El Yunque puerto rico rainforest tour

How to Spend a Day at El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico

El Yunque National Forest adds a beautiful day of adventure to your Puerto Rico vacation. It’s a must-see!

In this guide, you’ll find information about the layout of El Yunque, what waterfalls and hiking trails are musts, the panoramic views you DON’t WANT TO MISS, and your best options for getting to and from the park.  

Are you ready to spend a day at El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico? 

How to Spend 1 Day at El Yunque Rainforest in Puerto Rico
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How to Spend a Day at El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico

El Yunque experienced significant damage from Hurricane Maria back in 2017. What’s amazing to see is how resilient nature is! Throughout the park, you can see how the landscape has been healing itself ever since.

In addition to using this guide to plan your day at El Yunque National Forest, I’d advise also checking USDA/El Yunque National Forest for any updates or alerts before your visit to the El Yunque rainforest. You can also check in with the rangers once you arrive.

I had an amazing day hiking in El Yunque following the ranger’s advice and the most up-to-date map available.

What is El Yunque Rainforest?

El Yunque National Forest

Located in northeastern Puerto Rico, El Yunque is the largest Puerto Rico rainforest, as well as the only rainforest in the United States National Forest system.

It was formerly known as the Caribbean National Forest until its name was changed to El Yunque, after one of the island’s Native spirits, in 2007.  

El Yunque Facts

El Yunque Puerto Rico

At 28,000 acres, El Yunque National Forest is relatively small for a National Forest but it’s a lush and diverse natural space that immerses you into the rainforest ecosystem.

El Yunque is home to thousands of native plants and trees, with nearly two dozen tree species exclusively found in this forest. 

There are no large animals in El Yunque but it’s home to hundreds of smaller ones like birds, bats, and lizards. Of all the El Yunque animals, several can only be found here, including the Puerto Rican Parrot and the tiny tree frogs called coquis.

No matter what time of year you’re visiting El Yunque National Forest, expect the climate to be fairly consistent all year round.  In the summer, the average high temperature is 80° F with a low of 68°. In the winter, the average high temp is 72° with a low of 58°. 

El Yunque gets over 200 inches of rain a year. With all that rain, you’d expect to have a mosquito issue but I did not encounter one after a full day of hiking. Be prepared, though, for wet trails. 

Along with a day on Culebra, hiking and swimming in El Yunque is one of the most popular Puerto Rico day trips.

El Yunque Visitor Center

map of El Yunque national forest
In the park, you might also find a map of El Yunque national forest but a paper map from the ranger is best.

First, it’s important to know, the El Portal Rain Forest Center is CLOSED.

This was the main El Yunque Visitor’s Center before Hurricanes Irma and Maria did significant damage and shut this facility down. Extensive work is in progress to repair and reopen this visitor’s center.

Up until 2020, the visitor center had been in a short-term place just outside of the National Forest called Portalito HUB in a little town called Palmer. It’s at the base of El Yunque. 

It had been a place where you could get a map, some souvenirs, bottles of water, a poncho, and use the bathroom. The employees also helped with any questions and could update you on the latest El Yunque information. 

However, as of 2021, the National Forest Service is managing crowd control at El Yunque with timed reservation tickets. Find out more about how to get your ticket at recreation.gov.

Driving straight into the park, you won’t find a visitor’s center. Instead, you’re likely to see Park Staff directing you to a pull-off so you can check in with your timed-entry ticket and handing out a current El Yunque National Forest map.

It’s also an opportunity to ask any questions about trails that are open and closed on the date of your visit.

El Yunque Tours

El Yunque tours
Trails can be narrow. Small groups are best.

Guided tours of El Yunque rainforest are available. These tours typically offer hotel pick-ups and returns from San Juan area hotels. If you haven’t rented a car for your Puerto Rico trip, a tour of El Yunque rainforest is the way to go, as Ubers are not allowed in the park. (More on Uber below.)

Tours range from half-day to full-day hiking tours and typically include taking a dip in an El Yunque waterfall. The full-day tours can usually be booked as a combo tour with a bio bay kayak tour outside the park for later that evening.

One of the most popular El Yunque tour options is to combine hiking with forest waterfalls and natural waterslides! You can slide into natural pools hidden in the rainforest or up the thrill level with some rope-swinging or cliff-jumping. Either way, it adds up to an unforgettable experience.

You can also book an El Yunque zipline adventure located at the edge of the forest which typically includes a swim in a natural pool, as well.  Or choose a tour that takes you off-the-beaten-path in El Yunque to discover a different side of the park.

With a rental car, though, you can experience the best of El Yunque at your own pace. Just be flexible about adjusting your day at the National Forest depending on the most current information about open and closed areas of the park. 

