The author, Vanessa Ramos, in El Yunque National Forest

El Yunque National Forest (A Local’s Guide to Visiting)

El Yunque National Rainforest is a reserve located in the Sierra de Luquillo mountains. El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System, with over 120 inches of rainfall in a year. Home to hundreds of unique plant and animal species, it features beautiful waterfalls, natural pools, hiking trails, camping areas, and historical sites.

As a Puerto Rican local, I’ve been there multiple times, and I know there is a lot to see and do. In fact, El Yunque is high on my list of the top Puerto Rico attractions.

In this guide to the El Yunque National Rainforest, I’ll walk you through some things you should know before visiting El Yunque.

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How to Visit El Yunque National Rainforest

How to Get to El Yunque

View of a sign going to El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico

The trip from Old San Juan will take you around 50 minutes taking PR-66 and PR-3. PR-191 is the main street that will take you from Rio Grande’s town center up to the gate of the forest. 

🚗 Drive – Public transportation doesn’t reach El Yunque from San Juan. The best way to get there is to rent a car in Puerto Rico. You can use Discover Cars to find the cheapest prices in rental cars from multiple agencies.

🚎 Tours – Alternatively, private tour companies can pick you up in your hotel in San Juan. Check out some of the best El Yunque Tours here.

🚕 Taxis & Uber – Taxis and Ubers cannot enter El Yunque for pick-ups or drop-offs.

Reservations

View of cars going to El Yunque National Forest

To enter the most popular part of El Yunque known as La Mina Recreation Area, you’ll need to make a reservation for a fee of $2 per vehicle.

Use Recreation.gov to book your spot up to 30 days in advance. You can arrive anytime within 3 hours of your reservation ticket and stay until the park closes. Note that you won’t be able to enter after 3:00 pm.  

If you can’t get a ticket, you’ll still be able to visit other areas of El Yunque, like El Angelito Trail, Puente Roto, El Toro Trail, and the rivers in PR 186.

Hours and Details About El Yunque

🎟️ Entrance – The entry ticket costs $2 per car.

🕖 Operating Hours – 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily, closed on December 25 and days with dangerous weather conditions.

😷 COVID 19 Regulations – El Yunque does not have a vaccination requirement. When social distancing is not possible, you’ll need to wear a mask.

🚙 Parking – Available in designated parking areas

🖥️ WebsiteEl Yunque National Forest

📍 Map It Río Grande 00745

📞 Phone – 787-888-1880

🧑🏻‍🤝‍🧑🏻 Tours – It’s possible to visit El Yunque National Forest through private tours and this route is recommended if you’re hiking. Some great tours are:

📍 New to Puerto Rico? Here are the popular places in Puerto Rico you need to visit!

Things to Do in El Yunque 

El Portal Visitors Center

The El Portal Visitors Center in El Yunque

El Portal Visitors Center is the go-to place if you want to know all about El Yunque, from its history to its importance as a research site. El Portal costs $8 to enter. 

👉 Local Tip: As of January 2022, you can only pay the entrance ticket with a Visa card or cash. Although this might change in the future, make sure to come prepared.

Hiking

El Yunque National Forest is a paradise for hiking enthusiasts, with numerous trails for all tastes. Some of the top trails are:

🥾 Mount Britton Tower Trail –  Around 0.8 miles long, it takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete, but it offers an amazing view of the surrounding forest from the viewing tower on clear days.

🥾 La Coca Trail –This challenging trail goes down the mountain into the Tabonuco forest, crossing three times the water, climbing over fallen trees, and walking through muddy paths until reaching the Mameyes River. People often get lost here, so make sure to follow the trail.

🥾 Los Picachos Trail – You can access this trail of moderate difficulty through the Caimitillo Trail. Los Picachos is one of the longest trails in El Yunque, and it takes over 3 hours to do a roundtrip, but the landscape at the top will take your breath away.

🥾 Angelito Trail – You can access the Angelito Trail through PR 988. This is an easy trail of a 0.2-mile distance and it takes you to the Río Mameyes after a 10-minute walk. 

📚 Concerned About Your Safety? Read the complete guide for staying safe in Puerto Rico.

View of a staircase leading to El Yunque Trail

🥾 El Yunque Trail – Starting in the Caimitillo Trail, El Yunque Trail is one of the most difficult in the forest, but the changes in altitude will allow you to appreciate the diversity of flora and fauna. The trail is 2.6 miles long and it takes around 4 hours to complete. 

