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Explore the Only Tropical Rainforest on US Soil

BY: Zac Thompson | Apr 2, 2015
Explore the Only Tropical Rainforest on US Soil

If you’re a US citizen, you’ll need a passport to visit every tropical rainforest in the world but one: El Yunque National Forest in eastern Puerto Rico. In addition to being the only site of its kind operated by the US Forest Service, the cool, leafy Caribbean paradise is one of the most popular attractions on the island. The primary draws are a number of hidden-gem waterfalls and the mist-enshrouded mountains of the Sierra de Luquillo.

The jungle is relatively small, so many of the best spots are easily accessible from the main road. These include the 85-foot La Coca Falls and the Yokahu Observation Tower, which offers a spectacular 360-degree view of the jungle, the mountains, and the ocean from the top. For a fun (though somewhat challenging) hike, take the roughly 1.5-mile trail that leads to La Mina Falls. The 40-foot cascade empties into a pool where you can take a refreshing dip.

Why it’s worth the trip: El Yunque is your only option for visiting a tropical rainforest on US soil. Plus, it’s highly photogenic.

Where to stay: The beach resorts of San Juan are only about an hour’s drive northwest.

How to get here: If you don’t have a rental car, many privately operated adventure tour companies will pick you up from your resort for a half-day visit. Though many of the forest’s attractions are easy to find on your own, guided sightseeing tours can show you secluded hiking trails, hidden waterfalls, and natural water slides.

Best time to go: El Yunque National Forest stays open year-round and temperatures don’t really vary, but be warned: the most popular trails (the one leading to La Mina Falls, for instance) can get crowded during the summer, especially on the weekend.

Know before you go: You won’t see any big animals here. But El Yunque is home to a couple species indigenous to the island, including the endangered Puerto Rican parrot and the beloved coquí, a tree frog named for its distinctive call (“co-KEE, co-KEE”), heard especially at night.

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