June 27, 2009

Biella’s Guide to Puerto Rico: El Yunque, The “Rock” and Luquillo

Category: Biella's_Guide_to_Puerto_Rico,Puerto Rico — Biella @ 5:04 pm

El Yunque, The "Rock", originally uploaded by the biella.

Every island kid has been dragged at least once, probably multiple times, to the meandering roads that eventually lead to the Puerto Rican National Rain Forest, El Yunque. One can leave the bustling capital and in about 1 hour find yourself in the smack middle of a tropical rainforest. Once there, you can check out the falls, take a dip in one of the pools “charcos” or take a more challenging hike to reach one of the handful exposed rocks where there are stellar views of the forest and beyond.

I have many memories of this place, most of them great. My parents used to drag me and my sister there at least once a year to “ohh and ahhh” at the small waterfalls on the side of the roads. On occasion we would hike for all of 20 minutes before heading to the beach. In high school, my friends would visit occasionally and then when I worked for an environmental camp after I graduated from high school, I found myself there for days, sleeping under the soggy skies and amidst the unbelievably loud coquis (who sing to mark their tiny territory and attract the ladies, naturally).

Now, like most things on this island, there are serious mistakes to be made when doing anything, whether it is going to the movies (as Micah and I found out last night) as well as hitting the rainforest. All of this is due to one problem: this island is uber-populated and everyone also naturally loves to do stuff…. so the name of the game is often crowds and crowds and crowds.

So, first lesson about El Yunque: If you can avoid going on the weekend, absolutely do so, especially during the summer. It will be much easier to find parking (which is often on the side of the road) and the trails will be less crowded (though that means less chance of hearing some 13 year old kid screaming that he found the Chupacabra, as we were so lucky to hear today). But if you plan on swimming in one of the watering holes/falls, I would avoid the weekend like the plague. Well unless you love swimming in the midst of screaming, though admittedly quite joyful, kids.

Once you enter the preserve, it is worth your while to go to the visitor’s center, which costs a few bucks per person (the park cost nothing to get in, but well, giving a few bucks to a rainforest seems like right thing to do). There you can learn a little more about its history, get a map, and get a first view of the forest since the center is architecturally as it should be: open and airy so it basically bleeds into the canopy of trees.

If you want to hike, there are a handful of trails and many are paved but the longer, more challenging ones are not. The two I recommend are The Trade Winds Trail (which is like not officially kept up, but is kick ass) and El Yunque Trail.

Finding the Trade Winds Trail is a little tricky as it at the end of the road behind the yellow gates and then you have to walk a few more minutes until you see this sign. Here are some more detailedinstructions for finding it. I have slept on this trail, have hiked for 5 hours on it without seeing a soul, and apparently it is even longer…

Another trail, which is definitely worth a whirl, is the El Yunque Trail. There are great instructions if you follow the previous link so I won’t repeat them here. What I like about this is that there is 1) a pygmy forest (I just like saying that phrase) and a grand slam ending, with a beautiful view and when it is totally clear (today was not so clear as the Saharan sands, for reals, were in the air), you can see to the ocean. If it is not clear, it is still pretty nice and in fact, being in the middle of a cloud is just as enchanting as a clear sky and good views.

If you would like to to reach “The Rock,” as the end of the trail is called, but don’t want to spend 4-5 hours doing so, you can also take the Mt. Britton trail, which is paved but a pretty good heart thumping trail as it is all uphill. Do take the time to check out the tower, then find the trail which links to the El Yunque one, and hike away until you hit the rock.

By the end of hiking, you will be hot, sweaty and hungry or at least hungry and wet (Oh yes, bring a change of clothes). You might also be wondering why there are a few coqui’s, who DO chirp during the day though they normally only do so and really incessantly at night.. (at least that is what occupied my mind today). To cool down, you can hit one of the watering holes or you can head to the beach as it is so very close.

To get to the beach, you head down the mountain (and down some very very twisty roads) and go east on the main road until you hit the town of Luquillo. You will see a sign for the Balneario Luquillo and this is where you will want to exit. Before taking the dip, you will want to gorge on some fantastic but fantastically greasy food at one of the many “kioskos” that line the outside of the entrance of the beach.

There you can get food that is deeply fried, in fact, often fried twice, and well, let’s face it, because it is fried it is nothing but delicious. I am a huge fan of bacalaitos and the tostones rellenos (those are fried twice) but there are many other greasy options to fill everyone’s needs and desires.

After you have decided that you have filled your grease quota for the day/week/possibly even year, you should head over to the beach. If you get there on the weekend, you will soon realize that a good portion of the island seems to be there too. This is the People’s beach through and through, with kids basically ruling the land, beach, and sand and with parents and family partying it up on the sand or on the grassy areas where they have set up their tents. It is also one of the only beaches on the island I have seen with access for people in wheelchairs, so once again, it is the people’s beach.

After you had enough of the blasting reggaeton, crowds, and general madness, you can take a short walk east on the beach and here you will walk straight into total calm. What I like to do is walk out on the sand shelf and then hit the tiny pools for some deep down relaxation, all the while starting at the mountains I just hiked.


  1. The el yunque(Junekay) is so beautiful. We stayed at the gran melia hotel across from the rain forest and went hiking to the waterfalls. Great place to visit and stay for a couple weeks. Great post.

    Comment by Andrew Eriksen — June 30, 2009 @ 7:57 pm

  2. Thanks Andrew.

    I had not seen the Gran Melia: it is very gran! and I am glad you had a chance to stay here. Thanks for your other post as well, I hope that it will help others in their medical/health insurance search!


    Comment by Biella — July 2, 2009 @ 6:30 pm

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