Visiting El Yunque: The Only Rainforest in the National Park System

View from Yokahu Tower, El Yunque

On my fourth trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, I figured it was time to visit El Yunque National Forest–the only rainforest in the national park service.  I always thought it was expensive and difficult to visit.  But it’s extremely easy.  People sell tours to El Yunque.  You don’t need one.  Here are some of the basics about a visit to El Yunque.

It’s less than 45 minutes to drive to El Yunque from San Juan.  If you pick up a one-day rental car for $50, you will save the money you would have spent on the tour.  Make a friend at your hotel and share the cost if you really want to save.  For the quickest access from San Juan, be sure your car has a toll pass so you can use the freeway.

You will make several stops on the way through the park, so a car is useful.  However, parking is limited (this is a National Forest, not a shopping mall).  We arrived early (around 11am) on a weekday in off season.  By the time we left, the parking lots were filling up around the major stops.  Get out of bed and get there early.

OFFICIAL EL YUNQUE WEBSITE:  http://www.fs.usda.gov/elyunque/  There is almost too much information to sort through, so I wrote my own highlights:

WEATHER AT EL YUNQUE:  It’s a rain forest, so you will probably be rained on (that’s about as scientific of a weather prediction that I can offer.)  However, it will probably be warm (another complex meterological term), so we chose just to get wet.  The tree canopy kept out most of the rainfall anyway.  However, you will want your phone or camera to have a waterproof bag. Be sure to ask the park rangers about flash floods or any other weather warnings to be sure you aren’t washed away (getting washed away = a bad day at El Yunque).

EATING AT EL YUNQUE: There is one vendor in the park (Yuquiyu Delights) with a cafe at the main visitor center and one further in the park (I think it is at the Palo Colorado Information center–Km 11.7).  They make a special sauce for the burgers that is excellent, and they even have a veggie burger option.

There are also a lot of picnic areas, but I didn’t want to bring perishable food to leave in the car or buy a cooler.

My next article is a step-by-step guide to our experience in El Yunque, with more pictures.

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