Hands down, the highlight of our trip to Puerto Rico was our tour of El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the US national forest system. When I’d first thought of going down to PR, seeing the rain forest was high on my To Do list, but I sort of just assumed I’d do it like I’ve done other national parks. Drive in, check out a visitor’s center, and maybe do a hike somewhere or something. Once we had ditched the “rent a car” idea, driving anywhere was out of the question. (Well, I suppose we could have taken an Uber, but I didn’t want to.)
Thankfully, there are a number of tour companies in the San Juan area that will pick you up from your hotel in the city and drive you out to wherever it is they’re going. We settled on Island Journeys, and we were very happy with them. They swung by our hotel at 9:30am to pick us up in what was basically a mini-bus. There were about 20 other people on the bus, so I was very glad I was vaccinated. (They asked people to keep their masks on for the whole ride. The way there, that wasn’t a problem. The way back . . . people became much more lax with their masks. That was something I saw a lot of on the trip. Once wearing a mask became less than comfortable, people became much less likely to wear one. Surprise surprise.)
We first stopped at a small fruit stand about a half hour outside San Juan. There, our guides bought some fruit for later, and Denisa and I each bought a fruit smoothie. It was basically fruit and ice and nothing else. I had pineapple, and Denisa had mango. They were delicious.
I followed along on Google Maps to see where exactly we were going. El Yunque is a large forest, after all. We ended up not going to the north entrance as I had sort of assumed we would. Instead, we drove around to the southeast corner, where the bus took back roads and ended up going into someone’s private property that adjoined with the rain forest. Seems like the owner has a deal worked out with tour groups to let them park there and hike in. We probably saw 4-5 other 20 person groups through the course of our tour. (Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of tour groups. Especially not in nature. But for this, where we were doing something totally foreign to me, I ended up not minding so much.)
They had told us going into things not to wear sandals. I had to choose between either wearing my sneakers or ignoring their advice and wearing my Columbia sandals. Since they also said we would be getting totally wet, I ended up going with the sandals, since the thought of having drenched sneakers for the rest of the trip was less than appealing. In hindsight, I 100% made the right decision. The path wasn’t just wet. It was muddy. Soooo muddy. My sneakers would have been ruined by the end of the hike. True, there were rocks and roots and whatnot, but nothing my sandals couldn’t handle. Flip flops would have been a big mistake, but athletic sandals were totally fine.
Heading into the hike, we’d read warnings from the guide group that it would be very strenuous, and that we had to be in excellent physical condition. I’m not completely out of shape, but “excellent physical condition” seemed like it might be a stretch for me. I needn’t have worried. The hike itself was slippery in spots, and steep in spots, but I never was out of breath, I don’t know how far we hiked. A mile or two at most would be my guess, round trip. I had gone expecting tons of bugs, but I actually didn’t see a bug the whole time. Apparently the area we were in gets frequent flash floods, and those floods complete wipe out any mosquito population before they can get a toehold.
We hiked into an area with a small river running down the middle of a gorge. Huge tropical plants and jungle walls on both sides. Multiple waterfalls and cliffs. It looked just like you’d imagine it. (I don’t have any pictures yet. The company took some, but I haven’t gotten them, and I didn’t bring my phone, because they weren’t kidding when you said you’d get completely wet.) We went down two different natural water slides, and we jumped off a 10-15 foot cliff. (There was a 30 foot cliff we decided not to jump off from. Because I’m a chicken, I guess. Some people jumped off it three times. They seemed to be having fun.)
They served us the fruit they’d bought in the morning, and it was fantastic. The weather was breezy (something it seemed like was a perpetual state in PR. The temperatures were in the high 80s, and it was tropical, but with the constant wind, it really didn’t matter.) Just a great expedition from start to finish.
Would I do it again? I’m not sure, now that I’ve done it once. I would want to check into other places in the rain forest to see if I might go check out some other parts of it. That said, if it’s your first time, I would 100% recommend it. And who knows? After doing research, I might decide a repeat trip is just the ticket. It really was a wonderful time.
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