El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System but it is also a sacred place in Puerto Rican culture. Many believe its name comes from the Taíno word Yuke, or "white earth," a reference to the clouds that gather around the forest's mountainous peak; others believe it derives from Yúcahu, the Taíno deity of fertility.
Today, this national treasure is an excellent destination if you want to immerse yourself in nature. Here's a look at some of the top things to see and do in El Yunque, from bathing in natural pools beneath waterfalls to taking in the gorgeous scenery from its many hiking trails.
El Portal Visitor Center
Located at the main park entrance on PR-191, the beautiful El Portal Visitor Center is a great place to begin your journey into El Yunque. There is an accessible interpretive trail that circles the property, along with opportunities to spot the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot. Other amenities include exhibits, interpretive programs, restrooms, a gift shop, and a café.
Waterfalls & Hiking in El Yunque
One of the most popular things to do in El Yunque is hiking to one of the natural pools to cool off with a swim. Head over to La Coca trail and hike down to one of several ponds along the route for the perfect way to cool off. For fun in the form of a rope swing, choose El Angelito trail, where a 4km (2.5-mile) hike can end with a dive into its lagoon. There are plenty of additional options for trails with varying levels of difficulty throughout the park.
Unique Plants and Wildlife
During your visit, learn about the 240 plant species endemic to Puerto Rico. Enjoy the park’s pure air and some of the best birdwatching on the Island. Hopefully, you’ll catch a view of woodpeckers, green mangos, and the Puerto Rican parrot.
Want more “wow” during your visit? Drive over to the Yokahú Observation Tower (Road 191, km 8.8). With an elevation of 1,575 feet, the expansive view is worth the trip. The blue beauty of the ocean in the distance and the vast lush green mountains will have you reaching for your camera. These are some photos that will make your friends on social media jealous.
What a better way to complement your day trip to El Yunque than ziplining through beautiful green canopies? Make sure to check out Yunque Ziplining for availability and pricing.
How about some horseback or ATV riding in the foothills of El Yunque? Carabalí Rainforest Adventure Park offers horseback and adrenaline-fueled tours through the area for the entire family.
A day of adventure at El Yunque is sure to work up an appetite! While there are no restaurants inside the park, several nearby are worth a stop. Located just 4.7 km (3 miles) from the park entrance, Don Pepe is a lovely restaurant that serves all types of delicious Puerto Rican dishes. If you'll be returning to the San Juan area from El Yunque, consider a stop at Kioskos de Luquillo, a collection of small, family owned food stands in the seaside town of Luquillo. Here you'll find a variety of local dishes, cocktails, and ice-cold coconuts perfect for replenishing your energy after a full day of swimming and hiking.
No Reservation Required!
El Yunque is a very popular place to visit, and as of August 2023 you won't need to make a reservation to visit.
Note: Make sure to check the El Yunque U.S. Forest website for the latest info about weather, park closures, and safety protocols.
How to Get to El Yunque National Forest
Grab your hiking boots and an extra set of clothes (more on that later) and head to the Río Grande area, east of San Juan, via PR-66 to PR-3, and then following PR-191. Traveling to El Yunque from San Juan will take you approximately 45 minutes. If you’re driving, GPS the address to the following destination: El Portal Visitor Center, PR-191 Río Grande, PR 00745, for an exact route.
Tour guides depart from most major hotels in San Juan. It is recommended to reserve a tour with your hotel or tour provider in advance to confirm availability. Alternatively, many cruise ship visitors and vacationers decide to rent cars for a day and visit on their own, which is also relatively easy.
The forest is available every day (except for Christmas) from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. El Portal Visitor Center is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. While the forest has no entrance fee, admission to some of the optional attractions will cost $8 for adults, with children under 15 years entering for free.
With an average rainfall of 120 inches per year, daily rain showers are to be expected, so bring your ponchos or umbrellas and an extra set of dry clothes. The rain is often brief but intense. Hiking boots are also a must for some of the wetter trails. Most importantly, if your visit isn’t part of a guided tour, make sure to plan ahead because once you’re in the forest, cell and data service for most providers is spotty at best.