When you think rainforest, the last place you probably would think of finding one is hidden in the Caribbean. Thanks to El Yunque that is probably the first place you’d want to begin if you’ve never visited one or if you (like me) are not a skilled hiker.
Last September I decided to visit Puerto Rico for a weekend getaway on a whim. I wanted to see and do as much as possible during that time. Very high on my list of places I wanted to see was El Yunque.
While researching, I kept coming across people saying that one day was not enough to experience the forest. I was only in town for about 48 hours and my to-see list was very large. What to do? Truth is that as I started to figure out how to arrange my itinerary I almost crossed off El Yunque. But then I had a thought, what if I just drive it? Is it possible to experience all that El Yunque has to offer on a limited schedule?
I visited the parks website and downloaded this handy map of the park:
Now, if you look closely, the road named PR 191 runs completely through El Yunque. It’s a very short drive from San Juan, especially if you decide to wake up early and beat the crowds.
By this point I decided to dig a little deeper and choose exactly which stops I wanted to make. I was mostly interested in seeing La Coca Falls, Yokahu Tower, and La Mina Falls.
The Visitors Center
If you enter El Yunque from the north, you will notice a sign to your right marking the entrance to the Visitors Center. From what I gathered online: the place is awesome, has great architecture, and clean bathrooms! Since I already had a map and an idea of what I wanted to see, I decided to skip this stop.
If you arrive during a crowded time, I suggest driving directly to the end of the road. Chances are you wont catch as much traffic this way. Also, you wont be worrying about time or how much longer the road goes on for. We were there so early that we were basically the only car on the road, so we decided not to try this method.
La Coca Falls
Our first stop in El Yunque was at this waterfall that you can marvel at from the side of the road. You will see a tiny lot to park your car and the waterfall will be a few steps away. It will be the easiest waterfall to reach in El Yunque.
This spot has the same concept as the previous stop, although the parking lot is much bigger. The Yokahu tower has about 98 steps to climb to reach the top and then you will be rewarded with panoramic views of El Yunque.
Although this Tower is a “must-do” our experience wasn’t the best. First, we arrived too early and it wasn’t open. We decided to get back in the car and check again on the way back. Then, we come back and the person in charge of opening the door was late; very late. By this time, crowds started to gather and the fog had set in so much that “panoramic views” weren’t possible. We decided to leave.
La Mina Falls
Our final stop while driving El Yunque was to La Mina. This is the waterfall that you will hear everyone talking about when you refer to this rainforest. After you park your car, you will see the trail you need to hike to reach the waterfall. The whole trail is paved and should not be very difficult to hike. All in all it took us less than an hour round-trip, which includes stopping for pictures too.
La Mina is the biggest and most rewarding waterfall in the forest. And the best part? You can bathe in it (if you’re brave enough.) Even on a hot and sunny summer day, the waters will be freezing. It is a rainforest after all. We visited in September so the water basically felt like ice. Although I did put my toes in, that is as far as my bravery went.
After La Mina, we trekked back to the car and concluded our visit through El Yunque.
Full Disclosure if you are NOT short on time, El Yunque has miles and miles of beautiful trails to hike through. You can spend hours bathing in waterfalls, taking in the sights, and enjoying wildlife. This article just focuses on enjoying what the rainforest has to offer, even if you are short on time.
Have you ever visited El Yunque? Comment below!
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