Just 40 kilometers northeast of San Juan lies a vast piece of paradise known as El Yunque National Forest. Located in the eastern region of Puerto Rico, this natural reserve covers 28,000 acres of tropical forest and encompasses the municipalities of Canóvanas, Las Piedras, Luquillo, Fajardo, Ceiba, Naguabo, and Rio Grande.
El Yunque plays host to an abundant and diverse community of flora and fauna. There are about 240 species of native trees (23 of which are endemic to El Yunque), 50 species of orchids, 150 kinds of ferns, 68 bird species including the endangered Puerto Rican parrot, 11 species of bats, and eight types of lizards. The rain forest is also home to the tiny coqui frog, a singing tree frog that is native to the area. The frog population in El Yunque is one of the densest in the world. There are a few species of snakes as well in the area but it is very rare to find one. As a natural reserve, El Yunque is a protected area and hunting is prohibited.
El Yunque is named after the kind-hearted Indian spirit Yuquiyu which means Forest of Clouds. As the ancient story goes, Yuquiyu inhabits the highest mountain peak of the forest and protects the whole of Puerto Rico and its people. Taking after the gentle character of its guardian spirit, El Yunque Rain Forest also exhibits a cool, subtropical climate and a serene atmosphere.
It may be quiet in El Yunque but it’s also very wet. This rain forest receives the highest amount of precipitation in all of the National Forests with up to 240 inches per year, amounting to over 100 billion gallons of rainwater. Rain showers only occur in short durations though and there are a lot of available shelters so there’s no need to worry about getting completely drenched while on a nature hike.
The National Forest is divided into four according to the types of trees that grow in each area. The four distinct forests in El Yunque are Tabonuco Forest, Palo Colorado Forest, Bosque En Las Nube (Forest in the Clouds), and Palma Sierra Forest. Tabonuco Forest can be found at elevations of up to 2,000 feet. It is named after one of its most abundant trees, the Tabonuco, although other species such as Yagrumo, Guaraguao, Laurel Sabino, and several giant ferns can also be found there. Trees in Tabonuco Forest can grow up to 115-1125 feet tall.
The Palo Colorado Forest is located on a lower altitude at 1,970-2,950 feet. The Caimitillo, Caimitillo Verde, and Palo Colorado are the most numerous tree species here. The Palma Sierra Forest on the other hand is dominated by the Sierra Palm species. This forest is usually found at elevations of more than 1,958 feet. Located on the highest mountain tops is the aptly named Bosque En Las Nube or Forest in the Clouds. Towering at an altitude of 2,500 feet, this forest experiences stronger winds and greater amounts of water. The common tree species here, Némoco, Roble de Sierra, Limoncillo Guayabota, and Camasey, don’t normally grow taller than 12 feet.
You don’t have to go on a long grueling hike to enjoy the majestic sceneries of El Yunque. A beautiful waterfall can be visited less than a mile away from the paved paths of the forest. A good elevation that allows for a panoramic view of the topography can also be reached with just a few minutes walk. You also don’t have to worry about dangerous animals lurking behind the lush foliage. Your greatest dangers would probably be pesky mosquitoes and slippery rocks so at least bring a mosquito repellant and wear shoes with good traction.