The only tropical rainforest in the U.S. Forest System, Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest has long been coveted as an emerald oasis of luxuriant greenery, dramatic mountains, pristine waterfalls, and colorful wildlife. Sadly, El Yunque was recently decimated by Hurricane Maria and is now closed indefinitely. But I, along with so many, still and must believe that with the sustained help, arduous work and unwavering determination of so many, this stunning rain forest, along with the rest of Puerto Rico and its people will surely revitalize and rise again.
Located in the northeastern part of the island, El Yunque is about a forty-five minute drive from San Juan and is a perfect day trip from the capital city. Although, at over 28,000 acres in size, it should be noted that it’s impossible to see the entire forest in one day–this place is huge. We spent our day hiking various nature trails to a collection of waterfalls while surrounded by spectacular scenery and vistas. We learned about the pre-Colombian island history, as well as the geology and biology of the area from our guide, as he described some of the two hundred forty plus species of plants and animals. We also received an overview of medicinal and toxic plant identification as well as some interesting tidbits about the native wildlife. An informative, yet interesting way to explore this expansive forest.
Hurricanes aside, El Yunque’s location amid the Luquillo Mountains and year-round precipitation (on average the forest receives more than two hundred inches of rain per year!) results in lush landscapes rich in evergreens, ferns, mosses, shrubs, wildflowers, orchids, hibiscus, and begonias, just to name a few.
There is an abundance of diverse wildlife life inhabiting the forest including non-venomous snakes, a wide variety of birds, the Coqui frog, and mongoose.
There are a number of waterfalls throughout the forest. One of the most popular and accessible falls is La Mina Falls, which requires about a thirty minute hike on a fairly flat and paved trail. Another popular waterfall is La Coca Falls, which is easy to get to and is the first waterfall you see when driving up to El Yunque. You can climb the rocks to get up close and personal resulting in scoring some amazing photos and views.
Hurricane Maria’s ravaging of Puerto Rico leaves many of us wondering, where does this leave Puerto Rico and where do they go from here? In addition to El Yunque being devastated by the catastrophic storm, thousands of homes, businesses, as well as the entire electrical grid have been utterly destroyed. So much of Puerto Rico needs to be restored–from its physical and energy infrastructures, to its human resolve and overall economy, there is so much to be done.
May the forests, people, and heartbeat of Puerto Rico continue to regenerate and experience a much needed and rapid rebirth.