Wreathed in clouds and mythology, El Yunque is one of our national treasures. The only subtropical rainforest in the US Forest Service, it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations on the island and for good reason. El Yunque is more than a break from the beach; it’s a journey to a land that’s been virtually unchanged for millennia.
The native Taíno named this mountain yu-ke or white lands, a reference to the clouds that are usually covering the area (the Spanish interpreted this native word as yunque or anvil, which vaguely resembles the shape of the mountain). The natives believed the benevolent deity Yukiyú resided here. While you might not feel his divine influence, you can’t help but feel the peaceful ambience of the forest when you hike its myriad trails. No large predators live in El Yunque; instead, you’ll be serenaded by the rustle of leaves, the gurgle of running water, and the melodic song of birds and tiny coquí tree frogs. Six trails of varying degrees of difficulty (from an easy walk to a challenging uphill climb) offer more than 12 miles of hiking. They’re well marked and accessible off the main road that winds its way up the mountain, but before you get there, stop at the El Portal forest center for maps and information about the forest.
The trail we recommend the most in the forest is also the easiest to hike: La Mina. There’s a good reason why it’s the most visited trail in El Yunque. Make sure to wear your bathing suit when you hike La Mina, because the trail leads you to La Mina waterfall. Take the plunge into a natural pool and dip your head beneath the cascading water for the most refreshing bath in Puerto Rico.
If you crave a little more adventure, the forest shall provide. Head to Carabalí Rainforest Park, where you can horseback ride through the forest to a river (or head down to the beach), mountain bike, or try out an ATV /four track on the rugged trails. The park also has a Go-Kart loop for kids of all ages.
El Yunque is an easy day trip from San Juan. Guests at the Sheraton Old San Juan and the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino can arrange a tour to the forest or rent a car for the half hour drive to Río Grande. If you’re staying at the St. Regis Bahía Beach Resort, you’re just a few minutes from its leafy canopies, panoramic vistas and mountain-cool waters.
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