El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico (2022 Guide) – All You Need To Know

El Yunque National Forest is one of Puerto Rico’s most visited attractions.

El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the United States. The forest is home to plant and animal species that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. 

I have visited El Yunque many times and can’t wait to share my experiences with you.

In this article, I will tell you everything you need to know about El Yunque National Forest:

What is El Yunque National Forest?
Where is El Yunque National Forest located?
What is the best way to get to El Yunque National Forest?
What is unique about El Yunque National Forest?
How much does it cost to visit El Yunque?
Can you visit El Yunque without a tour?
How much time do you need in El Yunque National Forest?
Is El Yunque National Forest free?
Is El Yunque worth visiting? 

 

What is El Yunque National Forest?

El Yunque National Forest is a rainforest located in Puerto Rico.

Located in the mountains of northeastern Puerto Rico, the forest covers 28,000 acres.

image of Yokahu Tower in El Yunque
Yokahú Observation Tower in El Yunque was built in the 1960’s and stands 69 feet tall.

The area is overflowing with outdoor recreation opportunities uniquely curated by Mother Nature herself.

Although it is considered a small rainforest, it is one of the world’s most biodiverse. 

El Yunque reserve is a habitat for many unique tropical plants. Several endangered species that live here are not found anywhere else in the world.

Below is a video showing El Yunque National Forest:

 

Where is El Yunque National Forest located? 

El Yunque National Forest is located on the northeast side of Puerto Rico.

el yunque map
El Yunque is nearby the beach town of Luquillo, and less than an hour from San Juan.

Drive 1-hour drive southeast of San Juan to the Luquillo Mountains to find El Yunque.

Below is a Google Map that shows the location of El Yunque National Forest:

 

What is the best way to get to El Yunque National Forest?

Driving your rental car or taking a guided tour is the best way to get to El Yunque.

image of the winding road along El Yunque
The winding roads through El Yunque can be narrow at times, but are mostly paved.

There is no public transportation to the forest. 

Generally, taxi or Uber are not allowed into El Yunque for drop-offs or pick-ups without special permits. 

Additionally, there is little to no cellular service in the forest, making it nearly impossible to contact a taxi or Uber for return service.

 

What is unique about El Yunque National Forest? 

Below are seven facts that make El Yunque like no other place in the world:

1. El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the entire US National Forest registry.

image of a small cascade in El Yunque
There are many opportunities to swim in the forest, remember to bring a towel and bathing suit.

 

2. The forest serves as a buffer zone against hurricanes.

Thus, making it an essential part of Puerto Rico’s ecosystem.

The forest and its mountains serve as a buffer against strong winds for nearby coastal areas.
 

3. The Forest is home to Puerto Rico’s most popular waterfalls.

La Coca falls has an incredible 85-foot drop.

image of La Coca Falls in El Yunque
La Coca falls is a great place to take photos, located at Road 191 km 8.1.

 

4. It’s believed El Yunque was considered a sacred mountain by the Native people of Puerto Rico.

Yunque could be related to the word Yuke, which translated to “white lands” in the Taíno language.

Sierra Palms (pictured here in El Yunque) are generally found in the highest mountain peaks in Puerto Rico near creeks and streams.

 

5. El Yunque is home to over 4,000 species of plants and trees.

Fifty species of mammals, over four hundred species of birds, and forty species of reptiles and amphibians reside in El Yunque.

image of coqui that you can see in El Yunque
The Coqui is a very small frog that produces a unique sound you will hear while walking through El Yunque.

 

6. Many endangered species live exclusively in El Yunque.

The Elfin Woods Warbler, the Puerto Rican Boa (non-venomous), five species of Coquis frogs, the Iguaca, and the rare Lepanthes Eltoroenis are a few of them.

 
 
 
 
 
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Photo Credit: @mitchell_pruitt

 

7. The El Yunque reserve is home to the only Iguaca Aviary in the world.

The parrot is one of the 10 most endangered bird species in the world. In 1975 only 13 existed in nature. Here, they are cared for and bred.

However, this sacred aviary is not open to the public.

Below is a video showing the Iguaca:

 

How much does it cost to visit El Yunque? 

Register at least 24 hours in advance to visit the main recreation area. There is a small processing fee.

