Editor's Note: El Yunque was formerly known as the Caribbean National Forest.
Results 1-10of 23 Reviews
May 28, 2012
From journal Budget Puerto Rico
by Jose Kevo
November 12, 2005
Highway 191 terminates at 13km, where a small access road veers to the right, and a trail head for Mt. Britton is just beyond. Parking is along the narrow passageway, and an elderly park employee was always standing guard, whether to provide security within the remoteness or encouragement to the weary. He assured that the mile hike to the tower could be done within 45 minutes, though information estimates a 90-minute trek. Physical stamina and endurance dictate the real time factor.
At 941 feet, Mt. Britton is one of the lesser peaks within the Luquillo mountain chain. Path brevity is less than half the distance for reaching El Yunque, only because it doesn't take extended scenic routes terracing up the mountain.
This trail begins an immediate steep climb using a series of short step stairs dispersed amid narrow paved sections with barely room to pass around others. The forest, clinging to the side of the mountain, was some of the most dense and darkened ground cover around, the shade factor more a highlight than actual scenery.
Trail through the forest ends at a small service road that continues the vigorous climb before a brief jaunt resumes up a steep embankment. The Mount Britton Lookout Tower is swallowed by its lofty surroundings. Not until entering the stone structure, and trudging the final steps up an interior staircase, does such physical chastisement make any sense.
Arriving out of breath is further exacerbated by the breathtaking scope that encompasses the tower, including glimpses of Caribbean along the island's southern coast. Outward vistas were rather hazy, even on a clear day, but the most intriguing views lie below, overlooking the forest canopy. Binoculars would've been nice, but a telephoto lense was great for turning the above picture into a close-up work of art like pictured at bottom of the Gardener Free Form.
From journal Rhapsody in Green
Information placards are scattered along the trail's first half, detailing significance of various tree species thriving in the Tabonuco Forest below 2,000 feet. Farther off-trail, some of these protected, towering hardwoods date a 1,000 years old, outliving relatives that used to luxuriate the island before Spaniards arrived and began culling lowlands. Many of Old San Juan's original structures still stand strong 500 years later thanks to durable beams and planks, but it was construction of Spanish warships that prompted an export ban, perhaps sparing further deforestation.
For peace of mind, identify the Yagrumo Tree, which is found all over the forest and dominates this area. Excelling with dual-purpose thanks to rapid growth over a short-lived lifespan of 40 years, Yagrumos provide critical canopy cover, and their odd-shaped leaves carpet the forest floor trapping seeds and pods for germination. However, it's a long fall from top to bottom, and leaves come crashing through the dense vegetation with a startling Jurrasic Park-type rumble!
Lower elevations receive less than 100 inches of annual rainfall but can be inundated with ground runoff from higher levels. Sunken trails weave along hair-pin curves descending the mountain where looking down can be as fascinating as trapsing with head tilted upward and mouth agape. Exposed from top soil continually washing away, intricate root systems have entangled with vines forming artistic natural sculptures clandestine in the sea of green.
Nearing the halfway point, stillness is enlivened with sounds of water cascading down the mountain, signaling anticipation for seeing the grand finale. Thundering turned out to be only a small stream meandering down a rock course, I turned back feeling extremely cheated. Thankfully, the final, earlier missed trail marker pinpointed that this wasn't the marvel and intended course was resumed.
La Mina Falls is the ultimate destination for using this trail, and the roar is audible long before sight. The falls is the park's most substantial, regardless of rainfall, and small pool at the base is the only spot for dipping. Cool waters were nice for soaking feet, and a person could totally submerge himself in the shallowness with a little effort, but large underwater rocks make for tipsy wading. What the area excels in for beauty, it lacks in size and quickly fills up on weekends.
My first El Yunque experience came through one of these excursions back in '94. From current observations, scheduled events don't appear to have changed except that now Portal Visitor Center has been added as the first stop. Excursionists are hauled in 25-passenger vans. Tinted windows severely limit incredible views when making the scenic drive up Highway 191.
