Puerto Rico was one of the places that I’d never even dreamed I’d visit. It simply wasn’t on my radar as a place to go. When I was in the US for a few weeks with friends, we decided to skip out on a white Christmas and head to somewhere sunnier for the week. Puerto Rico just happened by chance as the flights and accommodation were a reasonable find through Expedia.
We stayed near Fajardo, which is under two hour’s drive from the capital San Juan. As we’d chosen the resort based on a great online deal, we went about investigating what was nearby. The attraction we were most excited about was Flamenco Beach on the small island of Culebra, but after visiting the El Yunque National Forest I realised how undersold this place actually is!
El Yunque is a protected forest area that spans 28 000 acres. As Puerto Rico falls under the territory of the United States (in some complicated fashion which basically means you don’t need an additional visa as a South African – bonus!), the forest is under the care of the United States National Forest System. It’s the only tropical rainforest in this system and is open to the public to explore.
This beautiful jungle has a snaking path that leads up into the mountains. Along this road are a few stops at view points, waterfalls, strange but entertaining curio stores and restaurants, walking trails and my favourite, the Yokahu Tower.
While we had anticipated to spend one or two hours here, It ended up being closer to four hours. We stopped at every point and got out of the car for pics, went up the Yokahu and even did a short walking trail that led to a waterfall and natural swimming pool filled with tourists. It was pretty busy and we had to be patient looking for parking at each stop, but it was such a beautiful forest with all sorts of fun unexpected points of interest that it didn’t matter too much.
At the start of the park, there is an informative visitor’s centre that talks to the ecology of the forest as well as the small animals, reptiles and birds that can be spotted here. There’s also a small canteen, although they didn’t have much in terms of snacks of drinks, everything had been sold out because of the rush of people that day.
El Yunque was one of the travel gems that I’d love to visit again to get more photographs and spend more time walking through rather than driving. It’s well looked after with excellent facilities and is easy enough to find. It’s also one of the fun stops we had in this beautiful country that I would suggest should you happen to be there.