The Best Things To Do in El Yunque: How to Spend a Day in Puerto Rico’s Rainforest
Puerto Rico may be known for it’s tropical beaches, but my favorite part of the island may be El Yunque National Forest. It’s full of lush forest, small animals, beautiful waterfalls, and amazing views. If you are looking for an adventure outside of San Juan that doesn’t involve sand, a trek into El Yunque is perfect! Here are the best things to do in El Yunque to help you plan how to spend your day in this beautiful rainforest.
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What is El Yunque?
El Yunque is a tropical rainforest in northeastern Puerto Rico. In fact, it is the ONLY tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest system! It’s also one of most biologically diverse National Forests.
El Yunque has been a sacred place in Puerto Rico for generations. According to legends, El Yunque was home to an important Taíno deity. But its importance extends beyond its cultural significance. As part of the Luquillo Mountains, El Yunque is an important water source for local communities as well as a home for several rare and endangered species.
Recently, El Yunque has suffered damage from hurricanes, most notably Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria in 2017. Teams have been working diligently since then to help the rainforest recover. I’m glad to say that when we visited in 2022, we saw very minimal damage.
In fact, on one of the park signs, we saw information about the forest recovery with post-hurricane and present-day pictures. While I know there is still work to do (and the climate crisis is a constant foe for these ecosystems), the way the forest has recovered is pretty incredible.
How to Get to El Yunque from San Juan
There are two main ways you can get to El Yunque from San Juan:
- Rent a car.
- Book a guided tour.
If you are staying in San Juan, you might be using Uber or taxis to get around the city. But DO NOT take an Uber or a taxi to El Yunque. There are so many reasons for this. While getting there may not be a problem, cell service within El Yunque is spotty at best, and so you would likely have trouble finding a ride back. Also, empty Ubers and taxis are not allowed in the National Forest for pick-ups.
If you rent a car to go to El Yunque, the drive is pretty easy. Even if you are nervous about the road signs in another language, if you pull up directions on your phone, the maps will make it easy to navigate.
Lots of people like to book a guided tour to El Yunque from San Juan, and there are a lot of benefits to this. Not only do you not have to worry about transportation or park reservations, you also have a knowledgeable guide who can take you to all the best spots in El Yunque.
On our trip, we chose to rent a car because we wanted the flexibility to be able to go where we wanted when we wanted. We found it super easy to get there and to drive through the rainforest from spot to spot.
Things To Do in El Yunque
Most of the things to do in El Yunque can be found in one central location on a main road — PR-191. This area is known as La Mina Recreation Area. You can start at the bottom of the road and keep working your way into the mountains making different stops.
There are parking areas at most of these stops, and several of them also have restrooms. Just remember to bring your own water, because there is no potable water in El Yunque!
La Coca Falls
The first thing you’ll see when you come through the gates of El Yunque is La Coca Falls. This is an incredible waterfall that drops 85 feet. And it’s RIGHT on the road, so it’s super easy for anyone to see!
You can park across the street, and walk down and across the road for better views.
This is also a great place to double check your park map (we took a picture of the one posted here!) and ask park rangers near the gate for hiking tips or any other questions you might have.
La Coca Trail
La Coca Trail (not to be confused with La Coca Falls) is a trail you’ll find across from La Coca Falls. This is one of the more challenging trails in El Yunque, so don’t embark on it unless you are prepared!
This trail takes at least 1.5 hours each way (for a total of 3-4 hours of your day) and it’s a strenuous hike. When the waterfall at the end of the trail is flowing you can go swimming and there are several other streams and waterfalls along the trail, so there can be a big payoff. But the US Forest Service also says this is the trail where the most people get lost in El Yunque!
If you are wanting to hike La Coca Trail, make sure you have good shoes (it’s a muddy trail), plenty of water, and are prepared for lots of uphill climbing on the way back. Also ask a park ranger before you start out what the water flow is like that day, because if water is low it may not be worth the effort to visit it.
My personal recommendation is that unless you have multiple days in El Yunque or particularly want to take on this hike, skip it and check out all the other things to do in El Yunque!
If you keep driving up the road from La Coca Falls, you’ll come across Yokahú Tower. This tower was built in the 1960s, and from it you can see four different types of forest that make up El Yunque as well as the ocean in the distance.
Note that Yokahú Tower is only open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Juan Diego Creek Trail + Juan Diego Falls
This short hike was one of my favorites of our time in El Yunque!
Keep driving from Yokahú Tower and you’ll find Juan Diego Creek at km 9.6. This is a super easy and short trail that leads to Juan Diego Falls. Honestly, this is the place in El Yunque where I just stood looking around at all the verdant green and beautiful plants and thought “Wow, I’m in a rainforest.” And since the trail is very easy and only takes about 5 minutes, it’s perfect for everyone in the family.
If you are feeling up for a bit more of a challenge, there is another short trail up the hill that can take you to another waterfall.
There is small parking area near Juan Diego. Because parking is limited, it has a 30 minute parking limit (you shouldn’t need much more time than that here). This is also a spot that tends to get crowded, so stop here early in the morning if you can.