The second stop comes at La Coca Falls, an 85-foot cascade that's usually a trickle down the sheer ridge unless heavy rains have fallen. There's a small pool at the bottom; rocks are extremely slippery for getting to the base. The falls is also a hot spot, with locals posing for snapshots; natural beauties are often lost in the crowds. Beyond here, Yokahu Tower is another stop with surrounding gardens the better highlight. A winding central staircase ascends the 69-foot look-tower built in the '60s; vistas are only as good as skies permit, though it's said that St. Thomas can be seen on clear, sunny days.
The extent of hiking, and time within the forest, is spent along the Caimitillo Trail, a level, well-maintained path that barely slices the vegetation, and takes about 30 minutes, even when rushed through en masse. Guides frequently stop to point out significant details, but trails are narrow, making clustering around within hearing range difficult. Incessant chatter from the group spoils natural tranquilities, but jungle-like qualities still make quite an impression.
Honestly speaking, coming here to be herded around like cattle is better than nothing, but don't be surprised to end up feeling extremely cheated. Similar memories overshadowed initial experiences until recently returning, and taking proper means for doing things at my own leisure. Even if it's only for a day, check into car rental options, since no public transportation services the forest.
IGOUGO's comparative pricing car rental link turned up the best deal through Thrifty at a daily base rate of $20.19 on economy models. Actual cost was $29.11 per day with taxes, license-plate fee, and mandatory $5.95 liability insurance not covered by credit card policies. Better than the savings, compared to organized excursion rates, was the chance to freely explore this National Park as intended over 3 consecutive days, physically pooping out long before opportunities did.
November 8, 2005
We signed up for the El Yunque Rain Forest excursion at the tour desk of our hotel. The cost of the tour was $45 per person and included the 45-minute rides to and from the Caribbean National Forest, where the El Yunque Mountain is located, and a guided tour of a portion of the forest.
I had never been in a rain forest, so I was excited about this trip. The Caribbean National Forest spans 29,000 acres and is the only rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System. We were driven up the winding mountain roads and made our first stop at the Yokahu Tower. We walked up the 90 or so steps of the 75-foot tower and got a panoramic view of the rain forest. As one would expect, the forest is very green. This is because of the 240 inches of rain this area receives each year. There are telescopes at the top of the tower to help you observe the forest canopy below and the northeast coast.
Next on our tour itinerary was a 30-minute hike. There are 13 trails in the forest, one of which leads to the top of El Yunque Mountain. The purpose of our hike was to learn about the species of plants and animals that inhabit the forest; therefore, our tour guide kept us on a relatively flat trail feasible for all fitness levels. We were shown tiny orchids, very old trees, and all types of intriguing plants. We were even shown a carnivorous Venus Fly Trap-like plant whose leaves immediately close to trap an insect that lands on it. We were allowed to touch the leaves and watch them close. We did not see any animals but heard a few. Our tour guide would whistle and cause the coqui frogs in the area to chirp.
We boarded the bus after the nature hike and were driven to La Coca Falls. La Coca Falls is probably not the most impressive waterfall you'll ever see but is accessible from the main road. We climbed onto some of the rocks to pose for a picture and moved on.
Our visit to the rain forest, including the three stops and the hike, was probably no longer than 2 hours. Our tour guide asked if we wanted to make another stop on the way out of the park, but there was a unanimous "no" from our tour group. I guess we had had enough of looking at trees and plants.
I would recommend the El Yunque Rain Forest excursion to those visitors who have an interest in rain forest flora and fauna but don't have access to a car. Otherwise, I recommend driving there on your own and spending the day exploring the trails. The entrance fee to the forest is only $3 and there are maps and educational brochures at the visitor center.
From journal San Juan - Pre and Post Cruise
Somewhere, South Carolina
December 21, 2004
For the hike to the peak, take the "service" road instead of the actual trail and you'll be there in 45 minutes. Other sights to see before you head to the Peak of El Yunque include the trail to LaMina Falls. Beautiful! Many have taken a dip there, but when we went, it had rained in the days before and that day, so the water was murky and very dangerous.
