Located in northeast Puerto Rica, El Yunque National Forest previously known as the Caribbean National Forest is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest Service. With a wide variety of unique plant and animals species, El Yunque is treasured in Puerto Rico for its rich biodiversity and bountiful nature.
First set aside by King Alfonso XII of Spain in 1876, El Yunque is considered one of the oldest natural reserves in the western hemisphere. The forest is home to hundreds of native plants species and over 200 vertebrates, many of whom are endemic to El Yunque. In fact, one of the world’s most endangered birds, the Puerto Rican parrot, calls this forest its home.
When you consider Puerto Rico, there are some nature reserve forests other than the El Yunque forest. These include the Carite forest, Pterocarpus forest, Guajataca Forest Reserve, Pinones, La Marquesa Forest Park, Guanica dry forest. That being the case, the answer to the question of how many rainforests are there in Puerto Rico, is El Yunque National Forest; the only one.
El Yunque National Forest is home to some rare small animal species including the Puerto Rican parrot as mentioned, pygmy anoles and coqui tree frogs.
There are various tours that you can take, to see everything this rainforest has to offer. In fact, you will find a host of activities including kayaking, trekking and ziplining on various tours within the national forest. These activities offer great means to explore the forest and bask in the glories of some of its sights. Nature is bountiful in the El Yunque rainforest, and you will witness some amazing waters, beautiful trees and spectacular wildlife. In fact, if you do visit this forest, it is recommended that you carry a camera to capture pictures of nature and wildlife.
Various Rainforest Tours in Puerto Rico
When you consider rainforest tours in Puerto Rico, there is so much to choose from. With a variety of service providers offering tours at varied costs, we felt it would be of good use to understand what you can expect in some of these tours; so you have a better idea with regards to what tour works best for you. In fact, though there are tours in Puerto Rico that run through Puerto Rican towns and streets to end in the El Yunque Rainforest, we aren’t going to highlight these tours in this article. What we will do is provide you with insight into the various activities that you can partake in the various rainforest tours, hence when you are looking to book a tour for yourself, you know exactly what you are looking for. For the most parts, we will focus on tours within the rainforest of El Yunque.
There are various hiking tours that you can partake in when you visit the rainforest in Puerto Rico. Ranging from easy to hard terrains, it is best to check the level of difficulty of the hike before you book your tour.
Regardless of which hiking tour you opt for, you will enjoy a pleasant excursion in the only tropical rainforest in the United States.
For those looking for an easy hike, there are various small trail tours that lead through the beautiful flora and fauna where you will hear the singing of birds coupled with the sights and sounds of the living rainforest. You have the chance to hike through some of the more secluded paths of the forest, spotting rare wildlife. These hiking tours are great for wildlife photographers, looking to capture amazing pictures on their hike.
The El Yunque trail is 8.7 km which take you through some tough, yet beautiful terrains. The back trail located near Carata de la Mina in the East Region of Puerto Rico features a waterfall and is rated on a more moderate level of difficulty.
Considered a very family-friendly adventure, waterfall tours are a great way to experience the beauty of the rainforest and reward yourself with a soothing dip in the beautiful waters of the falls.
A waterfall tour worth mentioning is the Las Tinajas tour in Ceiba of Puerto Rico. You will find yourself walking through beautiful flora and fauna, reaching the breathtaking falls which is home to exotic plants and birds.
You get the chance to swim the crystal clear waters and is often combined with the option to go cliff diving. If you are looking for a thrill on the safer end of the spectrum, you can swing a rope and dive into the waters, which is always fun to do. The trails to these waterfalls are easy to moderate difficulty, which makes it ideal for people who are not looking to wear themselves out.
Tinajas natural pool and waterfalls are breathtaking, however, there are some hidden waterfalls within the depths of the rainforest which are spectacular; all making for an amazing experience in Puerto Rico.
Another tour that caters for the adventure junkie, ziplining is popular amongst people looking for a bird’s eye view of the rainforest.
You have the opportunity to witness a spectacular ariel view of the lush rainforest flora and fauna. Jungle Qui zipline park has 11 zip line adventures that you can partake in, which provide a thrill coupled with scenic views of the rainforest.
When you partake in these ziplining tours, you have the chance to fly across the Puerto Rican rainforest and experience the thrill unmatched to other trails. These tours do make for some amazing memories and pictures.
The Bioluminescent Bay is a popular attraction within the rainforest tours, which offers you the opportunity to combine kayaking with your nature trails. When on these tours, you will find yourself trekking through the rainforest to reach your final destination, where you will gently soothe yourself, kayaking the beautiful waters of Lagina Grande, glowing with phosphorescent organisms.