La Mina Falls
Note: The La Mina and Big Tree Trails are currently closed and have been for some time. We’re not sure when they will reopen.
La Mina Trail is the most popular trail in El Yunque, and it will lead you to the beautiful La Mina Falls where you can swim. The trail itself is challenging and is .7 miles long. There are several rain shelters along the way and picnic shelters at the trailhead.
This is another trail that tends to get pretty crowded, so you’ll want to go earlier in the day.
Another option for getting to La Mina Falls is to hike the Big Tree Trail. This trail is slightly easier but also slightly longer, clocking in at .9 miles. Note that Big Tree Trail and La Mina Trail are both currently closed.
Check for updates on La Mina here and Big Tree Trail here.
You’ll find Baño Grande up the road a bit more at km 11.9. There is a large parking area nearby, and the path up to Baño Grande is very easy and paved with just some stairs to climb.
Baño Grande is a large man-made pool. It was built on the bed of a creek in the 1930 and became a popular recreational pool. It closed to swimmers in 1968, but you can still see the pool and the old bath houses.
There is also a small visitors center nearby with restrooms and staff who can answer questions.
Mt. Britton Tower + Trail
Another very popular hike in El Yunque is the Mount Britton Trail. This trail climbs up a mountain to the Mt. Britton Tower, where on clear days you can have some amazing views. (Unfortunately, we were not there on a clear day.)
You can start at the Mt. Britton trailhead, however when we were there the road to this was blocked so we started at El Baño Grande and hiked up the road to the trailhead.
The entire trail is paved with a narrow pathway, which makes the uphill climb a bit easier. There are also several rain shelters along the trail which are nice to stop in for a rest.
When you are almost to the top of the mountain, you’ll find yourself on a road for a brief time. Keep climbing uphill and follow the signs. (This is the point where you might want to give up but you are almost there!)
The entire trail will take you about 45 minutes to 1 hour to climb (it’s .8 miles), and then it will be a bit faster on the way back down.
Once you get there, you can climb the Mt. Britton Tower for some incredible views. We were there on a rainy cloudy day, and I have to say it was still pretty incredible to watch the clouds rushing up over the mountains and see the forest down below us.
If you are up for a moderately challenging hike, definitely put Mount Britton on your list of things to do in El Yunque!
El Yunque Peak Trail
Note: Portions of the El Yunque Peak trail may be closed for repairs. Check with park guides on the day of your visit to see what is open.
If you make it to the top of Mount Britton and want to keep going, you can hike over to El Yunque Peak. On the paved road you hiked at the top of the mountain right before the tower, look for the signs to the Mount Britton Spur Trail which then takes you to El Yunque Peak Trail.
The Mt. Britton Spur Trail is .3 miles, but you’ll have to keep going for another 1.2 miles to get to El Yunque Peak.
You can also access the El Yunque Peak Trail from the trailhead near El Baño Grande. Hiking from here is 2.6 miles on a challenging trail, and it will take you at least 2 hours one way.
El Portal Visitor Center (El Portal de El Yunque)
While El Portal Visitor Center is at the entrance to El Yunque, I recommend waiting to visit until you are on your way out of the park. It doesn’t open until 9:00 a.m., and you’ll want to be able to hit the trails in El Yunque earlier than that. The Visitor Center is located in the lower part of the forest along the main road leading up to El Yunque.
El Portal Visitor Center opened in 1996, but after hurricane damage from Irma and Maria, it needed major repairs. It reopened in 2022 and offers guests educational experiences and has amenities like restrooms, a gift shop, and dining.
This is a REALLY cool space, with models of El Yunque, explanations of the various parts of El Yunque, a theater that shows a short film about the rainforest, and an exhibit featuring endangered Puerto Rican parrots. The center is also has two easy nature trails you can walk.
There is an entrance fee of $8 per adult (15 and up) to get into El Portal de El Yunque.
Another easy trail you can do on your way out of El Yunque is Angelito Trail. This trail is in the lower part of the forest and leads to el Río Mameyes. There you can find Las Damas Pool, which is a popular place for swimming.
It’s an easy trail at just .5 miles, but do be aware that because it is along a river it can be prone to flash flooding. So always be aware of the weather conditions.
Angelito Trail is a bit out of the way of the other trails we’ve been talking about. You’ll find it by turning on State Road 988 near El Portal Visitor Center. It’s located at km 3.6.
More Things To Do in El Yunque
Beyond these highlights, there are so many more things you can do in El Yunque! Talk with the guides and rangers during your visit to see what’s available and what they recommend.
You can also book special activities in El Yunque to add to your fun!
Take a Guided Tour
Lots of people love taking a guided tour of El Yunque. This can be especially beneficial if you are staying in San Juan, because transportation will be provided.
A guided tour can take you to some of the best spots in El Yunque. Guides know what is open, what is closed, what waterfalls and swimming holes have water that day, and where you can get the best views. They can also take you to unique sites you might not find on your own while exploring El Yunque.
Find guided tour possibilities along with reviews here.
