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How to Visit El Yunque National Forest Puerto Rico

El Yunque National Forest is a beautiful place to visit. And in my opinion, it should be among the top things to do during your visit to Puerto Rico. In this guide you’ll find everything you need to know about how to visit El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico to help you plan an awesome visit.

San Juan is full of great things to do, such as exploring the historic fort in Old San Juan or visiting the famous Umbrella Street. With that being said, getting out of the city will give you a different experience about Puerto Rico. And El Yunque National Forest, is the perfect place to explore beyond the city.

In fact, if you are reading this then you have either made the decision to visit El Yunque or are thinking about it. Therefore, you need to decide if a hired guide or a self guided tour is right for you. This El Yunque travel guide will help answer all your questions on how to visit, what to wear, which tour is right for you, and so much more!

View of El Yunque National Forest from El Yunque Rock

Facts About El Yunque National Rainforest

El Yunque, once known as the Caribbean National Forest is the only tropical rain forest in the US National Forest System. It is located in the northeast corner of Puerto Rico and covers 28,000 acres.

In size, it is one of the smallest tropical rainforest, yet largest in biodiversity. As El Yunque is home to thousands of native plants and species including the famous coqui frog.

The water of El Yunque is also very important to Puerto Rico. It serves as part of the states drinking water also fills the ocean with much need nutrients.

The highest peak in El Yunque reaches 3494 feet above sea level. And on a clear day you can see both the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea from the top.

This amazing forest with its lush foliage, beautiful waterfalls, swimming holes, natural pools, historic towers, hiking trails, and unique cloud forest is a must see when visiting Puerto Rico!

How to Visit El Yunque National Forest: Self Guide or Tour Guide

The hardest part about visiting El Yunque is deciding if you should hire a tour guide or explore the forest on your own. Regardless of what you decide, you will have a great time.

How to visit El Yunque National Forest
Short loop trail at the visitors center

If you want to hike, then exploring the forest on your own is an easy thing to do. But if you want adventure with rope swings natural water slides, then a guided tour may be best.

We wanted to get to the top of El Yunque and decided on a self guided tour. We love to hike so we wanted to explore on our own!

It does take a little planning, however completely and easily do able. Below you will find a helpful checklist to ensure you have the best experience and know what to expect when visiting El Yunque.

8 Tips to know before you go:

1. Reservation Ticket:

UPDATE: As of August 23, 2023 the reservation system has been suspended. Entry into El Yunque is granted on a first come, first served basis.

The system works this way: Up to 200 cars are allowed in. And when capacity is reached, the gate will close. The gate will reopen when 25 cars have exited and then 25 cars are permitted to enter. This process will continue through-out the day.

I recommend arriving early so you can beat the crowds, and you can visit the Visitors Center afterwards. Otherwise you will have to wait in line.

TICKETED ENTRY: Purchase your reservation ticket at recreation.gov before your trip. The entrance fee is $2.00 per vehicle and can be purchased up to 30 days in advance and up to 1 day before your trip. The ticketed entry times are 8AM to 11AM or 11AM to 2PM. They will check your reservation at the gate so this is a must do. No drive up or first-come first-served tickets will be provided. You may reserve entry tickets for 1 or 2 vehicles.

2. All Trails App:

Download All Trails App.alltrails.com If you like to hike, this app is a must have. This app helps you find trials in your area, rates them from level of difficulty, has reviews, photos and helps to keep you on the trails if you get off track.

3. Suggested Items to Bring:

Rain gear, bathing suit, water shoes, extra socks, hat, water, snacks, sunscreen, eco friendly insect repellent, phone/camera, towel, backpack and change of shoes if your feet are tired. Keep in mind, most of the items may remain in the car when you are exploring, so you don’t have to carry them all around.

4. What to Wear

Comfortable hiking attire, either shorts or long pants are appropriate along with closed toe non slip, good grip shoes are highly recommended. Hiking boots are strongly encouraged if you plan to climb the El Yunque Rock. And know your shoes may get muddy, so don’t wear your nice new shoes.

5. Do I Need a Vehicle To Visit?

The answer is YES. Having a mode of transportation is necessary to navigate the park. The ride shares or public transportation are not available in the area. Please do not take a ride share or taxi there, they will not be able to pick you up. So yes, you need a rental car or your own car to visit.

6. Is there Cell Service?

Most everything I read says no cell service. We have T-Mobile and had service in many places throughout the park. I would plan for no service as it can be spotty and all service plans vary.

7. Is is Pet Friendly?

Yes, it is pet friendly. All dogs must be on a leash. We did not see any dogs on the trials. It can be muddy and rocky and I am happy we opted to keep our small dog at home.

8. National Park Pass

Don’t forget to bring your National Park Pass. With your pass you can get into the Visitor Center for 1/2 off the entry price. It will also get you in to El Morro Fort and San Cristóbal Castle for free in Old San Juan.

