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El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico

Mt. Britton Trail
Photo: Maria Ximena Hernandez

El Yunque National Forest, formerly known as the Caribbean National Forest, is located in the rugged Sierra de Luquillo,
40 km southeast of San Juan (latitude 18’19″N, longitude 65’45″W). The forest covers lands of the municipalities of
Canovanas, Las Piedras,
Luquillo, Fajardo,
Ceiba, Naguabo, and
Rio Grande.

The forest get its name from an Indian spirit Yuquiyu (or «Yokahu»),
which means «Forest of Clouds», that gave the mountain that dominates the 28,000 acres of tropical forest. It is the only
tropical forest in the United States National Forest System and one of the smallest rainforests, but has a diverse and densely populated habitat.
Originally set aside in 1876 by the Spanish Crown, the Forest
represents one of the oldest reserves in the Western Hemisphere. With over 240 species (26 species are found nowhere else)
of trees and plants, give reason to the government of Puerto Rico to spend a great deal of moneymaking to preserve floral
species and animals that are on the verge of extinction. The total area is 11,270 ha (75% of Puerto Rico virgin forest is here).

El Yunque
Photos: Eva Rivera

Eight major rivers originate in El Yunque and supplies water to 20% of the island’s population.
In 2002, the US Congress designated Mameyes, La Mina and Icacos rivers as a
part of the Federal Wild and Scenic River System.

El Yunque National Forest contains rare wildlife including the Puerto Rican
Parrot, which is one of the ten most endangered species of birds
in the world. Its scientific name is Amazona vitatta. The Puerto Rican
parrot is a small amazon parrot, about a foot in length, bright
green, with red forehead, blue primary wing feathers, and flesh-colored
bill and feet. Its primary habitat is the upper zones of the Luquillo
Mountains. Approximately 50 other bird species are found on the
Forest. The Forest is a wildlife refuge; no hunting is allowed.

El Yunque is the rainiest of all the National Forests with up to 240 inches (6.1 m) per year,
that is more than 100 billion gallons of rainwater. It is also the rainiest place of the island.
The climate is frost-free and ranges in
moisture from semi-desert to rain forest conditions within very short distances. There are
strong easterly trade-winds and cool weather is normal at the higher elevations.

El Yunque is part of the Luquillo range and is divided into four
forests: Tabonuco Forest, Palo Colorado Forest, Palma Sierra Forest and
En Las Nubes Forest.

El Yunque is one of the most visited attractions in the island, with about 600,000 visitors a year. It
is one of the reasons many travelers visit the island.
Tours are available all-year-round. Expect precipitation and come prepared with rain gear. However, the showers are
short and there are plenty of shelters, located throughout the
park. Among crags, waterfalls, ferns and wild flowers are 13 marked
hiking trails (24 miles) to enjoy on foot or horseback.
Hiking, picnicking and camping
(permit required) is allowed. El Portal Visitors Center, which recently
opened a third new pavilion, features multimedia displays, movies and maps
that you can obtain. Picnicking is a popular activity in El Yunque, picnic
shelters are provided with parking and restroom facilities and drinking
water. Facilities are available on a first come first serve basis. El
Yunque is less than an hour’s drive from San Juan, and there’s road access
to the reserve.

El Yunque National Forest After Hurricane Maria

Soon after Hurricane Maria hit the island, El Yunque National Forest was closed to the public (effective Tuesday,
September 5, 2017), as it recovers from the massive damage sustained during the hurricanes Irma and Maria.

As of July, 2019 some parts of the rainforest have reopened to travelers. El Portal Rain Forest Center still closed
and no camping is available. Repairs are underway and it is scheduled to reopen at the end of 2019.

For more information, you can contact the US Forest Service at (787) 888-1880.
(Postal address: HC-01 Box 13490, Rio Grande, PR 00745-9625

Other Resources

  • El Yunque National Forest
  • Jump into the
    Rainforest
  • El
    Yunque
  • Caribbean National Forest by USDA Forest Service

The Only Tropical Rainforest In The U.

S. Can Be Found In Puerto Rico

By
Aaron Spray

The El Yunque forest in Puerto Rico is the only tropical jungle in the US national forest system.