⚠️ As of January 2022, the path to El Yunque Peak is temporarily closed after reaching the division between El Yunque Trail and Los Picachos. 

🥾 La Mina Trail – La Mina Trail goes down the mountain until reaching a 30 feet waterfall. Although temporarily closed for repairs, this is one of the trails with more traffic.

🥾 Big Tree Trail – Next to La Mina Trail, this 0.9-mile trail of moderate difficulty gets its name from the Tabonuco trees you can see in it.  For now, it’s temporarily closed.

🥾 El Toro – El Toro trail takes you to one of the highest peaks between the Luquillo mountains. It’s a challenging trail of 2.3 miles through the forest, but taking a picture of the landscape and next to the “End of Trail” sign is worth every step.

📚 Bookmark for Later: The Top Hikes in Puerto Rico

Exploring Nature

Closed up view of a flower and leaves in El Yunque

With hundreds of species within 29,000 acres of green forest, El Yunque National Forest is a destination nature lovers can’t miss. The forest allows visitors to enjoy immense biodiversity including endangered species like the Puerto Rican parrot, which the USDA forest service has protected since 1968.

El Yunque also sports four types of tropical forest including the Tabonuco Forest, Palo Colorado Forest, Sierra Palm Forest, and the Dwarf Forest, which means you’ll see different plants and vegetation depending on where you are.

Observation Towers

View of the Observation Tower in El Yunque

El Yunque National Forest features two observation towers that allow visitors to soak in the view of the surrounding Puerto Rican mountains. The first one is the Yokahú Tower and the second is Mount Britton Tower, which you can find at the end of a 45-minute hike.

Zipline Canopy

View of a sign to Zipline Park in El Yunque

Besides hiking and bathing in breathtaking waterfalls, adrenaline-seekers will love to know that private companies surrounding El Yunque offer ziplining in the foothills of the park. Search Viator’s top ziplining tours in El Yunque, to add more adventure to your trip.

Horseback Riding 

If you’re not a fan of hiking, you can also admire the beauty of the forest while riding a horse. Hacienda Carabalí offers popular horseback riding tours around El Yunque and Rio Grande’s beach.

🛎️ Need a hotel? Exploring El Yunque in one day is close to impossible. You can stay in the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort, to spend a few days discovering El Yunque and other great nearby attractions in Luquillo, Fajardo, Vieques, Culebra, and Naguabo.

Waterfalls

Scenic view of a waterfall in El Yunque

🌊Juan Diego Falls – Juan Diego Falls is not visible from the main road. You have to hike 5 minutes uphill through a muddy trail, before finding the beautiful fall and its natural pool. 

🌊 La Mina Falls – A 30-feet waterfall surrounded by the Tabonuco forest. The reopening to La Mina Falls is set for 2022.

👉 Did you Know? There are over 400 waterfalls in Puerto Rico. Check out my post on the top waterfalls in Puerto Rico to visit.

🌊 La Coca Falls – La Coca Falls is visible from the main road and you can climb through the rocks to take a closer look at it and get a beautiful picture.

🌊 Las Pailas – Born from the rivers of El Yunque Rainforest, Las Pailas in Luquillo is a waterfall that forms a natural slide between rocks.

🌊 Las Tinajas – On the south side of El Yunque, you will find Las Tinajas waterfall, and Charco El Hippie, popular for its Taino petroglyphs and cliff diving activities. 

👉 Local Tip: Always check the weather before swimming in the rivers and falls of El Yunque. Since it rains constantly the area is prone to flash flooding.

Camping

Staying a night in El Yunque will be the highlight of your visit. The park sports designated areas for camping, but you have to ask for a special permit to stay through the USDA Forest Service website.

⚠️ As of January 2022, the forest service hasn’t announced the date of the reopening of the camping areas.

History of El Yunque 

The Taíno

It’s believed El Yunque represented a sacred mountain to the Taíno on the island and that the name of the mountain might be related to the word Yuke, which meant “white lands” for the Taíno.

📍 Don’t miss – Taíno petroglyphs carved in rocks along Rio Blanco in the southside of the forest in Naguabo, close to El Hippie swimming hole.

The Spanish Era

1500s – The Europeans established mines surrounding El Yunque and Sierra de Luquillo.

1600s – The forest became an area for coffee and timber production.