Getting To El Yunque Rainforest

El Yunque is located about 45 minute drive from Old San Juan area. The drive is clearly marked on the highway and to the entry of the park. We routed to the El Yunque National Forest El Portal Visitor Center. You do not need a reservation ticket to enter the visitor center, it is open to everyone.

El Portal de El Yunque Visitors Center

How to visit El Yunque National Forest
El Portal de El Yunque Visitors Center

The visitor center is worth a stop, ideally before the rainforest, however with the first come first served set up, you may want to wait until after if you are getting an early start.

The visitor center reopened in January 2022 after being closed from structural damage caused from hurricane Irma and Maria in 2017.

At the visitors center you can get park information to confirm what trails are open. Also visit the gift shop, grab a bite at the cafe, walk the exhibits and watch a 20 minute movie. There is also a short loop nature trail and the opportunity to see the endangered Puerto Rican parrot.

How to visit El Yunque National Forest
Informational exhibits at the visitors center

The visitor center is open from 9AM to 5PM. And don’t forget to bring your National Park Pass for 1/2 off entry in to the visitor center or the fees are $8.00 per adult and free for children 15 and under.

How to visit El Yunque National Forest

After the visitor center you drive up the main road into the national forest. The forest offers a variety of hiking trials ranging from short walks to many miles, waterfalls while driving or hiking, swimming/wading holes, lush landscape, gorgeous views, old towers to explore and rocks to climb.

Some areas and trails at still closed due the damage from hurricane Maria, so make sure to check the app to see what is open. They will check for your reservation at the entry checkpoint and then you are set and ready to explore!

La Coca Falls

La Coca Waterfall located near the entrance of El Yunque Forest

When you drive into the park, the first waterfall you see is La Coca Falls located on the right side of the road. It is a beautiful waterfall, with water cascading down 85 feet onto a huge rock formation. This is a great place for a photo. Parking is located just beyond the falls on the left hand side on the road.

Juan Diego Creek

From La Coca Falls, Juan Diego Creek is a short drive down the road to the parking lot. Park and then take the trailhead leading to Juan Diego Falls. The trial runs along the creek and is short but uphill with lots of steps. It is worth the small hike to see the beautiful waterfall and wading pool. This is a great area to rest and relax with the sound of running water, go for a swim or take photos. It can get busy in this area and the parking is limited to 30 minutes.

Mt Britton Tower and Trailhead

After visiting Juan Diego Falls you will find other trailheads, the Bano De Oro pool, which is a registered Historic Property and the Mt Britton trail. The Mt Britton Trailhead is a well marked paved path the leads up the Mt Britton Tower. Just follow the path and when the trail ends just continue up the road until you see the Mt Britton Tower sign. After a short walk to the top of the hill you will find the tower which is open to go into and climb up the stairs. It offers great views of the forest. After viewing the tower you can decide to head back down the trail or continue up into the forest to get to the top of the El Yunque trial.

El Yunque Peak

Now on to the El Yunque Trail! Keep in mind, hiking up and back will take about 2 to 3 hours. But you can always turn around at anytime. You can reach the top by trail or by road. The road is steep and the trail is rocky and muddy. We decided to go up by road and back by trail. At the end of the road you will find the sign for El Yunque Rock. It is a steep climb up the rock to see an amazing view. If you decide to climb, just know it is a dangerous climb.

As you continue down the road you will find El Yunque Peak. It is a beautiful overlook of the forest, mountains and surrounding sea. On a clear day you can see for miles and it’s breathtaking scenery. But keep in mind the view can change fast as the cloud forest moves in and out very quickly. So just be patient if the clouds are covering the view, sit back and relax as the clouds should move through. But while you wait you an explore the tower and walk up to the top deck.

Natural Water Slides

There are natural water slides in El Yunque National Forest, although they are not located inside the park entrance. Las Paylas is a popular natural water slide located in Luquillo.

Where To Go After Exploring El Yunque National Forest

After your visit to El Yunque you can visit Liquillo Kiosks. This spot located near the beach is popular spot for tourists and locals to enjoy food and souvenir shopping.

Another fun place to visit, and the one I prefer is Palmer. There are both food options and local artists shops. We love the rooftop restaurant, Bungalu in this area.

A Visit to El Yunque Rainforest

No matter what you decide to do, either a self guided tour or a guided tour, you will have a great time exploring the only tropical rainforest in Puerto Rico and the United States. So, I hope this guide on how to visit El Yunque National Forest was helpful. Just remember to be safe, go prepared and do not exceed your physical limitations. Enjoy the views and the experience!

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One Comment

  1. Hi Marissa,
    Thanks for the question. Mostly, I think it depends on your comfort level on being in the rainforest alone. That being said, the trails we went on were all very well marked and a decent amount of people were also on the trails. The most popular waterfall La Mina was closed when we were there, and believe it is still closed. So we saw La Coca Falls, which you can see from your car, and Juan Diego, a very popular location and only a short walk to get to the first falls, which is what we saw. Just don’t forget to purchase your entry ticket, or you will not be able to get in.

    I hope this helps! Enjoy! It is so beautiful there.
    Safe travels, Kim

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