-island visitors come during the winter and early spring. Many cruise ship passengers take advantage of their day in Puerto Rico and tour the heart of the forest.

Quiet times are May through mid-June and September through mid-November, but whatever time of the year you visit El Yunque, our scenic roadways, picnic areas, nature trails and El Portal Rain Forest Center will be open and ready for you!

Get Started!

The forest is open daily, 365 days a year from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. when gates close. El Portal Rain Forest Center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Christmas Day. Visit El Yunque National Forest website for more information.

Did You Know?

The King of Spain established El Yunque as a forest reserve in 1876, making it one of the oldest forest reserves in the Western Hemisphere. While pressure on many tropical forests is reducing them in size, El Yunque has doubled in size since it was first established. In 1976, the United Nation’s Man and the Biosphere program designated the Forest a Biosphere Reserve.