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El Yunque Rainforest, Puerto Rico

El Yunque waterfalls at Juan Diego trail
Juan Diego Waterfalls Photo: Elena



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 is a cool, mountainous, 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 Palmsand a superabundance of epiphytes.". . . 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.

Getting to El Yunque: Best way: Rent a car! Uber can not drive you up into the reserve, they are not allowed. Many tours are available with pick up from San Juan. They vary. Half day only El Yunque, no real hiking. Or combine with Luquillo Beach (calm and beautiful) or the Bio Bay.. check moon schedule if contemplating the Bio Bay night tour.


Maintained by the US Forest Service, El Yunque offers a unique opportunity to visit a rainforest. Hours are 6 AM - to 6 PM. Phone numbers for US Forest Service (787) 888-1810 or (787) 888-1880. If you drive you need a prior reservation to enter your car. Otherwise there are many tours with pick up in San Juan.

US National Rainforest visitors center
EL PORTAL VISITOR CENTER Restoration has being done now. It is OPEN. Information, exhibits and store.
John Druitt offers private tours of El Yunque


Visit the town of Palmer for exhibits, gifts. Restaurants and small shops in town.

How the rainforest is created: 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.

The native peoples 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."

The Cloud Forest on the La Roca Trail

Path through the cloud forest to La Roca in El Yunque

Trail to La Roca. Photo Clay Humphrey

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. Photo: Elena Humphrey


the dwarf forest cloud in El Yunque Puerto Rico

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.

Trail to La Roca  overlooks forest
LA ROCA Lost in the mist on a cloudy day. A 2 hour hike further up from Mt. Britton. The trail to Mt. Britton starts from the parking at the top of the road. It is about 45 minutes up THE paved trail.
The peaks of Los Picachos at the top of El Yunque 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.
Rio Blanco River on the south side of the rainforest above Naguabo
On the south side of the rainforest, up from Naguabo on the south spur of # 191. Highest lodging is Casa Cubuy Ecolodge and Sierra Palms.
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

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 in Puerto Rico.

coqui about to 'sing'  

Drive to the very top of road #191 on the north side, through Palmer. You will find a sign with an arrow pointing to the Mt. Britton parking. The trail begins there.

The Mt. Britton lookout tower, on a small peak, is a great hike. 45 minutes up, less down. 3,088 ft. high. It is a wonderful overlook of the El Yunque Rain Forest, on a clear day you can see forever! On a cloudy day, with a little wind, the clouds are swirling around you. Great experience, well worth the hike up. There are 3 covered rest stations on the way up. The trail leads you up to a road, turn right on the road and walk a small distance up to the path marked Mt. Britton Tower.

View of Mt. Britton from the road

Mount Britton Tower is a favorite hiking trail with the tower destination and views over the mountains tops. Sunny days you can see forever, cloudy days the clouds swirl around and below you!


Coqui frog of Puerto Rico