Here’s a step-by-step guide to spending a few hours in El Yunque National Forest near San Juan, Puerto Rico. I talked about visitor tips (getting to El Yunque, eating in El Yunque) in a previous post.
The official Forest Service website (http://www.fs.usda.gov/elyunque) has lots of information, but it’s almost too much to easily sift through. For example, each hiking trail has it’s own information page. I’ve digested our experience here.
FIRST: Stop at the El Portal Rain Forest Center (information center) at Km. 4.0. Look at the exhibits about El Yunque. Here you will learn all you want about the forest at your own pace (There are also many signs on the Big Tree Train telling you more about the forest.). If you feel you missed out by not taking a tour, you can buy a book about the forest and read it at your own pace.
Be sure to pick up a map–this is what you will need to navigate. There is really only one road up the mountain, so you really can’t get lost, but it will show you where the trail heads are and where the major sites are at.
Instead of very long trails, there are shorter trails accessible from the main road. Your map will tell you all of these details, but here are the highlights, with a few pictures.
At km 8.1, stop at La Coca Falls: it’s right on the main road. Take some pictures.
At km 8.8, stop at the Yokahu Tower. When you climb to the top, you can see all the way to the condo towers and the ocean on the north side of the island.
At km 10.2, stop and take Big Tree Trail to La Mina Falls. We took about 25 minutes to walk to the falls from here, with many ups and downs. You can even swim in the La Nina waterfall. Chilly water, but you will be able to say that you were able to swim in a waterfall in Puerto Rico! There is another access to the falls from the La Mina Trail at Km 11.7, but we didn’t use that trail. It sounds like it may be prettier, but we found a parking spot at Big Tree Trail and chose that. It is about a 30-40 minute hike from either spot, and the official website says it is a difficult trail.
Palo Colorado Information Center (Km 11.7). At this visitor center, they will tell you about the hikes–many trails begin around here, so you can leave your car parked and hike a variety of trails (some as short as 20 minutes round trip). There are numerous hikes from here. We took the El Yunque Trail and looped back on the Baño Grande trail. This loop took about 30-40 minutes (but we are speed hikers). It’s a pretty trail. If you are adventurous, you can keep hiking uphill towards El Yunque Peak. We didn’t do that.
DISCLAIMER: Please check at the information center to ensure this information is up-to-date. This reflects our experience in May, 2013. Please don’t blame me if you get lost in the forest, get bitten by a mongoose, or fall out of a tree.