Though day kayaking is popular, there is also an opportunity to experience night kayaking. This provides an unparalleled chance to experience the waters in the stillness of the night.
These kayaking tours enable you to combine both nature and the calmness of the waters, which will reward you with a memorable experience from your visit to Puerto Rico.
Off the Beaten Path Tours
These tours give you the opportunity to experience the rainforest like a local. As the name describes, you will wander away from the beaten path and venture to untouched and unmarked territories within the rainforest. You have the chance to witness rare species of flora and fauna and spot rare wildlife which dwells within the confines of this rainforest.
If you are a wildlife photographer, then taking an off the beaten path tour will give you the opportunity to spot some of the rare and spectacular wildlife of El Yunque.
You will find yourself surrounded by beautiful tree fern and flowers and find waterslides, spectacular waterfalls, pools and streams along the way. These tours also offer a good opportunity for a dip or swim, hence it is recommended to keep your swimsuits with you, or wear comfortable clothing suited for a swim.
When considering these types of tours, you have to ensure that you are equipped with the level of fitness required for the trails. Considered moderate to hard trails, you will find yourself in muddy and uneven terrain, even facing sleep and rocky climbs.
Usually following wet and uneven terrain, nature walks through the rainforest are a popular activity for those who are looking to absorb the natural beauty of the rainforest. Nature walks carry you through beautiful flora and fauna, made to come alive by the wildlife that dwells within the rainforest trails.
This is an ideal tour for nature and wildlife photographers who are looking to capture the iconic beauty of the rich biodiversity of plants and animals at El Yunque. Ranging from easy to moderate trails and walks, these nature walk tours are great for people who are looking for a slow pace adventure through the rainforest.
There are plenty of opportunities to take a dip and have a swim in the pristine waters of the rainforest, hence when going on a nature walk tour, be sure to pack your swimsuits.
If you are looking for a bit of adventure and the thrill of doing something exhilarating, then cliff diving at El Yunque should be something you should consider. You can choose to jumps cliffs ranging from 5 to 10 feet or from 40 to 50 feet, depending on the adrenaline rush you are looking for. This activity is great for adrenaline junkies and can be found as a special tour of El Yunque catering for cliff jumpers.
You have the chance to jump some of these huge cliffs into the amazing natural deep canyon of fresh, natural water of El Yunque. Whether you choose to jump huge heights or stick to the smaller ones, or simply just swim and lay in the natural pools of water that surrounds the jump sites, you are sure to have a surreal experience.
You are provided with life jackets if you don’t know how to swim. These tours which involve cliff diving can be exhilarating and follows an easy to moderate forest trail to the dive spots.
El Yunque National Forest: A Guide
Open daily from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm, El Yunque National Forest is a must-visit if you are travelling to Puerto Rico. Since the temperature in the region doesn’t vary throughout the year, the forest is considered a great destination all year-round. The average temperature is between 21°C to 26°C and the forest gets plenty of rainfall throughout the year.
Located on the northeast side of Puerto Rico, the rainforest spreads through the Sierra de Luquillo mountains’ slopes. The highest mountain peak in the rainforest is around 3,494 feet. The rainforest is around 50 km from San Juan and can be reached from San Juan by bus, taxi or private vehicle.
El Yunque is made up of four different forest areas, Tabonuco Forest, Palo Colorado Forest, Sierra Palm Forest and Dwarf Forest.
Hosting 13 of the 16 species of common coqui, the El Yunque National Forest is home to a diverse variety of wildlife, including the rare Puerto Rican parrot and various anthropods.
The El Portal Rainforest Center is a model headquarters for ecotourism and economic development in the region. The centre boasts a 60-foot high walkway with spectacular views of the tops of trees with other walkways taking you along tree bases.
Noteworthy Thing to do in El Yunque National Forest
As mentioned above, there are various types of tours that you can partake in when you visit El Yunque National Forest. However, there are some noteworthy things to do, which you should consider before planning your visit to the forest. That way, you make the most out of your visit and get the best overall experience from your travels.
There are various waterfalls in the forest that should be highlighted to make it easier for you to have your pick. La Mina Falls requires an easy trail to witness the beautiful waterfall which has a natural swimming pool at the bottom of the fall. La Mina is a 35-foot waterfall and is covered by forest from all sides.
Juan Diego Falls is easily reached through a short trail that leads to the waterfalls. Juan Diego has a series of waterfalls, ranging from small to big. As you go further up the trail, the waterfalls get bigger and bigger. There is both a 20-foot fall and a 40-foot fall, the 40-foot fall leading to a natural swimming pool at the bottom.
