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Visit Date: 12/10/2014
The El Yunque National Forest (NF), comprised of 28,000 acres, is
on the east side of Puerto Rico. It is surrounded by the Atlantic
Ocean on the north side and Caribbean Sea on the south. Located
about 45 minutes southeast of San Juan, it is the largest natural
attraction in Puerto Rico. Established in 1867 by the Spanish Crown,
El Yunque was made a "forest reserve" in 1903 by President Roosevelt
and a "national forest" in 1907. Receiving over 200 inches of
rainfall each year, El Yunque is also the only tropical rainforest in
the U.S. National Forest inventory of public lands. There are no
developed campgrounds in the forest, but several designated disbursed
campsites are available. Having commonwealth status, a passport is
not required for U.S. citizens. A drivers license with picture will
do just fine. However, these rules could change; confirm with the
U.S. State Department's Passport Office.
CAMPSITE LOOKUP TABLE
The El Yunque's 28,000 acres contain some 240 species of trees and
plants and 50 bird species. Among the tree species there are the
stunning Silk Cotton Tree, towering Puerto Rico Royal palm, ancient
Fern tree and useful Bread Fruit trees. Lizards, including a variety
of loud, tiny Coqui frogs (endemic to Puerto Rico), are most often
the wildlife seen in the Forest. The real treat is to catch a
glimpse of the rare Puerto Rican Parrot. Considered one of the ten
most endangered species of birds in the world, near one-third of the
El Yunque NF has been set-aside as a protected habitat for this
There is one road, Route 191, into El Yunque NF and this is also the
only way out. A major landslide closed Rt 191 at about the 13
kilometer marker so there is no through route or access to the
southern end of the forest except from Rio Blanco off Rt. 31. At the
north end of El Yunque NF is a premier visitor center - El Portal
Rain Forest Center (fee charged). It has three pavilions loaded
with informative displays. The "Understanding the Forest" movie is a
must see. A small cafe offers a limited menu to visitors with outdoor
seating among the tropical vegetation. Another "must-do" is the
Nature Trail adjacent to the Forest Center.
Tent-only camping is permitted year round in seven designated campsites,
four in "Campsites Near Parking" and three in "Campsites to Hike-Backpack."
Click here for a Forest Service brochure and map explaining the rules and displaying
the camping areas. Overall, the authors refer to these campsites as
designated dispersed camping. Camping at any one of them is free, BUT a
permit is required, arrangements for which must be made two weeks in
advance. The authors attempted to personally visit each of the four
campsites in the "Campsites Near Parking." Three of the four campsites
were located and are described
below.. It seems that most if not all of
the campsites visited were primarily maintained by campers following the
Perhaps the biggest draw of El Yunque NF is the hiking. There are
about a dozen maintained trails but the most popular might be La
Mina and Big Tree. Each of these trails takes about two-hours,
round-trip, and meet at the very popular La Mina Falls. For a longer,
more challenging hike there is El Yunque Trail. About a four-hour
round-trip, this hike takes one past stands of sierra palm and pale
Colorado trees and through a dwarf forest at Mount Britton. The
highlight of this trail is the panoramic views. On a clear day, hikers
can see all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Want views but not the hike?
There is the Yokahu Tower. A required stop for tour buses and any
visitor to the forest, Yokahu Tower can be crowded. Patience is
rewarded by panoramic 360 degree views. Again, Click here for the El
Yunque brochure displaying more information about sights to see and do.
One of the great features of Puerto Rico is the wonderful temperatures
all year round. The highest temperatures are from July through October
for an average of around 86F with the lows, probably in December and
January, for an average of around 73F. The authors were all over the
island for about 3 weeks during December; the temperatures could not
have been much lower than 72 degrees. Of course, being a tropical
island, humidity will be higher. It is said, humidity is pretty steady
year round, ranging from 74 to 81 percent.
There are two explanations for this Forest's name. One harkens on the
time of the Spanish while the other comes from the native people,
Tainos. The Spanish saw the towering El Yunque Peak as an anvil so
gave it that name. The Tainos named the peak after a spirit who
protected that island from disaster in times of storm. These dueling
explanations illustrate the diversity of the El Yunque NF.
El Yunque NF is one of the smaller forests in the Forest Service but
its unique features make it a very special. For many, getting to El
Yunque NF is a challenge and the cost may be a deterrent but it is
well-worth the effort. Visitors will find one of the many day trips
from the Forest, such as a visit to Old San Juan and the San Juan
National Historic Site Paseo del Morro (a huge fort built by the
Spanish) a great experience. And then walking the colorful, narrow
streets of Old San Juan is sooo much fun especially when you get lost.
A day on Luquillo Beach just north of the Forest should be a great
time for the whole family. As one can imagine, water sports are a big
deal all around the Island - surfing, snorkeling, wind surfing,
sailing, etc. Visits to places farther afield like Rincon, or nearby
island of Vieques, are a good way to discover Puerto Rico that is
more than the lush vegetation of the Forest Service's only rain forest,
El Yunque NF. All these activities in and around El Yunque NF make
it a memorable destination recreation place.
NOTE: two excellent references about Puerto Rico are:
- Frommer's [Portable] "Puerto Rico"
- Fodor's "Puerto Rico"
||N18 17.757, W65 47.328
||N18 17.972, W65 47.096
||N18 18.096, W65 47.006
*Km = kilometer
- Click on campground name for picture of it
- Elevation varies from 1900 ft. to 2200 ft.
- All campsites are under maintained
- Potable water/toilets not available at any campsite.
Try Palo Colorado Info. Center at N18 18.079,
W65 47.096 for potable water and toilet.
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El Yunque National Forest
HC-01, Box 13490
Rio Grande, PR 00745-9625