Hiking in El Yunque Rainforest is the perfect day trip for adventurous travellers. It’s the only ecosystem of it’s kind in the United States National Parks system, and easy to get to from all over Puerto Rico. The rainforest home to hundreds of different species, and full of beautiful trails, waterfalls, and scenic views.
My trip to go hiking in El Yunque Rainforest was one of the highlights of my time in Puerto Rico. I love experiencing new ecosystems, and there’s nothing like relaxing by a waterfall! Since it’s a one-of-a-kind place, it’s best to visit with a little bit of planning and knowledge about what to expect.
Hiking in El Yunque Rainforest!
Getting to El Yunque Rainforest
If you have the option, then I highly recommend renting a car – even if it’s just for a day trip to go hiking in El Yunque Rainforest. The drive from San Juan is about 45 minutes. It’s worth finding a way to go on your own because the tour groups lead to it being fairly loud and crowded at the waterfalls.
Visiting El Yunque rainforest was a somewhat spontaneous decision for us. It was too late to book a day tour, so we took an Uber. *Update: It was brought to my attention that Uber drivers are technically not permitted in El Yunque Rainforest. Uber is a great way to get around elsewhere in Puerto Rico, and it’s very cheap in the city of San Juan.
Uber was a great (though yes, expensive) way to get to El Yunque as we didn’t have a car rental. The Uber app does not work in the rainforest, so make arrangements with your driver to pick you up later. This method of transport is up to the driver’s discretion and may not be available when you visit.*
Have El Yunque Rainforest Waterfalls to Yourself
The rainforest is fairly crowded in some areas, but it’s also massive and well marked. Many tour groups require their participants to stay in designated locations, and I recommend walking right past those areas! Print out a map before you go, or pick one up at the visitor’s centre.
La Mina Fall
This is the most popular waterfall and the one that tour groups go to, the trail keeps going and it’s easy to access lower levels of the waterfall that are secluded and quiet. Climb down a few rocks and follow the trail further, and you’ll have a waterfall to yourself. Head here first thing, to hopefully beat the crowds.
Juan Diego Falls
Juan Diego Falls aren’t part of most tours hiking in El Yunque rainforest tours, and are therefore a lot quieter! You can have this waterfall essentially to yourself. It’s just off the road at 9.8 km in to the park, so you’re actually back tracking from La Mina to Juan Diego. Don’t stop at the end of the trail – go a little bit further and there’s a massive waterfall! It’s a little muddy, but worth it. Just be careful and watch your step.
Experience Rainforest Wildlife Away From Large Groups
Many people will visit the rainforest and not see any wildlife. Tour groups power through the rainforest at alarming speeds, talking loudly. One group even had music playing. It’s too bad, because hiking in El Yunque Rainforest is actually a great opportunity to see wildlife.
If you want to see wildlife, go slow and stay quiet. Hold back and let large groups pass you. Remember that you’re walking through someone else’s home, and do your best to be respectful.
I saw two hummingbirds on my hike, and dozens of other birds. You just have to move slowly, stay quiet, and watch for movement.
It Rains El Yunque Rainforest – a lot
Rain in the rainforest is it’s own category of weather. Raindrops pool on the leaves above you, and double in size before spilling over the edge. On our hike back, we got completely drenched. The rain still hadn’t let up when we left over an hour later.
It rains of average of 4 times a day in El Yunque, so be ready to get wet. Anything that needs to stay dry must be in a waterproof bag. If you’re bringing any electronics, make sure you have a waterproof case or bag for them. It’s also a good idea to bring a change of clothes (or at least a t-shirt) because while most of Puerto Rico is warm it can get a little chilly hiking in El Yunque Rainforest, especially if you’re soaked!
Wear Good Footwear
The trails in El Yunque are more like walking paths than hiking trails, so you won’t be out of breath, but you will need sneakers. Hiking in El Yunque Rainforest is definitely not difficult, provided that you have the right footwear. The trails are laid out with stone tiles that become very slick when it rains. Like I said it rains often, so you will probably be making on wet stones at some point.
Wear close toed shoes with a little bit of grip. People wearing flip-flops and sandals were struggling on the trails when the rain came down.
Respect the Rainforest
The earth fell away on one side of the trail, and I stopped to look down in to the array of plants in search of wildlife. My eyes were drawn to something bright and red, only to discover that it was a candy bar wrapper.
This part of the day broke my heart. There were wrappers, empty drink cups, and bottles along the trail, too far out of reach to have been forgotten there by accident. This is absolutely not okay, so if you’re bring snacks please tuck the wrappers back in your bag. This isn’t so much a tip to know as just, a general reminder. The rainforest is free and open to any number of visitors each day, but it won’t stay that way if we don’t protect it.
We must respect this beautiful ecosystem if we want to keep enjoying it! Have fun hiking in El Yunque Rainforest!