I’d have gladly chosen an El Yunque rainforest tour if I didn’t have a rental car rather than miss out on visiting such a beautiful natural place! 

El Yunque Waterfalls

El Yunque waterfalls in Puerto Rico

The ecosystem of the National Forest creates a lot of moisture which journeys downhill, eventually plunging into the park’s waterfalls and filling natural swimming holes in the process.

Nowhere are the waterfalls in Puerto Rico more beautiful than the ones you’ll see in the National Forest. El Yunque has three waterfalls and they’re all fairly accessible as you travel on the main road, PR 191.  

La Mina Falls

This was the most popular waterfall to see but the trail is currently closed to the public.  It’s not expected to reopen until 2022.  Prior to its closure, La Mina saw a ton of visitors on most days, not only because of the beauty of the waterfall but also because you could take a dip in the waterfall’s pool.

When La Mina eventually re-opens to the public, it’s about a 45-minute hike that descends for .7 miles before reaching the falls.  

La Coca Falls

El Yunque waterfalls

This waterfall is the easiest to see because of its location right off the main road, PR-151, about 8 km. from the park’s entrance. There’s a pull-off area just across from the waterfall. If it’s busy, you’ll have to find another spot to pull off and walk back to the falls. 

You won’t see parking lots but cars can pull over just off the road. These spots fill up quickly, though, so you may have to drive up the road a bit before finding an open spot. 

Be mindful of the “No Parking” signs. Park Rangers are making the rounds so I wouldn’t park in a restricted area….as tempting as that might be.  Plus, these restricted zones tend to be in blind curves or tighter spots on the road. You don’t want to be dealing with damage to your rental car.  

Juan Diego Creek

Not far from La Coca falls, you can hike to Juan Diego Creek. It was marked at 9.6 km on the map but I drove right past it because the sign marking the trailhead was down. Once I got my bearings, I found the trailhead but it was temporarily closed on the day of my visit.

If open, it’s an easy hike to the first set of waterfalls and swimming holes to jump in. It can get crowded here since most El Yunque tour groups tend to stop here.

If you can, make this your morning stop and continue going up the trail to more secluded falls and swimming holes. Expect the footing to be wet, muddy, and slippery on rocks.

It was a bummer to miss out on the swimming holes, but in the end, the El Yunque hiking trails that take you up to the Mt. Britton Tower & El Yunque Peaks are fantastic hikes with views that really pay off.  

Bano Grande

El Yunque rainforest

Not a waterfall, but a large natural pool just an easy walk from the main road.

You can walk around Bano Grande which includes a stone bridge that acts as an observation point to view the water. It’s further up the road past Juan Diego Creek and La Mina Falls, on the way to the Mt. Britton trailhead. A stop here should take no more than 10 minutes.

El Yunque Trails

El Yunque hiking in Puerto Rico

El Yunque has the best hiking in Puerto Rico! Plan to dedicate a full day if you’re interested in hiking a few of the trails, especially the one that takes you up to the El Yunque Peak.   

No matter which trail(s) you choose, wear sturdy hiking shoes! Given El Yunque’s cool and damp climate, it’s also not a bad idea to pack a poncho, especially if you’re carrying a camera or other things in your daypack that shouldn’t get wet. 

La Coca Trail is a challenging trail that begins just across from La Coca Falls. it. It’s at least 1.5 hours one-way but most hikes on this trail will take about 4 hours for a round trip. The hike is steep and muddy with several stream crossings. The payoff comes at the end where sometimes you can jump into a natural swimming hole.   

My advice is to ask the Park Ranger about the water flow to that natural swimming hole. If there hasn’t been enough run-off into the natural pool, you’ll miss out on the trail’s reward.

Hearing the pool at the end of La Coca trail wasn’t full, I chose instead to head up to the highest peaks in the forest. I didn’t want to pass on the panoramic views. 

Pro Tip – Want to make sure your day of hiking is enjoyable? Be prepared on what to wear and what to bring when going on a hike, 

El Yunque Puerto Rico National Parks

I headed up the Mt. Britton trail, which is a one-way loop that ascends to the Mt. Britton Tower.

It’s a fairly steep climb along a narrow trail for about 1 mile. To this point, the hike should take roughly 45 minutes one-way to the tower. Once you reach the tower, it’s a short trip up a narrow flight of stairs to the top of the tower. 

El Yunque trails

The tower offers sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. You won’t want to miss seeing these views for yourself!

El Yunque puerto rico rainforest tour

Once you’ve completed the Mt. Britton trail, you can head down from the tower and walk towards the Mt Britton Spur which takes you to the trailhead for El Yunque Peak, the highest peak in the forest.

This section of the hike to El Yunque Peak should take about an hour one-way.

