The El Yunque Rainforest is the only tropical rainforest on US lands, and being there was like being in another world. Coqui frogs were the most vocal animals that we heard (males are the only ones that call and they are even more active at night.) The tree snails’ shells were the size of our palms. We were most struck by how deeply we were able to breath as we hiked the trails, despite the altitude in the mountains. I’ve never been somewhere so epically green, with spots of tree flowers and colorful bromeliads growing up the trees.
We were surprised to find a cooked to order restaurant in the Park with Puerto Rican fare. We shared quesadillas and empanadas, then searched for tree snails in the surrounding foliage. El Yunque is a National Forest, so they offer the Junior Ranger Program self-guided through the App. During lunch, we answered quiz questions that provided great information, and it was interactive to engage with kids.
We started our rainforest adventure on the Angelito Trail. To get there, we turned left at the entrance to the park on Road 988, an extremely winding and narrow road. There was limited parking along the road, so we were thankful that we arrived before 10am. The ½ mile easy hike leads to a swimming area in the Mameyes River. What was going to be a quick hike to see the water turned into a two-hour swimming excursion. The cool water was clear up to our knees, and then dropped off to a depth well above our heads quickly. The large rocks surrounding the swimming area created shallow pools where we found fish, including an eel, swimming.
Timed Park passes were required to travel north of Coca Falls (a waterfall that is directly on the road; no hiking required). From there we followed the road north to stop at the Yokahú Tower. Just north of the Tower is La Mina Trail trail. A short, rocky hike led us by a series of pools and small falls, to the the 35-foot falls at the top. We found lots of people swimming in the falls, but opted not to go through the trouble of getting soaked when the time limit for the falls trail was 30 minutes. (No one was actually enforcing it, but I’m a rule follower.)
Mount Britton Trail
Mount Britton trailhead is the last stop on Route 191. The path is paved, but narrow, and we had to take turns stepping off the trail to pass other hikers. Alice had a toe injury, so she only tackled ½ of the .8 mile trail, and Alex and I took turns to reach the Observation Tower. The trail is listed as difficult, and there are a few spots that ran close to a steep drop-off, but even with the toe injury Alice (and many younger children that we saw) were able to hike it. Going alone, I was able to reach the top in ½ hour. At the top of the tower I found a complete cloud cover with no view of the valleys below. After waiting 15 minutes the clouds cleared briefly and I had a panoramic view of the rainforest, with the ocean to the north.
For the 1 ½ hours our family spent on the Mount Britton trail, it rained for ½ hour. It is common for the cloud cover to not lift for extended periods of time. My poncho worked perfectly for carrying ease and coverage during one downpour. If we were more adventurous, we would have continued another hour up-hill to El Yunque Peak.
Of all the tropical flowers we saw in El Yunque, I was most excited about a small orchid on the Mount Britton trail (the first naturally growing tropical orchid that I’ve ever seen).