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El Yunque, a world of wonders

In the ancient Greek mythology, Zeus was the God of all Gods, who kept a close eye on humankind and other Gods from his throne on Mount Olympus, the highest peak in Greece. Well, the indigenous Puerto Ricans (Taino Indians) had their own Zeus who they called Yokahu and he also had a throne high in the mountains. In fact, Yokahu lived in the hills of El Yunque, which is today home to the El Yunque National Forest.

The tropical forest is the only of such a kind in the United States. It was established as a National Park back in 1906 and over the years it has become of the one post popular attractions in Puerto Rico. There are many good reasons for that. For once, the forest is home to tons of indigenous species of fauna and flora that cannot be found anywhere else in the Caribbean. Secondly, the forest has as many as eight marked trails that allow for relatively easy exploration and an opportunity to take in many beautiful sights. Finally, El Yunque’s water streams take many dramatic downturns, which have created several impressive waterfalls that are not just great for pictures, but are even better for a refreshing shower and a swim. Check out the map below listing all of the park’s trails and attractions:

Map of El Yunque National Forest and all its trails
Map of El Yunque National Forest and all its trails

Speaking of waterfalls, one of the most popular ones in the forest is La Mina, a 30 feet drop of water you can get to via Cascada La Mina trail. It takes about 20 minutes of walking to get to the waterfall from a parking lot and it is worth brining a bathing suit as the refreshing water and large rocks make for an enjoyable bath (note: due to hurricane Maria, this trail was unfortunately still temporarily closed as of January 2019, though we have heard it is about to reopen shortly).

La Mina waterfall on Cascada La Mina trail
La Mina waterfall on Cascada La Mina trail

Although bathing is not really available on the longest trail of El Yunque to its peak, it is also its most adventurous. It takes about 1.5 hours to climb to the top of the park, which is at a height close to 3,500 feet. On the way there you are likely to spot some of the unique animal species like one of thirteen species of cocui/frogs, an indigenous Puerto Rican Amazon parrot as well as many weird looking insects. Once you get to the top, you will come across a historical watch tower that offers 360 degree views out to the forest and its surroundings.

Watch tower on the peak of El Yunque
Watch tower on the peak of El Yunque

Indeed, from here you can see out all the way to the northern coast of Puerto Rico including the towns of Rio Grande, Vieques, Playa Fortuna and Luquillo. On a clear day you can even spot outlines of San Juan and its tallest buildings.  

View towards Rio Grande from the peak of El Yunque
View towards Rio Grande from the peak of El Yunque

Looking eastwards from the watchtower you will see nothing, but a thick rain forest stretching out for tens of miles. In fact, the perspective of wilderness is breath-taking from here and there are not many other spots in the Caribbean that offer a similar view of nature it its prime state.

View on El Yunque forest from the watch tower
View on El Yunque forest from the watch tower

Of course, the views and baths all may sound great, but you may be wondering how difficult and expensive it is to get here and explore. The good news is that El Yunque is easily accessible by car and it only takes an hour drive from downtown San Juan to get here. In addition, there are several free parking lots available throughout the forest and even if they are busy, drivers can park along the roads leading into and out of the park. If you don’t drive, there are many bus tours that originate from San Juan as well as from resorts throughout the island that will let you explore many of the trails in a larger group. Whether you come by yourself or in a group, walking on trails is free, though donations are welcomed. Although as of January 2019, several of the trails are still closed due to damage caused to them hurricane Maria in 2017, a visit to El Yunque should definitely towards the top of your adventure list when planning a trip to Puerto Rico!

Written by Lucjan Zaborowski

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