El Yunque hiking

El Yunque Peak has stunning views of the water but you can also take in the entire National Forest including Mt. Britton Tower from a distance. The peak is one of the highest in Puerto Rico, standing at just over 3500 feet above sea level. You’ll see a viewing tower with a platform to take 360° view photos.

El Yunque National Forest Puerto Rico

If you’re up at the peak long enough, especially in the afternoon, expect to encounter a weather system passing through with clouds, mist, and a cool blast of air in between the bursts of sunshine.

How to Get from San Juan to El Yunque Rainforest

El Yunque National Forest Puerto Rico

Getting to and from El Yunque is easy to do with a rental car. I highly recommend using the Waze app for navigation. Driving in Puerto Rico is not all that complicated but if you have no clue where you’re going it makes for a frustrating start to the day. Waze put me right where I needed to be.   

From your San Juan hotel, the ride should take about 45 minutes. Depending on when you’re planning to drive over it could take a bit longer because of traffic.

On weekday mornings, expect to find some commuter traffic, especially around the San Juan area. Plus, there’s plenty of road work going on either because of repairs from hurricane damage or general road maintenance. 

A few words about using Uber to get to the National Forest. Don’t do it.

Uber was readily available and affordable in and around the San Juan area. It’s possible a driver will offer to drive you just outside of El Yunque, which will require an uphill walk into the park.

The bigger problem is the return journey, however. Cell phone signals are weaker in the forest and, technically, Uber drivers aren’t allowed to enter the park for pick-ups.

Reports online tell of travelers who were stuck or saw others in this predicament and offered to help them when they couldn’t contact the driver who offered to pick them up.

If you don’t have a rental car, it’s safer to opt for one of the many El Yunque rainforest tours instead. You’ll be able to enjoy the day without worrying whether or not an Uber driver will be there to pick you up.

Your Puerto Rico trip isn’t complete without a day exploring Puerto Rico’s only National Park, El Yunque! You’ll be glad you took the time to explore this lush tropical corner of the island.

Are you planning a visit to El Yunque National Forest?

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10 thoughts on “How to Spend a Day at El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico”

  1. Alexandra Wrigley

    This national forest looks amazing! So many things to do. I have a goal of visiting many places in South America over the age of 30. Once I hit 30, I’m going here!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      What a great goal, Alexandra! Good luck and I’m sure you’ll enjoy El Yunque when you make it there. 🙂

  2. Justin McBrearty

    Hi Jackie! What an informative post and great pictures! My wife and I will be there in August. Do you happen to know the admission fee into El Yunque National Park? I’ve read different things online.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, Justin. 🙂 The forest itself is free to visit, drive into, and hike. Enjoy!

  3. I am teacher who loves traveling too. My goal has been to get to Puerto Rico! and this march I am coming with some friends and my husband on our spring break.. We really want to go to El Yunque. We are renting a car from San Juan…and would like to hike in the forest and see all the fauna. My fear is that the trails are very rugged. I can’t tell from the reviews on the forest if there are trails for a medium hiker. We are in our early 60’s and are relatively healthy….but we must be realistic…we aren’t twenty year olds any more. What trails would you suggest we adventure….or should we try and find a guide.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, Lynne. Always love to help fellow teachers succeed in their travels. 🙂 The trail up to Mt. Britton Lookout Tower and El Yunque Peak have a medium climb but nothing too severe and the trail is well-maintained. To contrast, some of the shorter trails to the different falls in the park (if open) might be shorter but the terrain can be more rugged than up to the tower and peak. If you have a car, it’s easy to drive yourself and hike without a guide. Just be sure to wear sturdy shoes. It’s a rainforest so no matter which trail you’re on it can be slippery in spots. Have fun in Puerto Rico! 🙂

  4. I am going to be there in couple of days. I have Friday and Saturday to visit the rain forest but don’t have a reservation. What can I do without reservation. I did get a reservation for Sunday but I will only have 3 hours before I will need to get back to airport. What can and should I do in that short time?

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, JK. I would focus on some of the park’s famous waterfalls like Coca Falls and Juan Diego Falls. The Juan Diego Creek Trail is short and easy and also has some natural swimming pools along the way. If you prefer to hike than swim, the Mount Britton Trail and Tower are great. It’s a little less than a mile out and back and brings you to the tower which has sweeping views of the rainforest and the Caribbean Sea. Once you reach the tower, turn back the way you came. Continuing to El Yunque Peak will take more than than you have to spend in the park. Have a great trip!

  5. Hi, we have a rental car, is there a way for us go drive ourselves to the forest and purchase zip line tickets? Or is ziplinning only done through a tour company?
    Thank you!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, Rachel. You can certainly drive yourself to the forest. However, as far as I know, you’d need to book with a company. I would reach out to that tour company directly to see if you can go directly to a location since you have a car. Hope that helps. Enjoy your trip!

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