Another popular thing to do in El Yunque is to go ziplining! You can go flying through the forest through a zipline trail, seeing different scenery of El Yunque and having an adrenaline-pumping adventure.
Most of the ziplining companies have several different ziplines you can experiences, and some have other high-ropes-like experiences you can try (like on the Adventure Trail at Rainforest Zipline).
Find ziplining options and reviews here.
Camping is currently unavailable at El Yunque. They plan to reopen campsites in the future as they continue to repair and rebuild the forest.
Check here for updates about when camping sites will reopen.
Tips for Visiting El Yunque
El Yunque is a perfect adventure destination without being too…out there. I mean, we’re not going bungee jumping or trekking through the wilderness with dangerous animals. But it’s important to be prepared with everything you need, because there isn’t much available in El Yunque (including cell phone service!).
Make a Reservation in Advance
El Yunque is operating on an advance reservation system to access La Mina Recreation Area (where most of the things to do in El Yunque are located). You will need to book your reservation online in advance.
Reservations can be made one month in advance. But they also hold a limited number of reservations to release 24 hours in advance to accommodate last-minute plans.
Make your reservations on recreation.gov. There is a small $2 fee to make the reservation, but the reservation is good for your entire vehicle. Make sure you have it with you, either printed or a digital copy, to enter. (We recommend printing it because of the spotty service in the rainforest!)
Note that if you have booked a guided tour, they will take care of your reservations.
Wear Appropriate Clothes and Shoes
When you’re hiking through the rainforest you definitely want to make sure you have on appropriate clothing and shoes!
We recommend athletic shorts and t-shirts that are easy to move around in. El Yunque is very humid and it can rain on you (it is a rainforest!), so don’t wear anything like jeans or leggings that would soak up moisture and then be unable to dry.
Shoes are especially important! Hiking boots are often recommended, especially on some of the more difficult and muddy trails. However, I wore my beloved Chacos during our visit and was perfectly fine (we didn’t do any super difficult trails though).
Bring Water and Snacks
Bring anything you are going to want during the day! There is NO potable water in El Yunque (so you will not be able to refill water bottles), so bring all the water you may need.
You will also want to bring any snacks you may want. While there are a few food options in the rainforest (we especially enjoyed the roadside stand/restaurant on PR 191), dining options are pretty limited. So it’s a good idea to bring food with you, especially so you don’t have to stop a hike to go find food.
Just remember that you will need to take all your trash out with you. Remember to leave no trace!
Bring a Rain Jacket
You ARE in a rainforest and it can definitely rain! Be sure to pack a lightweight rain jacket or poncho for the day.
Wear Sunscreen and Bug Spray
If you’re outside, you should wear sunscreen. Even underneath the layers of the forest, you can still get sun exposure and it’s important to protect your skin. Our favorite sunscreen products are from Sun Bum, plus they are reef-safe which you will definitely need to wear in Puerto Rico.
You should also make sure you wear bug spray. Mosquitoes thrive in tropical locations, so you’ll want to protect yourself.
Be sure to carry both sunscreen and bug spray with you as well, so that if you choose to go swimming at a waterfall you can reapply them once you dry off.
Bring Extra Clothes + A Swimsuit
You will likely get wet and/or muddy during your time in El Yunque. It’s a good idea to bring a change of clothes just in case. You’ll also want to bring your swimsuit if you want to swim in some of the natural pools.
Get There Early
El Yunque is one of the most popular things to do in Puerto Rico, so get there early! When you are making your reservation, I recommend booking the earliest time possible. Go to some of the most popular spots first to avoid some of the crowds that congregate later in the day.
Take a Picture of the Map
Make sure you have a screenshot of the map or take a picture of it near the park entrance at La Coca Falls. Since service is spotty in El Yunque, you won’t want to rely on a map that needs to internet connection to figure out where you are going!
El Yunque FAQs
How much does it cost to visit El Yunque?
Many areas of El Yunque are free to access. But to visit the La Mina Recreation Area (where the most popular things to do are), you will need to make a reservation that costs $2 per vehicle.
If you want to visit El Portal Visitor Center, it will cost $8 per person 15 years and older.
How much time should you plan to spend in El Yunque?
Plan to spend at least half a day exploring El Yunque. Not only do you want to allow yourself time to hike and seen the best sights, it also takes some time to drive to there.
You can definitely plan to spend longer if you want though, from an entire day to multiple days if you want to hit every hiking trail possible.
Can you do El Yunque without a tour?
Yes! While lots of people like to take guided tours of El Yunque, you can totally do it on your own. Just make sure you have your own car and follow good maps and directions.
How hard is hiking El Yunque?
El Yunque has hiking for everyone! There is everything from short and easy trails that are family-friendly, to strenuous trails that could take up your whole day. At El Portal Visitor Center there is even a paved trail that should be accessible to pretty much anyone!
Are there dangerous animals in El Yunque?
While there are a few poisonous spiders and snakes in Puerto Rico, it’s not very common to come across them in El Yunque. And unlike other rainforests, there are no big predators here.
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