El Yunque Caribbean National Forest
It is commonly called El Yunque rain forest, but the official name of this spectacular natural preserve is the Caribbean National Forest. The name El Yunque technically refers to the forest’s second-highest peak (3,469 feet), and it’s also the name of the forest’s recreational area. But regardless of its moniker, it is without a doubt Puerto Rico’s crowning jewel of natural treasures.
The only tropical forest in the U.S. National Forest System—not to mention the smallest and most ecologically diverse—the Caribbean National Forest is a must-see for visitors to Puerto Rico. Nearly half of the 28,000-acre area contains some of the only virgin forest remaining on the island, which was completely covered in forest when Columbus arrived in 1493. It also contains one of the world’s most accessible rain forests.
El Yunque is about 35 minutes east of San Juan off Carretera 3. Go south on Carretera 191 and it will take you into the forest and to El Portal Tropical Forest Center.
Getting to El Yunque Caribbean National Forest
The main thoroughfare through El Yunque is Carretera 191, which once completely bisected the forest from north to south, but recurrent landslides convinced engineers that the soil was too unstable to sustain a roadway at the forest’s highest peaks. The forest is still accessible from the north and south on Carretera 191, but its midsection has been permanently closed.
Most visitors to El Yunque drive in from the north end of Carretera 191 because it passes through the El Yunque Recreation Area. But there are efforts under way to close the north end of Carretera 191 and replace car traffic in the forest with a public transportation system to reduce the damaging effects of auto emissions.
© Suzanne Van Atten from Moon Puerto Rico, 2nd Edition