Puerto Rico's most popular tourist excursion combines a morning in El Yunque followed by an afternoon visit to Luquillo Beach. Tour operators are abundant and often have represenatives in larger hotels and resorts. Pick-up a quarterly guide of Qué Pasa or visit the official Tourism website to get company listings. Shopping for best prices is recommended since $50 per person is average base rate and usually doesn't include lunch.
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.
Should you choose to rent a car, make the most of your efforts and arrive before the tourist parade begins at 9:00am. You'll have Highway 191 attractions to yourself, and can freely stop in middle of the road for taking photos. Locals also swell crowds on weekends. Beyond Caimitillo, hiking trails were basically deserted.