While many visit Puerto Rico for the beautiful beaches, there are plenty of amazing things to experience inland as well. We definitely recommend adding El Yunque National Forest to your itinerary to explore the lush rainforest landscape, take in sweeping views that stretch to the coast, spot some of the island’s unique wildlife, and experience some great swimming holes and waterfalls. Here we’ll go over tips for visiting the rainforest and a great itinerary for an El Yunque day trip.
Getting To El Yunque National Forest
El Yunque National Forest sits on the east side of Puerto Rico just south of Luquillo. There are a handful of access points around the national forest, but the most commonly visited area is reached via PR-191 where much of the forest’s main highlights are. PR-191 runs off Highway 3 that connects Luquillo and San Juan. This makes it easy to access from either city. Scenic Route 186 sits to the west of PR-191 and can also be reached from Highway 3.
Renting a car is an ideal option that allows for the most flexibility for an El Yunque day trip. But if you don’t have your own transportation, booking a tour is an alternative option that will allow you to hit multiple park highlights.
Taxis and rideshares are not permitted past the El Portal Visitor’s Center without special permits, so a tour is your best bet if you don’t plan to rent a car. Tours are available from both San Juan, Luquillo, and some other surrounding towns. If you want to stay near the rainforest, there are some lodging/hacienda options nearby that will also provide excursions into the park.
Driving in El Yunque National Forest
Roads in El Yunque are subject to closures during hazardous weather that can cause landslides and flooding. Always check the El Yunque National Forest website for updates and closures before your visit.
Most of the roads we encountered were paved, but they are quite narrow and windy in places. So, use a little extra caution when driving through the forest, pulling out of parking areas along the way, and crossing streets on foot. Some of the parking areas for the forest attractions are very small and may only consist of parallel spots off the side of the road. On busy days, lots frequently fill up, so you may have to circle back and wait for one to open up or come back later.
Obey the parking signs to avoid getting a ticket. Note that some areas, like Juan Diego Falls, have a 30-minute parking limit.
Most of the parking areas/attractions are well-marked along PR-191. But service may be spotty in El Yunque, so we recommend downloading Google Maps for the area and save the spots you want to visit before heading into the forest.
Hours & Fees
The gates along PR-191 near the El Portal Visitor’s Center are opened sometime between 7:30 and 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. The entrance gate closes at 3 p.m. However, some areas, such as the stretch of road near Angelito, sit outside this gated area and are accessible outside of this timeframe.
A reservation system has been put in place to reduce crowding along the PR-191 route. Make your reservation up to one month in advance on Recreation.gov. If you’d like to wait until closer to your excursion, there are some spots that are released at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. to book within 24 hours of visits. You cannot obtain a reservation ticket upon arrival at the park.
The reservation is listed as free, but Recreation.gov charges a USD$2 fee per transaction. You can make a reservation for up to two cars at a time. Bring your printed or e-ticket along with your ID when arriving at the park.
If you want to visit the El Portal Visitor’s Center interpretive trail, theater, or other exhibits, it costs $8 USD per adult. Learn more here. Bring extra payment methods if you want to experience these attractions or purchase food/drink in the national forest.
Facilities in the national forest are limited, so it is important to come prepared for your El Yunque day trip. You can purchase some food and fill your water bottle at the El Portal Visitor’s Center and find a couple food establishments, like the Rainforest Café, along the road, but there aren’t many options. So, bring plenty of water and snacks or a picnic to sustain you during your adventure.
You can find restrooms at the visitor’s center and some of the parking areas along PR-191, including near Baño Grande. There were some at Yokahú Tower too, but they were closed when we visited.
Our El Yunque Day Trip Itinerary
We left our place in Luquillo early to arrive at El Yunque as soon as the gate opened with the goal of beating some crowds. As we wound up into the forest, we were glad to find that there weren’t any other cars when we pulled up to our first stop.
La Coca Falls
We came across La Coca Falls not long after we passed through the entrance gate. Water spills down the dark rock with lush foliage surrounding the cascade. The waterfall is visible from the road, and a small parking area sits nearby if you want to stop to get a better look at the falls. There is a bridge with a sidewalk for viewers wanting to get a good view. There is also a rocky and slippery way closer to the base of the falls.