1876 – King Alphonso XII proclaimed 10,000 hectares of the Luquillo mountains a reserve, becoming one of the oldest reserves in the Western Hemisphere.

The American Era

The Baño Grande in El Yunque
Baño Grande in El Yunque

1898 – Puerto Rico becomes a commonwealth of the United States.

1905 – The name changes to Luquillo National Forest under the supervision of the National Forest Service. 

1933 – The Congress creates the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a group of locals responsible for reforestation, building roads and recreational facilities through the Luquillo mountains.

📍 Don’t miss – Baño Grande Historical Site and Mount Britton Tower created by the CCC.

1935 – The name changes to Caribbean National Forest with more than 20,000 acres of land.

1940s – The peak of El Yunque serves during World War II as a radar site.

1976 – Now called the Luquillo Experimental Forest for being a research site, El Yunque becomes part of the United Nations International Network of Biosphere Reserves.

1989 – Hurricane Hugo causes great damages to the ecosystem of El Yunque.

1998 – Hurricane Georges strikes the island.

2003 – The reserve celebrates 100 years.

2007 – The Caribbean National Forest name changes to El Yunque National Forest.

After Hurricane Maria

In 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, causing massive deforestation in El Yunque Rainforest, affecting wildlife and endangering species like the Puerto Rican Parrot. As a consequence, some areas of recreation are off-limits to the public.

📚 Related Reading: Hurricane Season in Puerto Rico

Tips for Visiting El Yunque

Book Your El Yunque Tickets in Advance

The reservation system for El Yunque is an effort to conserve the forest by controlling the number of people visiting the most popular areas. Around 300 tickets get sold daily and they run out quickly. You have up to 30 days before visiting to make your reservation.

Wear Hiking Boots

View of a hiking trail in El Yunque National Forest

Since it rains daily on El Yunque, the hiking trails get muddy and that, added to elevation, can make it hard to move around. If you’re planning to explore the trails then a good pair of boots will help you conquer the territory. 

👉 Read Next: The Best Hikes in Puerto Rico

Pack Snacks

If you decide to go hiking through some of the longest trails, bring a backpack with enough supplies to keep you going for a few hours. Just remember to take your trash with you. 

Pack an Extra Change of Clothes

You won’t be able to resist the waterfalls, but going around in wet clothes can ruin the rest of El Yunque’s experiences, so bring an extra change of clothes or swimwear. Bring a rain jacket too to keep yourself dry during the common showers.

Learn about other things you need to pack here.

Wear Sunscreen

Although in some parts the foliage is thick enough to barely let some sunlight through, you’ll still manage to get tanned in the tropical forest, so make sure to pack your sunscreen.

Explore Other Areas 

View of a direction sign in El Yunque

Many travelers spend their visit to El Yunque National Forest in La Mina Recreation Area, and who could blame them? But, the areas of the tropical rainforest that are in Naguabo and Luquillo, also offer great trails, rivers, and landscapes. Las Tinajas, Charco El Hippie, and El Toro Peak are a few of them.

Drink Tons of Water

Don’t let the cloudy day fool you. It’s easy to get dehydrated in El Yunque, so make sure to carry enough water along with your snacks, and don’t drink the river’s water.

Bring your Asthma Inhaler

For those who have chronic asthma, bringing along your asthma inhaler is a good idea. Besides the obvious strenuous activity, the high altitude, the humid atmosphere, and the spores in the air might trigger your asthma during your visit.

Want more local tips for visiting Puerto Rico? Check out my full list of Puerto Rico travel tips here.

FAQs About El Yunque

What is special about El Yunque?

El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest System and is home to hundreds of animal species, including the Puerto Rican parrot. The forest also consists of 4 different types of forest with vegetation that visibly changes with altitude.

How much does it cost to visit El Yunque?

A ticket to visit El Yunque National Forest costs $2.00 per vehicle, and you need to use the Recreation.gov website to make a reservation.

Is El Yunque one of the Seven Wonders of the World?

El Yunque is not one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but the rainforest is one of the 28 finalists of the New 7 Seven Wonders of Nature, chosen by the public vote.

How long does it take to walk El Yunque?

Exploring La Mina Recreation Area in El Yunque can take a complete day, but walking the different trails of the forest and visiting all its areas through the different cities can take at least a week.

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Now you are ready to visit El Yunque! 

Don’t miss these other fun things to see and do in Puerto Rico to make your trip even better!

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