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El Yunque Rain Forest, Puerto Rico

Juan Diego waterfalls in the El Yunque National Rainforest Puerto Rico
Above: Photo by Elena of the Juan Diego Waterfalls in the rainforest

What is a rain forest? In the case of El Yunque in Puerto Rico it is all about being the first mountain to face the wind and catch all the rain.

El Yunque Rain Forest is a cool, mountainous, sub tropical rainforest.

The Eastern side of the Luquillo Mountains, which has the El Yunque rainforest at the top elevations, gets most of the rain. . . "The true sub tropical 'Rain forest' occupies very little area in Puerto Rico, only a single, crescent shaped, band on the windward side of the El Yunque mountains. It lies wholly within the El Yunque National Forest Reserve. This life zone is characterized by an annual total of 3,400 mm of rain. Its' main features are the Sierra Palms and a superabundance of epiphytes.". . . quoted from the 'Forest Legacy' proposal written by the Department of Natural Resources of the Government of Puerto Rico. The trade winds blow from the north east and these mountains ( 3,500 ft elev. ) are in the north easternmost part of Puerto Rico. As the warm moist air rises when it meets the mountains and cools off, it dumps the rain...and intensifies the wind.

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The peaks of the El Yunque mountains
US NATIONAL FOREST SERVICE maintains this forest in Eastern Puerto Rico. Gates open 6 AM - close 6 PM. Short walking tours with an interpreter guide starting at the Palo Colorado Visitor Center, near the top of #191 N. Wednesdays. Fee $5 general, $3 seniors & children 12 & under. For additional information call Phone numbers for US Forest Service (787) 888-1810 or (787) 888-1880. Fax: (787) 888-5685 • Camping: get permit before 3 pm • No designated area, no facilities.
US National Rainforest visitors center
EL PORTAL VISITOR CENTER You may enjoy a visit to the El Portal Visitor Center for the El Yunque National Rainforest, which is below the rainforest itself. Informative exhibits and a gift shop in a spectacular building. There is a coffee shop as well. It is important to make a donation to this National Forest. $4. per person admission. There is no fee to enter the rainforest, but donations are welcome.
John Druitt offers private tours of El Yunque
'Rubio' Druitt has been a tour guide in Puerto Rico for the last 15 years. His service includes transportation. John 'Rubio' has lived and worked within tropical rainforests for over 35 years and came to Puerto Rico to establish a reforestation project which combines research, ecological and economic goals in a rapidly changing global environment. Join him for an exhiliarating experience.
. Tel. 787.309.6224 email: rubiostours@gmail.com

Here is a link to an interactive little diagram that shows how the clouds and rain are made going up mountains. The winds must rise when they meet the mountains. This rising of the air mass causes the air to cool and release rain on the windward side.

  Snorkel tour on a private boat   Private cave tour with guide   Biobay kayak tours   Hotel on the Luquillo Beach

The native people must have made many a spiritual journey to the top of 'Yuquiyu'. It still feels very special at La Roca, Mt. Britton and Los Picachos peaks and an aura of mystery surrounds you in the cloud or dwarf forest! "According to Legend, the good spirit 'Yuquiyu' reigned on his mighty mountain-top throne, protecting the Taino people."

Below: The Cloud Forest on the La Roca Trail

Path through the cloud forest to La Roca in El Yunque

Panoramic Photo of the Trail to La Roca. Photo Clay Humphrey

The intrigue of visiting the El Yunque rain forest is only partly in the observation of the varieties of plants that have managed to grow and adapt to the copious amounts of year round rainfall and winds near the top. The magic of El Yunque is in the pristine beauty, the sounds, the quietness and the serenity.

At the very top of the mountain peaks the further increase of both wind and rain creates the dwarf or 'elfin' forest in which few species are able to adapt and cling to the wet soil. Often shrouded in fog, this is a particularly beautiful part of the forest, with its twisted and stunted trunks.

Trail to La Roca  overlooks forest
LA ROCA TRAIL At the end of the trail, a quick scramble up the rock, incredible views down, over the forest canopy. To the sea on a clear day, lost in the mist on a cloudy day. About a 2 hour hike further up from Mt. Britton. The trail to Mt. Britton starts from the parking at the top of the road, past the Palo Colorado visitors center. It is about 45 minutes up the MT. BRITTON TRAIL on a paved trail with occasional stairs and rest huts.
The peaks of Los Picachos at the top of El Yunque rainforest
MAP El YUNQUE TRAILS There are many trails throughout the various parts of the rainforest. Starting at the Palo Colorado visitors center you can cross the street to walk around the dam, or go down the stairs to the little picnic gazebos and the long trail down to La Mina Falls. The trail to Los Picachos takes several hours. You can hike down from the top and take a side trail up Los Picachos, where there is a small platform.
Rio Blanco River on the south side of the rainforest above Naguabo
ROBIN PHILLIPS OFFERS GUIDED TOURS On the south side of the rainforest, up from Naguabo, for more than 15 years. You must drive past Fajardo and south on the expressway, as there is no connection between the North and south sides of 191 due to huge landslides. Robin offers a day long hike to the waterfalls and also will do tours to the Taino Petroglyphs.
National Park History:

This reserve was first set aside by the king of Spain, which then transferred to the federal government in 1898. How did the present lookout towers and trails first become established?

