When we planned our trip to Puerto Rico, El Yunque National Forest was high on our list of things to do, but with Tropical Storm Isaac on the horizon, we weren’t sure we were going to be able to see it.
When we were buying our rain ponchos in the gift shop at San Cristóbal on Tuesday, we asked the park ranger about El Yunque. She told us we should call first because it might be closed due to the weather. She explained that heavy rainfalls make the hiking trails and some of the water features of the forest treacherous.
We got up early on Wednesday. Our resort concierge called El Yunque and told us the park was open, so we headed out for a roughly 2-hour drive. When we got to the park entrance at about 10:30, the forest ranger told us the park would be closing at 12:00 due to the weather. We were disappointed as we had hoped to spend several hours there. We decided to by-pass the visitor’s center and head straight into the rainforest with what little time we had.
El Yunque is the only tropical forest in the U.S. National Forest Service system. (Frommers, Puerto Rico, 2010)
There are several hiking trails of 2 to 4 hours duration inside the park, and you can plan overnight tours in the forest. (Frommers) We had been told by the young family we met on our first visit to Old San Juan, that there is a waterfalls on the 2-hour La Mina & Big Tree Trail where their children were able to go behind it, and a natural pool where you can swim.
With our time constraints all hiking was out of the question. Non-hikers can drive through the forest on Rte. 191. We saw as much as we could by driving and stopping occasionally at overlooks.
“El Yunque is home to 240 species of tropical trees, flowers, and wildlife. More than 20 kinds of orchids and 50 varieties of ferns share this diverse habitat with millions of tiny tree frogs.” (Frommers) We saw two of these little frogs at our resort.
At one of our stops in El Yunque, Mark spotted this bright little guy.
This one is similar to the ones we were startled by on a regular basis at our resort when they darted across the walk in front of us.
Like this one that was eying my lunch on our first day at the Hyatt.
According to Frommers, the Puerto Rican boa, which grows to 7 feet lives in the rainforest. I’m glad we didn’t know that in advance, or even during, our trip through El Yunque.
The biggest animal we saw crossed the street in front of us as we drove from Bacardi to the ferry for Old San Juan on Monday. It looked like a huge lizard, or even a small dinosaur. Mark thought it was about 5-6 feet long.
It looked like this, and was probably an iguana. One blogger I read after returning from Puerto Rico reported that a rather large iguana used to rest on a limb of a tree outside of their vacation accommodations. I’m also glad I didn’t know that before we went.
The trails were tempting as they led off into the rainforest.
But we couldn’t stay. We didn’t want to get stuck in the rainforest when Isaac came to call.
We drove back down to the visitor center on our way out and used our last 15 minutes before the gate closed enjoying their landscaping.
The welcome center is an open-air structure like the one we visited at Bacardi. I guess in tropical climates as long as you have a roof over your head you don’t necessarily need walls.
The fruit that grows on this breadfruit tree is a good source of carbohydrates and vitamins and tastes much like a potato. Bananas, passion fruit, nuts, cinnamon, ginger, and all spice come from the rain forests, as do the medicines cortisone and quinine. (Park signage)
The landscaping around the visitor’s center was filled with interesting and colorful plants.
So I’m glad we took our opportunity for a quick visit.
When we were planning our trip to Puerto Rico, I had purchased A Guide to the Birds of Puerto Rico. I was really hoping to see colorful exotic birds on the trip and thought that our best chance was at the rain forest. Unfortunately, I could hear interesting birds, but with all the leaves I wasn’t able to get a good look.
This is a highly enlarged, cropped, and over-lightened shot I took into the foliage to try to capture the bird I was hearing and glimpsing. I believe it is a Puerto Rican Tody. I saw a few at one of our stops along the road. They are small little roundish birds that flit from limb to limb.
More on the birds of Puerto Rica next time.
See more posts about Puerto Rico.