La Coca Falls is easy to reach, which makes it a popular destination amongst tourists. As popular as it is, it can get a little crowded, hence if you are visiting these falls, you should ensure to reach their first.
When you consider visiting a rainforest, hiking through the rich flora and fauna becomes a part of the excursion. However, there are some noteworthy hikes, which should be mentioned so you know exactly what to look for when you reach El Yunque.
La Coca trail is an easy to moderate trail that is great for beginners looking to experience the wonders of the rainforest on easy to hike terrain; however, it is muddy. It offers a great opportunity to wander amidst the beautiful trees and forest beings, offering a memorable experience of your visit to El Yunque National Forest. There are some difficult parts on this trail, with some very steep slopes and river crossings.
One of the more spectacular trails is El Angelito, which is a 4 km trail perfect for the moderate hiker. The trail leads to a lagoon where you can dip for a soothing swim and even dive from rope swings.
The Mount Britton and El Yunque peak trail is a 1.3 km hike which is great for beginners. It takes you to Mount Britton lookout tower which has an elevation of 2,493 feet. You are offered some scenic views of the rainforest landscape all the way to the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
The El Toro wilderness trail will take you to the highest point in the rainforest and challenge you with some steep climbs. This 8 km trail is hard on the difficulty scale and even requires you to climb rocks and fallen trees. Hence a good level of fitness is required to partake in this hike. Considered a more secluded trail, you are instructed to stay in the designated path so as to not get accidentally lost.
The Caimitillo Trail is one of the easiest hikes in El Yunque. This trail is less than a kilometre long and is perfect for beginners looking to experience the rainforest and not exert themselves too much. The trail is great for birdwatching and showcases some beautiful wildflowers and streams.
Although the Los Picachos trail is extremely easy and is less than half a kilometre long, you do have to hike the 3.2 km to the El Yunque trail which is rather challenging. However, the trail leads through some panoramic views of the island’s east coast. Though there is some muddy and slippery terrain to muster, the view in the cloud forest is worth the effort.
As mentioned prior, ziplining offers an unparalleled experience and views of the rainforest and is considered a highlight on a visit to El Yunque National Forest.
Flying fast through the forest canopy, you have the chance to experience a bird’s eye view of the rainforest. There is plenty of opportunities to go ziplining, and you can find a safe and reliable service upon reaching Puerto Rico. We recommend the Jungle Qui Zipline Park and Yunque Ziplining Group, both services offering a safe and trustworthy experience.
The cloud forest is a unique ecosystem located on the steep mountains of the rainforest. Located 2,500 feet above sea level, it is considered an untouched part of the rainforest.
You can experience some beautiful views of the flora and fauna from within the cloud forest and can hike to the top of El Yunque to get a panoramic view.
Located 1,575 feet high, the Yokahu observation tower offers some amazing views of the landscapes of the rainforest.
Climbing to the tower will provide for some breathtaking pictures and some spectacular views of the Caribbean sea in one corner. You will be surrounded by views of the lush green mountains and nestle in the bosom of the rainforest around you.
If you like camping, the El Yunque rainforest offers a rewarding camping experience. Considered one of the best places for camping, there are various camping sites in the forest, however, you do require permission from the forest authority to camp here.
Hence if you are looking to camp while visiting the forest, make sure to plan ahead of time and acquire the necessary permission. Remember however not to pollute the campsites or disturb nature.
Birdwatching and Wildlife Photography
The El Yunque rainforest is a great place to go birdwatching. If you are after colourful birds and exotic wildlife, the rainforest offers an array of sights; perfect for wildlife photographers.
You may find rare Pureto Rican Parrots, Indian mongoose and indigenous frog species like the coqui frogs, all native to the region. If you are after wildlife, a visit to this rainforest is sure to tease your senses, making for some spectacular images.
Is El Yunque National Forest Worth a Visit?
With a rich biodiversity and exceptional natural beauty, a visit to El Yunque is definitely worth it. You get to experience nature at its finest and get absorbed in the sights, smells and sounds of this living, breathing rainforest.
With so many activities to make your trip special, visiting the El Yunque National Forest can be very rewarding for ecotourists and travellers. You will find yourself basking in all the glory of nature, soothing your senses in everything the rainforest has to offer.
We hope reading this word to word has provided you with some helpful insight into rainforest tours in Puerto Rico and hope that you find this guide to El Yunque National Forest, useful in your travels.