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by Kristin Young | Updated On: September 2, 2020 | Hike
Located in the tropical Caribbean, Puerto Rico provides visitors with warm and beautiful weather, perfect for outdoor activities. One of the best places in the country to disconnect and soak up sweep views is El Yunque National Rainforest. It’s also a popular spot for anyone seeking out waterfalls at the end of gorgeous hiking trails.
El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. System of National Forests. It’s found in northeastern Puerto Rico, on the slopes of the Sierra de Luquillo mountains. It was formerly known as the Caribbean National Forest, and in 2007, the name changed to ‘El Yunque’ after one of the island’s Native spirits.
This may be one of the smaller areas, encompassing only around 28,000 acres (113.32 km2), but it has one of the most biologically diverse rainforests around. So get your cameras ready, whether it’s one of your best underwater cameras or a cellphone, you’ll want to capture your experience on your El Yunque adventure.
Table of Contents
HOW TO GET TO EL YUNQUE
The El Yunque Visitor Center is a ±35-minute drive east of San Juan. Start your adventure at the Visitor Center, located at the entrance to the forest, where you can grab a map and start your trek.
Post-hurricane Maria & Irma notice:Most of the popular trails remain closed until further notice. Check USDA El Yunque Rainforest for updates and alerts before visiting.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Driving: Puerto Rico driving rules are similar to any state in the U.S. You’ll drive on the right side of the road.
Parking: You’d need to park on the side of the road for most hiking trails and waterfalls. Be aware of the “No Parking” signs; don’t park in a restricted area – as tempting as it may be, you may get into some trouble like being fined by one of the park rangers.
Opening Hours: The forest is open daily from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm, except for Christmas day. The El Portal Visitors’ Center opens from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
El Yunque Fees: There is no fee to enter the forest. Access to the Visitor Center will cost around $4 for adults, $2 for seniors, and is free for children under 15 years. Guided tours are also available at a cost.
Climate: El Yunque gets over 200 inches of rain (508 cm) per year at high elevations. Given it’s a rainforest, it’s not a bad idea to pack a rain jacket or poncho in.
EL YUNQUE, PUERTO RICO DAY TOURS
Video from the company that runs the 2nd and 3rd tours listed.
There are plenty of guided tours of the El Yunque Rainforest. Most options offer hotel pick-ups and drop-offs from the San Juan area.
Tours typically include a visit to one of the popular El Yunque waterfalls. Full-day tours are usually booked as combo tours, including a kayak tour or beach trip outside the park. Take a look at these popular tours below.
El Yunque Rainforest Half-Day Tour from San Juan
What better way to see El Yunque Rainforest than on a phenomenal tour from San Juan? On your trip, you’ll visit the famous La Coca Waterfall, enjoy incredible panoramic views from the Yukaho Tower, and learn about the local fauna and flora who call this sub-tropical rainforest home.
Your exciting tour also includes round-trip transportation from San Juan, a professional guide, and all park entrance fees.
El Yunque Rainforest Guided Hiking & Waterfall Tour
This full-day guided El Yunque hike to waterfalls around the forest provides nature enthusiasts with excitement and adventure.
Once you’ve arrived at Ceiba, you’ll begin a 25-30-minute hike and short river trek. As you enter the forest, you’ll begin your off-the-beaten-path adventure. Climbing over rocks and through the lush jungle until you reach pristine natural pools and majestic waterfalls.
This tour will lead you to a super cool rope swing and, if you’re brave enough, a cliff jump. You’ll be able to spend time enjoying the scenery before you proceed to the next stop. There, you’ll find an impressive natural waterslide and other pools. Your tour will be led by a certified guide who will share information about the forest as you go along.
Combo Tour: El Yunque Off the Beaten Path and Bio Bay Kayaking
Embark on an adventurous excursion exploring two incredible natural wonders. These are hiking in the El Yunque Rainforest, and exploring the island’s famed Bioluminescent Bay on a kayak.
Start your day off with an early hike in El Yunque, enjoying spectacular mountain views and an optional waterfall swim to rejuvenate and cool off. In the evening, you’ll continue your tour with a kayaking trip to the magical bay consisting of bioluminescence in the water. This special bay features a unique variety of plankton that glow when the water is disturbed.
Your tour includes park fees, a professional guide, and a round-trip back to your hotel.
El Yunque has an array of majestic waterfalls in its forests. There are three famous falls, reasonably accessible as you travel from the main road on the PR 191.
One of the most popular things to do in El Yunque National Park is to hike to the waterfalls. So, let’s take a look at some of the best waterfalls in Puerto Rico’s rainforest.
La Mina Waterfall
Cascada la Mina (La Mina Falls), is one of the most popular waterfalls in the El Yunque forest.These phenomenal falls drop over 35 feet into a natural swimming pool, reaching up to 65 degrees°F (18°C), ideal for dipping in and cooling off.
To reach the falls via trail, it’s necessary to cross the river over a couple of bridges that offer scenic views of various cascades and pools.
The trail is well-maintained, and it’s a relatively short hike to the cascading falls and pools below.