The Civilian Conservation Corps operated in the years between 1933 and 1942. President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the CCC as part of the New Deal Initiative, a program to end the Great Depression. Through this federally funded program, 3,463,766 young men found employment and much needed food, clothing and shelter. Using little else than shovels and axes, the young men of the CCC completed recreation and conservation projects on public lands throughout the United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. They built roads and towers, developed recreational sites and trails, and engaged in forestry and wildlife improvements. In all of these sites, people today reap the benefits of the work done by the CCC

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The forest hosts a number of unique plant and animal species such as the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot ( very rarely seen) and the tiny coquis (indigenous tree frogs) that serenade the evening hours.
No dangerous snakes occur in Puerto Rico.

Coquî tree
Island coqui  El Yunque Peak hike and a camping trip. Endangered Puerto Rican Parrot

A variety of accommodations are available just outside the Park Boundaries. Some next to the rainforest itself and others in the foothills. All have a unique view of the forest and/or the sea. The tranquility experienced during a stay in any one of the small guest houses surrounding the forest refreshes the spirit and will increase your understanding of the rainforest.

Why Do Some Rainforest Trees Grow ”Buttress” Roots?

Some of the trees of the El Yunque National Forest’s upper zones have adapted to its unique soil, topography and humid climate conditions by growing “buttress roots,” a type of prop root that grows at the base of the tree trunk, to form a support for the tree. . . article by Alan Mowbray. Read about rainforest soils, climate, topography and the Sierra Palms.

Jump into the Rainforest!

Map of the trails to Mt. Britton and the El Yunque peaks above.

Guaraguao or Red Tailed Hawk and chick

'Guaraguao' and chick. (Red tailed Hawk) Nesting in the mountains of Puerto Rico. (shown at left) Photo courtesy of the US Forest Service.

The Puerto Rican Parrot (Amazona vitatta) pictured below. (about 12 inches, bright green with blue primary wing feathers) is one of the ten most endangered species of birds in the world.


There are about 85 Puerto Rican Parrots birds left and they are all in the El Yunque rainforest and in the Rio Abajo Parrot program. The Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery program has had some success in increasing their numbers. There were only 20 birds left in 1989 after Hurricane Hugo. Bird watching.


Parrot Recovery Program Website. Right: Puerto Rican Parrots, few people ever get to see these rare birds in the forest.

The Caribbean National Forest Service website.

Caribbean Forest Luquillo Experimental Forest.

Audubon article about the birds.

Puerto Rican Parrot is an endangered species

Rainforest pictures of the Dwarf forest and the Palm forest

The 'Dwarf forest' is located at the top of the rainforest on the windward slopes and has an even greater abundance of palms, ferns and epiphytes, and rain. In the dwarf cloud forest much of the vegetation on the exposed ridges has a windswept appearance. This forest is an invaluable biological curiosity, it represents an environmental extreme and, as such, is an excellent and fascinating opportunity to see the response of natural ecosystems to environmental stress. The dwarf forest is habitat for moss, orchids, bromeliads and other epiphytic plants covering available surfaces. The trees are small with twisted trunks and small thick leaves with roots that grow over the surface of the ground. Several hiking trails lead up to the dwarf forest, such as the Mt. Britton trail. The dwarf forest can only be accessed from the north side of the Forest.

These Lobster Claws or Heliconia are one of the two similar heliconias endemic to the rainforest.. Fairly common. They will adapt and thrive anywhere in Puerto Rico that has sufficient moisture. Often found naturally near a stream. The other endemic heliconia has greenish edges, instead of red.
Heliconias are a rain forest flower . These are native to Puerto Rico

Just below the rain forest is the subtropical 'Wet forest'. This forest is characterized by open crowned trees and is also called the 'Colorado Forest' for the abundance of Cyrilla racemiflora, a large, reddish barked canopy tree. This type of forest also occurs up to the summit of other mountains above 3,000 feet. Toro Negro Forest and Guilarte Forest Reserves are subtropical wet forest as is El Yunque just below the rain forest. Toro Negro and Guilarte Forests both have higher elevations than El Yunque and enjoy even cooler temperatures. Toro Negro is, perhaps, a better place to camp (read information on the camping page). Just below the subtropical wet forest lies the lower wet forest or the 'Tabanuco' forest; below this classification lies the subtropical 'Moist forest' zone which categorizes most of Puerto Rico.

'San Pedrito' ( little Saint Peter') is the local name for this tody that lives throughout Puerto Rico. If you hear the chirp of one, you can be sure there is another one close by. They flit through the forests in pairs. Very tiny, they make their nests in holes dug into steep dirt banks.
San Pedrito or tody



Bird Watching

Please note: I have worked hard, over the last 5 years, to take pictures of Puerto Rico that portray it well and show people the best of what there is to be seen. I hope you enjoy my pictures, I welcome you to use them; but only if you are fair and credit me with them.

Please play fair! Recently people have placed them all over the internet with no credit nor any link to me. I call that mean. All you have to do is put a link to www.elyunque.com and then we can all share them. If you use them for advertising your business, without a hyperlink to me I will consider that stealing and illegal. Also, please do not name the jpeg elyunque, call it something else.

Thanks, enjoy and use with a link.. Elena www.elyunque.com