A Day in El Yunque Rainforest: How to Plan the Perfect Visit

Nestled in the northeastern corner of Puerto Rico lies the magnificent El Yunque Rainforest, a lush and biodiverse paradise that captivates the hearts of nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike. With its cascading waterfalls, lush trails, and breathtaking views, El Yunque offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the beauty of Puerto Rico’s natural wonders. In this blog post, I’ll guide you on how to spend a day in El Yunque Rainforest, making the most of your visit to this ecological gem.

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A Day in El Yunque Rainforest: How to get there from San Juan

El Yunque Rainforest is located about 45 minutes east of San Juan in the Rio Grande area. Unless you’re taking a guided tour that departs from San Juan, you’ll need to rent a car to get there. We rented one at the airport to explore the island during our stay, but you can rent one in San Juan as well.

Enter this address into the GPS for the exact route: El Portal Visitor Center, PR-191 Río Grande, PR 00745.

A Day in El Yunque Rainforest: How to visit

Admission to the park is $8.00 per person (free for kids under 15) and you have to make a reservation in advance at www.recreation.gov. Reservations are posted one month ahead of time, so you’ll need to know what day you want to go and purchase your reservations as soon as they’re posted since they fill up quickly. You only need to make ONE reservation per vehicle.

The forest is open every day from 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM (with the visitor center opening at 9:00 AM) but check the El Yunque website beforehand in case there are any major closures in the park. They close the gates promptly at 5:00 PM, so keep an eye on the time in order to get out!

What to bring with you for a day in El Yunque Rainforest

It’s a rainforest -so prepare for rain! It rained off and on while we were there, especially in the morning, so I’d recommend bringing a rain jacket. I wore shorts and a tank top with a lightweight button-up shirt over it to protect against bugs, although we didn’t have any issues with them at all. For footwear I opted for my Chacos which were perfectly adequate to hike in, but if you don’t have any hiking sandals wear a pair of hiking boots. You definitely want something that has a good grip on the soles in this wet environment. You’ll also want to bring a swimsuit to enjoy the waterfalls and natural pools. Lastly, I’d recommend a change of dry clothes for the drive back to San Juan.

Another necessity for your visit is something to eat and drink! There isn’t anything available inside the park, so be sure to pack a lunch, snacks, and plenty of water, especially if you’re planning on hiking.

Top things to do during a day in El Yunque Rainforest

There are multiple trails and waterfalls located in El Yunque, so it depends on what you want to see most, as well as your fitness level for various hikes. The map below gives a good overview of the park, and I’ve listed everything there is to see/do as well. When we visited in 2022, one of the most popular trails (which leads to La Mina Falls) was closed, and unfortunately remains that way. You can check the status of trail closures here before you go.

Easy hikes: Caimitillo Trail and Angelito Trail 

Moderate hikes: Mt. Britton Trail and El Yunque Trail

Difficult hikes: La Coca Trail

Waterfalls: La Coca Falls, Juan Diego Falls, and La Mina Falls (currently closed)

Towers/Viewpoints: Mt. Britton and Yakahu Tower

Mt. Britton Trail and Tower

We chose to hike Mt. Britton Trail for the amazing views that can be seen from the tower. To get there you’ll park in the last parking lot, which will be obvious as they have the road blocked off at a certain point. Only official vehicles can use this road, otherwise you’d be able to drive most of the way up to the tower. Once you park, follow the road uphill until you reach the trailhead (there are signs so you won’t miss it.) When you arrive you’ll see a tiny tower atop the mountain in the distance, which may seem daunting, but I promise it’s not as tough as it looks!

I recommend doing this hike first thing in the morning before it gets crowded. There are a lot of guided tours and buses that come here daily from San Juan.

The trail is less than a mile long, but the elevation gain is about 600 feet, so it takes around 45 minutes to get to the tower. This hike takes you through the forest along a winding, paved path where you’ll see tons of tropical plants. I was hoping to come across some interesting wildlife like the Puerto Rican parrot, but no such luck. Although I wouldn’t consider this trail difficult, it can be very slippery with all the rain and humidity, so be sure to wear shoes with good grip. There are also 3 covered rest stations on the way up should you need a break!

Once you arrive at the tower, it’s an easy climb to the top where you’ll be met with stunning 360-degree views of the rainforest, as well as the Caribbean Sea if it’s clear enough. Be prepared for extreme weather changes, however. When we were there it was sunny one second and raining the next. If it does rain you can quickly head inside the tower to wait it out until that passes then go back up.

Once you’ve taken in the scenic views you can either head back down the Mt. Britton Trail to explore other areas in the park, or you can continue onto the El Yunque Trail which leads to the peak. Going to the peak required another hour of uphill hiking, so we decided to go and check out Juan Diego Falls instead. Be sure to stop along the road on your way back to your car to grab a photo with Mt. Britton Tower in the background! I used a lightweight tripod that holds my phone to get the shot below. (This is the part of the road that’s blocked off so you don’t have to worry about any cars coming through.)

Juan Diego Falls

Once you’re back in your car, drive down the road towards the entrance and you’ll find Juan Diego Creek around kilometer 10. There are a few parking lots in this area, but parking is limited, so you may have to park a bit further and walk. The trail to Juan Diego Falls is very short and easy, taking only around 5 minutes to get to the main area. You’ll pass some smaller waterfalls on your way in and then find the “end” of the trail with a 20-foot waterfall and a picnic area.

However, if you want to check out the larger waterfall pictured above, which I recommend because it’s beautiful, you’ll have a bit more of a challenge. Once you get to the main waterfall, you’ll see a trail to your right. Follow it up and to the left, but be careful as it’s very slippery/muddy and requires some scrambling. Good footwear is a must! This 40-foot waterfall is typically less crowded, and if you’re patient you can probably get some time to yourself here.

After spending some time at Juan Diego Falls, head over to Yokahu Tower and climb to the top for more scenic views of the rainforest and ocean. On your way out of the park be sure to stop by La Coca Falls too, which can be seen from the road.

At this point, we decided to leave El Yunque to visit another nearby spot that looked really unique and fun. I highly recommend doing the same because I absolutely loved it there!

Charco El Hippie

Located in Naguabo, this awesome swimming hole is about an hour’s drive from El Yunque. It’s also about an hour from San Juan if you’re not visiting El Yunque or want to make a day trip here instead. Although it’s free to get in, it’s located between private properties and parking is limited. We paid $5 to park at someone’s house nearby, which seemed pretty common, but be considerate of the locals and make sure you’re cleared to park in a given area beforehand.

Once you’re there you’ll see several spots to cliff jump, a large pool to swim around, multiple waterfalls, and a swing that looks out over the whole area. You will have to swim across to get to most of these things, so make sure to bring your swimsuit! To get to the largest waterfall you have to walk behind the large rocks that surround the waterfall flowing into the main pool. You can then continue back through this area which is beautiful. I did this barefoot, but it would definitely be easier with some type of water shoes.

We visited in the late afternoon since we were coming from El Yunque, and it wasn’t too crowded. The majority of people left while we were there and it was nice having it mostly to ourselves, so I’d plan to go later in the day if possible. This was one of my favorite spots we visited during our time in Puerto Rico and I highly recommend making your way out there if you can!

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