Shutterstock

view over the hills in the jungle of the El Yunque national forest

Quick Links

  • El Yunque National Forest — The Only USA Tropical Rainforest
  • The El Yunque Forest Is Sacred To The Indigenous Taino People
  • Climate Of El Yunque Forest
  • Visiting The El Yunque National Forest

Are there tropical rainforests in the United States? Well, sort of. If one thinks of the Territory of Puerto Rico as being a part of the United States, then yes. Go to that tropical Caribbean island, and one will find El Yunque National Forest — the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest. Visiting the country’s only rainforests is only one of the many reasons to visit Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico has many other attractions, including the oldest European-era buildings in the United States. San Juan in Puerto Rico is the oldest European settlement in American territory. It easily predates Plymouth or Jamestown. Puerto Pico is a rewarding destination that many forget to visit.

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El Yunque National Forest covers over 28,000 acres (43 mi2 or 113 km2) and is also the largest block of public land in Puerto Rico. While El Yunque is one of the smallest American national forests, it is one of the most biologically diverse. The first is found on the slopes of the Sierra de Luquillo mountains and

  • Size: 43 mi2 or 113 km2
  • Highest Point: 3,464 feet or 1,065 meters
  • Location: Sierra de Luquillo Mountains, Puerto Rico

Wander around the forest, and the ample annual rainfall gives it a jungle-like feel. See a forest characterized by lush foliage, rivers, waterfalls, crags, and humidity. The plants and animals that call the forest home are also from tropical rainforests.

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  • Rainfall: Over 20 Feet In Some Areas

The El Yunque National Forest also has only one designated wilderness area called the El Toro Wilderness. That makes it the only tropical rainforest that’s in the country’s National Wilderness Preservation System.

Related: San Juan Vs Rincon: Check Out These Photos To Help You Decide Where In Puerto Rico To Vacation

The El Yunque Forest Is Sacred To The Indigenous Taino People

El Yunque forest is also regarded as a sacred place in Puerto Rican culture. One can also find unique Taino petroglyphs made long ago by the original inhabitants of the island. There is no evidence of prehistoric settlement of the mountain — perhaps because it was sacred.

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  • Sacred: El Yunque Was Sacred To The Original Inhabitants

It has been said that Mt El Yunque was also the seat of the chief god Yucahu (a bit like Mount Olympus in Greek mythology). It is believed the Taino word «Yuke,» meaning «white earth,» is a reference to the white clouds that hug the forests of the mountain.

Climate Of El Yunque Forest

With a tropical rainforest climate, El Yunque does not have a distinct wet or dry season. It rains year-round, and the daylight hours remain fairly constant all through the year. It is warm all through the year, and the lowest temperature drop is below 50 °F (10 °C).

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  • Average Summer Temperatures: 80 °F (26 °C) High and 68 °F (20 °C) Low
  • Average Winter Temperatures: 72 °F (22 °C) High and 58 °F (15 °C) Low

With these temperatures, plants can grow all year long.

The area is excessively wet due to a process called geographic lift — which leads to excess rainfall at around 240 inches or 6.1 meters per year.

Related: What To Know About El Morro: Puerto Rico’s Famous Historic Site

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Visiting The El Yunque National Forest

If one would like to visit the El Yunque National Forest, one needs to reserve entry tickets online (there are still Covid-related restrictions in place as of the time of writing — August 2022). They can’t be reserved with the NPS or the Forest Service. Instead, they need to be reserved with recreation.gov. The tickets are timed and are available 30 days in advance of the entry date.

The tickets are free, but there is also a $2.00 reservation fee (it’s also non-refundable).

  • Entry Fee: $0.00 ($2.00 Reservation Fee)

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There are a number of hiking trails in El Yunque forest to explore the national forest. When feeling hot and sweaty, just cool off in the natural pools beneath the waterfalls. Activities in the forest include hiking, picnicking, wildlife viewing, and interpretive programs. There is also a visitor center on-site. The forest is small, but there are still plenty of trails that provide a fully immersive experience.

More information and current information about the El Yunque National Forest can be found on the Forest Service website and recreation.gov.

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