El Portal Visitors Center requires a small entry fee of less than $10 for adults. Children under 15 are free.

 
 
 
 
 
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Photo credit: @jibrarapr78

At El Portal, you will find visitor information, a gift shop, a theater, a cafe, ranger-led opportunities to see the Igauca Parrot, and bathrooms.

This is a great spot to recharge for those not-so-extreme explorers. 

image of mountain forest
Afternoon rainstorms are frequent, so be prepared with adequate gear to protect your valuables.

Food, transportation, and lodging will be your biggest cost when it comes to visiting El Yunque.

Guided tour prices vary greatly from around $65 to $100 so it’s important to take your time to shop around. 

 

Can you visit El Yunque without a tour? 

Yes, however, you will definitely need your own car. 

image of Yokahu Tower
Yokahú Observation Tower is an excellent stop on your drive.

Drive to the visitor center, then to La Coca falls and on through to the Yokhaú Tower to catch 360 views of the forest.

Several hiking trails of various levels of difficulty exist in El Yunque. Some are paved trails and others are more challenging; think muddy, wet, and slippery. Sneakers or hiking boots are recommended. 

Don’t underestimate the trails, some can be considered a bit treacherous. 

Many paved walking trails line the forest, which you can explore without a tour.

A forest ranger is available at the visitor center. Ask about the current conditions or warnings in effect on the various trails. 

You can also do your own research by checking the USDA El Yunque National Forest website for up-to-date alerts and advisories. 

Below is a Google Map showing popular attractions in El Yunque:

 

How much time do you need in El Yunque National Forest? 

Two hours minimum.

There are many tempting opportunities to stop and frolic in the mountain waters or take amazing pictures if you want to extend your stay. 

image of El Yunque National Forest
Baño Grande is a historic spot located across from Palo Colorado at PR 191, km. 11.9.

The park opens at 8:00 am and closes at 5:00 pm. 

It’s best to reserve a full day for exploration.

The park is vast, thus, if you desire to fully immerse yourself in El Yunque, consider lodging nearby.

Camping on-site is not available at this time. 

image of the way to polo colorado recreational area
The Palo Colorado Recreation Area has an information center and picnic areas.

Afterwards, visit Degree 18 Juice Bar located right outside El Yunque for some fresh juice and food to rejuvenate. 

 

Is El Yunque National Forest free? 

The main recreation area requires registration and a small fee.

Rope swing at El Angelito swimming area.

But, you can still visit places in El Yunque for free.

Reservations are not required for El Angelito, which is a trail most popular for families with children.

There is a short, easy trail to get there and spots with shallow water. Park only in the designated areas.

image of El Angelito's trail
El Angelito’s trail and swimming area.

Some of the best bodies of water can be found right outside the reservations area, also free of charge.

Check out rivers and waterfalls near El Yunque Rainforest below:

 

Is El Yunque worth visiting?

El Yunque is well worth visiting.

Take the rare opportunity to be completely submerged in the rich biodiversity, unique sights, sounds, and colors of the tropical rainforest. 

Antillean Crescent Butterfly in El Yunque.

Explore the rainforest’s peaks and literally have your head in the clouds with breathtaking panoramic views.

The unmatched natural beauty of El Yunque’s lush green hiking trails is complimented by a chance to see rare species of plants and animals thriving in their natural habitat. 

image of a view over El Yunque
Pack your hiking boots if you plan on venturing out into El Yunque’s beautiful trails.

Experience the thrill of frolicking in waterfalls, natural waterslides, pools, and rivers of clear mountain water — all steps from what we know as civilization.

 

Final thoughts 

El Yunque National Forest is a must-do for anyone visiting Puerto Rico.

This is a great experience for people that love the outdoors and nature.

While you are in the area, I recommend making a day of it and checking out the nearby beach town of Luquillo.

El Yunque is relatively close to a couple of Puerto Rico’s bioluminescent bays. If you have time, you should definitely experience the bioluminescence. 

Article by

Tree Alexander

Writer at PuertoRico.com. I have collected countless memories from traveling in Puerto Rico. I share my knowledge of Puerto Rico in my articles. When I’m not writing, I can be found traveling with my toy poodle and homeschooling my children.

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