From journal An Enchantment Week in Puerto Rico
New York, New York
January 3, 2005
It's worth going into El Yunque rain forest just to prove to yourself that it's there. It's quite a treat to go from a hot, dry beach to a mountainous, cooler, and perennially raining forest.
While taxis may charge $80 or more to get you to the park, you can get there easily in a rental car ($30, gracias a Dios) if you know where you're going . There is a small fee to enter the park, and then you are free to roam.
We drove up the Yokahú tower, from which you can get a beautiful view of the coastline if it's not too cloudy. After that, we backtracked to the La Coca Falls trail. It's a very short distance to the falls, but the trail is clogged with slow-walking tourists who, in our case, seemed unwilling to let us pass. The falls themselves were not particularly impressive, but it's worth going to see them just to get out and walk a bit.
If you're visiting the rain forest in winter, keep in mind that it will be cooler at the higher altitudes and most likely raining. Bring a light rain jacket and wear clothes you don't mind getting wet.
From journal December Sunburn in Puerto Rico
Cary, North Carolina
January 22, 2004
From journal Puerto Rico - There's a Shrimp In My Pants!
by Brenda De Ramus
August 23, 2003
The trails throughout the rain forest are generally well-marked. The Big Tree Trail has many informational plaques describing the history and ecological importance of the trees and plants along the way to the trail's main attraction: La Mina Falls. Here dozens of people enjoy swimming as well as relaxing on the rocks. If you're not into crowds, you might want to skip the falls, but the trail offers an opportunity to learn much about some of the trees and flora native to Puerto Rico.
Be prepared for sudden rain showers and wet trails. Although hiking boots are not necessary, I recommend shoes with good tread for safe hiking because the trails are either muddy, cobbled or rocky. The hike to the top of El Yunque (elevation 3,533 feet) takes about three hours round-trip. There are, however, shorter trails leading to other points of interest such as Mt. Britton and El Toro. Mt. Britton has an architecturally interesting castle-like tower at trail's end that affords a panoramic view of the rain forest and the ocean beyond. Surprisingly, El Yunque's summit boasts only a huge radio tower, a caretaker's quarters and an abandoned-looking building that serves as a viewing post. Unfortunately, we were not inspired to linger and enjoy the views.
There is an intriguing variety of ferns, palms and other plants. However, the absence of animal life (not even a glimpse) was surprising, if not disappointing. An occasional bird-call and the amusing coqui frog whistle-like shrill is the sum of our exposure to the fauna of Puerto Rico.
From journal San Juan and Beyond
December 25, 2002
There are huge trees, vines, ferns, moss, and impatients blooming by the thousands. Numerous streams run down the mountainsides making waterfalls and pools.
Don't miss the visitor center, El Portal, at the entrance. There are many displays, a short film in English and Spanish explaining the forest, restrooms, and a gift shop. There is also a nature trail with plants labeled. The breadfruit tree was one interesting plant along the boardwalk--also orchids growing.
Near the main road is La Coca Falls. Park your car and get out to crawl on the rocks up to the rock wall with water streaming down. Take a look over the edge of the bridge on the other side to see the water continue its tumble down.
The Yokahu Observation Tower offers a magnificent view of the forest and the whole northeastern coast of Puerto Rico. Lots of stairs here, but worth it.
Farther into the park you will find a trail to La Mina Falls. This is .8 mile of fairly rigorous hiking. The trail has a number of stairs so it's not good for wheelchairs or strollers. The falls are beautiful, and there is a large pool to frolic in--if you can take the cold water! I was suprised to find such cold water in the tropics! Begin your hike early to avoid the crowds that arrive in the afternoon.
We didn't see or hear any coquis, but I'm told they only come out at night or after a rain.
There are several concession stands along the road. Longer hiking trails lead up the mountains if you have more time. We spent 4 hours here and didn't have time to do the longer trails.
From journal Stop Over in San Juan