La Coca Falls
The spectacular La Coca Falls stands at an elevation of 1,476 feet (450 meters) above sea level, and drops 85 feet (26 meters) onto large rock formations at the bottom. Because of its unique rock surface that appears smooth, La Coca Falls is a favorite spot to capture on film – definitely insta worthy. If you’re looking for a great camera, take a look at the
The La Coca Falls is the easiest to see because it’s location is right off the PR-151 main road, around 4.9 miles (8 km) from the park’s entrance. There is no parking area here, and cars usually pull-over off the road.
Note: There is no swimming allowed, and the rocks are very slippery.
Juan Diego Creek
Not far from La Coca Falls is the Juan Diego Creek, which makes for an easy walk between the two. The short path leads to several natural pools that are great for swimming in and relaxing amidst the jungle.
The Juan Diego Creek is actually a set of cascades that follows the river deep into the rainforest. The trailhead sign is visible from the PR 191 main road, with limited parking areas.
Note: There is a maximum time limit of 30-minutes for parking in the area.
EL YUNQUE HIKING TRAILS
Although it’s possible to hop in the car or do a quick drive-by tour, the only way to fully appreciate El Yunque’s true majesty is to park and hike. It won’t take long to become completely enveloped by the lush foliage and surrounds.
El Yunque is one of the most ecologically significant areas in Puerto Rico, offering unlimited options for hiking trails. There are over 24 miles of trails, varying in difficulty. Let’s take a look at some of the best trails for an El Yunque rainforest hike.
Note: Other trails worth mentioning; Mount Britton Spur, Angelito Trail, Big Tree Trail, Los Picachos Trail, and the Baño de Oro Trail.
El Yunque Trail
Distance: 2.6 miles (4.2 km)
One of the best trails in Puerto Rico is the 2.6 mile El Yunque Trail to the El Yunque Peak. At the top, you’ll find sweeping views of the beautifully green-hued rainforest.
The trail takes you to the highest points in the forest with an elevation of 630 – 1050 meters, to the El Yunque Peak. You can access the path through the Caimitillo or Mt. Britton Spur trail.
The trail starts at the Palo Colorado Information Center and from there, you’ll ascend through sierra palms before reaching the picturesque, misty Cloud Forest. On the way, you’ll come to notice the variations in trees as the elevation changes.
The trail path consists of asphalt, gravel, and stone – and after rain, it can become muddy. It’s best to wear a comfortable pair of boots with a good grip.
La Mina Trail
Distance: 0.7 miles (1.1 km)
The La Mina trail will take you along the course of the scenic La Mina River, which carves itself through the forest to the famous La Mina Falls in Puerto Rico.
The hike will take you about 45 minutes to complete and descends for about 0.7 miles before reaching the exquisite falls cascading into a serene natural swimming pool.
Note: Consider coming early as the area may become congested with hikers. Also, be aware of weather conditions and flash floods.
Mt. Britton Trail and Tower
Distance: 0.8 miles (1.3 km)
The Mt Britton trail is on a one-way loop road, and starts at the trailhead sign and ascends through the Sierra Palm Forest. You’ll cross through streams, pass over the Forest Service Road 10, and continue for an additional 500 feet.
The trail will lead you upward through the Cloud Forest to the Mount Britton Tower, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Alternatively, from here you can turn left and continue to El Yunque Peak.
On a clear day, the stone tower’s observation deck offers a spectacular view of the forest, the Caribbean sea, and the beautiful coastline.
Note: There is limited parking available along the road.
La Coca Trail
Distance: 2 miles (3.2 km)
Close to the La Coca Falls, the La Coca trail is considered a more challenging trail than the others. The trail starts at the La Coca Falls and will lead you over gravel paths and a couple of streams. It’s around a 1.5-hour hike one-way.
If you plan on sightseeing and doing waterfall stops, it can take around 4-hours to complete a round trip.
If you’re not keen on making the trail alone, we suggest booking a guided tour to enjoy the beautiful path near La Coca waterfall.
Juan Diego Creek Trail
Distance: 0.125 mile (0.2 km)
This area provides an easy walk to the waterfalls and natural swimming pools. The trail is next to the creek, providing several pools along the way.
Keep in mind, it can get a little crowded along the trail since most tour groups tend to stop here (so try to do this walk early).
Distance: 0.4 miles (0.6 km)
Another beautiful trail within the El Yunque Forest is the Caimitillo Trail. It’s a popular path because it’s short, picturesque, and includes a picnic area. Along the way, you’ll get to discover giant ferns and sierra palms.
You should hike with care here, as the trail has some steep, concrete stairs followed by wooden steps and a rocky surface. The trek starts from the Sierra Palm Visitor Center on the PR 19. There is parking available adjacent to the center, at the trailhead.
EL YUNQUE, PUERTO RICO WATERFALLS AND HIKES
This national treasure is the perfect destination for anyone looking to immerse themselves in nature. Grab a map and enjoy one of the many trails offered here. Bathe in natural pools and relax in panoramic surroundings and unspoiled beauty.
To get the best experience out of your trip, many head out for a combo tour to snorkel in Puerto Rico at the beach and then find majestic falls in the forest. It’s without a doubt that the El Yunque National Forest adds something magical to your day of adventure on a Puerto Rico vacation. So, stock up on some sunblock and comfortable shoes, and off you go.