We had been enjoying La Coca for only several minutes before a car pulled up. The woman who had arrived with her family said she had been living in Puerto Rico for most of her life and said that she had never visited this stop with only one other car before. We had figured the cloudy skies and drizzle had kept some people away, but I guess we were just lucky to visit on a quiet day!
Juan Diego Falls
Our next stop was Juan Diego Falls. This 0.13-mile (0.21-kilometer) easy trail leads through the rainforest to a pretty waterfall with a little swimming spot at its base. It was still early when we arrived at the falls and the air was misty, so the water felt pretty chilly! There is also a steeper and more challenging route to reach some upper falls if desired.
Learn more about visiting Juan Diego Falls here.
When we visited El Yunque, the La Mina area was sadly closed due to damage caused by Hurricane Maria. We would have loved to do more hiking here and visit the famous La Mina Falls. Check the forest website for updates on the repairs.
Since this is one of the more popular attractions in El Yunque, we likely would have visited there first or right after the quick stops at Juan Diego Falls and La Coca Falls.
The Mt. Britton Tower was one of the stops we were most excited for. Visitors can climb up into an old tower atop a hill surrounded by palms. On a sunny, clear day, you can see all the way to the coast with the rainforest stretching out below. When we visited, we were surrounded by clouds, but we still really enjoyed the misty hike through the lush rainforest. We had the tower to ourselves that morning too!
The trail is 1.6 miles (2.6 kilometers) round trip and it’s a bit steep in spots. But we think the extra effort is worth it because the trail and views are great! Learn more about visiting the Mt. Britton Tower here.
Baño Grande is a manmade pool built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. It was closed to swimmers in the late 1960s. Today, visitors can walk the short, scenic path around the historic stone pool. It is quite picturesque with a bridge and lush rainforest surrounding the stone walkway and calm water.
This is also a quick stop as the path sits just across the street from the parking area. It takes only several minutes to walk around the pool.
If you don’t want to make the hike to the Mt. Britton Tower, the Yokahú Tower is a good alternative for those seeking vast views over El Yunque. We had time to do both and were glad that the clouds had cleared by the time we made it to the Yokahú Tower. The views were beautiful with dense lush jungle surrounding the tower and the blue Caribbean water visible far below.
The tower sits right off PR-191, so you can park and make the short climb to the top of the structure. With pandemic protocols in place, the rangers may limit the number of visitors allowed in the tower at one time. This is a popular roadside spot, so there may be a wait to access the viewing platform.
We ended our El Yunque excursion at the beautiful Angelito trail and swimming hole. This area is outside the PR-191 reservation area. It was ideal to stop at on our way out of the forest as it was the farthest attraction from the others we visited that day.
The Angelito trail is short and easy, and the beautiful swimming spot on Río Mameyes is a lovely spot to cool off and relax after a day of hiking and exploring in the rainforest. There are large boulders to relax on and a rope swing over a calm, shallow pool. Learn more about visiting this spot in our other post.
What to Bring for an El Yunque Day Trip
ID & Reservation: You’ll be asked to present your reservation ticket and ID upon entering the forest.
Payment Method: Bring extra cash and/or card if you plan to visit the visitor’s center or buy food in the forest.
Water: There aren’t many spots to refill bottles, so bring plenty for your excursion.
Snacks/Food: This is a great place to enjoy a snack or picnic! Please pack out your trash.
Swimsuit & Towel: If you want to take a dip. There aren’t many facilities near the swimming holes, so wear your swimsuit if you don’t want to change in the rainforest.
Comfortable Shoes: We recommend wearing shoes like Tevas or Chacos that are comfortable for hiking, have good tread for the slippery rocks and sometimes muddy trails, and can be worn in the water. Alternatively, if you aren’t planning on swimming, wear comfortable sneakers you don’t mind getting wet and muddy.
Camera: If you feel like capturing the beauty of El Yunque.
Sun Protection: Many trails and areas are shaded, but bring sunglasses, a hat, and/or sunscreen.
Bug Spray: We didn’t really encounter many bugs when we visited, but this may vary depending on the weather that day and time of year.