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El Yunque Rainforest, Puerto Rico

El Yunque Rainforest, Puerto Rico | CosmosMariners.com

After our eventful trip to the Bacardi factory and a relaxing day out on the water, my family and I decided that we needed to get our rears in gear and actually take in some of the history and culture that Puerto Rico had to offer. 

I'm one of those strange types of travelers who doesn't feel like I've experienced a place until I've gotten out and talked to the people there, walked on the streets, and poked around in at least a few major (and lots of minor!) attractions. Thankfully, my travel buddies on this trip (my parents and my sister) were of the same mind, so we headed out to Puerto Rico's El Yunque rainforest. 

Located about half an hour from our hotel on Condado Beach (just outside of Old San Juan), the rainforest is actually located inside the larger El Yunque National Forest. 

And, fun fact o' the day: it's only one of two rainforests on U.S. soil. The other, as inquiring minds may like to know, is in Alaska of all places. The Tongass rainforest there is a temperate one. Not all rainforests have to be in tropical places, as it as more to do with their precipitation rate and structural composition. 

I know. My mind was blown when I learned that, too. 

So, back to the PR rainforest. We'd booked a tour through the concierge at the Caribe Hilton, so the tour van picked us up at the hotel and took us into the forest. As we were approaching the edge of El Yunque, we began to see more densely packed tropical plants and trees. Then, just as we entered the forest, we saw this beautiful little waterfall on the side of the road:

El Yunque Rainforest, Puerto Rico | CosmosMariners.com
At La Coca Falls
La Coca Falls are open to anyone driving by, so we all hopped out for a quick picture. There were plenty of kids splashing in the falls, but, since we were hiking later that day, we decided to skip the possibility of getting squishy shoes. 
We came down 191 past La Coca Falls, stopped at the Visitors' Center, and then headed into the forest via the El Yunque Trail.
We headed further into the forest to the visitors' center, where our tour guide went in to get tickets for us while we browsed the literature available to learn more about the forest. 

El Yunque Rainforest, Puerto Rico | CosmosMariners.com

And then, into the forest we headed! As we walked along, our guide explained to us that the Puerto Rican frog, the coqui, makes its home within the forest. We saw several of them on the plants while walking, and they were so tiny. I also inquired as to the presence of snakes in El Yunque (because when you're in a hate war with an entire species, you don't let your guard down for a second!) and was told that while there are snakes in the rainforest, they're all non-poisonous.

At least, I know that, if a snake fell out of a tree and landed on me there, I'd die from heart failure rather than poisoning. You know, it's the small things in life sometimes that make me happy.

We hiked along the El Yunque trail (the least creatively named of the trails in the forest) until we arrived at the Las Picachos trail and headed to the tower at the end of that trail. There were so many stairs to the top (but, thankfully, I've had practice climbing the lighthouse stairs on the islands back home), and the views from the top were completely worth the huffing and puffing.
El Yunque Rainforest, Puerto Rico | CosmosMariners.com
My sister at the top of the Los Picachos Tower. Since I'm always the one with a camera in my hands, I don't get too many pictures of myself!
El Yunque Rainforest, Puerto Rico | CosmosMariners.com

The excursion to El Yunque from San Juan took us about half a day, but, in my opinion, it was a half day well spent. You can walk any of the trails there for free if you'd like to go self-guided, though there's also a $5 per person forest ranger-led tour once a week. I'd recommended stopping at the Visitors' Center ($4 to enter) to learn more about the species you'll see and the history of the park.  

While the trails do vary in intensity, the path that we took was pretty easy and gently sloped up to the tower. Highly recommended if you're visiting the east coast of Puerto Rico!

When you travel, do you include nature walks or trails into your trips? What national forests have you visited?