Lush, tranquil and picturesque. In my opinion, these three words describe the tropical rainforest of El Yunque National Forest. During a recent vacation in Puerto Rico, I visited this serene place, and I am grateful for the experience. My family reserved a private tour that walked us through the El Portal Rainforest Center, La Coca Falls, Yokahu observation tower and La Mina Trail to La Mina Falls. All four family members enjoyed this serene green experience.
The first destination in the National Forest was a stop at El Portal Rainforest Center. I enjoyed visiting the center and value the information I gained. Four distinct forest types reside within El Yunque, which rise from 300 to 3000 feet above sea level. The temperature, precipitation, soil and vegetation, change at each level. We watched a twenty-minute video in the center, which introduced the forest history, conservation efforts, as well as endangered wildlife such as the Puerto Rican Parrot. The displays, while some might not visualize as important, reminded me that we humans depend on the tropical rainforest for important medicinal ingredients, and many other personal products as well, so caring for this rich resource is important.
La Coca Falls
After the center, we stopped to view La Coca Falls. From the top of the rock cliff edge, the water drops 85 feet (26 meters) onto a huge rock formation. I loved listening to the cascading sound as water flowed over and down the sheer edge. With the suggestion of our tour guide, my daughter and her boyfriend climbed over the guardrail and maneuvered atop larger rocks, to get closer to the falling water for a scenic picture. I would not have had the courage to go that close, but the view and humid breadth must have been spectacular, when standing beside the plummeting water.
We ventured higher up the mountain to a lookout point at Yokahu Tower. I climbed 96 circular spiral stairs to the top, while stopping to gaze out several rectangular windows. I usually do not welcome heights, but the observation deck provided a stunning view of El Yunque National Forest that was breathtakingly beautiful. I stood in awe looking down a sweeping vista to land and the Atlantic Ocean on one side. The view was––truly beautiful. I also enjoyed the higher mountainous scenery, as the treetops were mysteriously shrouded in mist. I simply had to take a minute to just breathe. Breathe, as I gazed at a tropical green carpet that magically stretched upwards. I could not completely capture the essence with my camera. I would love to go back and see this view again!
La Mina Trail to La Mina Waterfall
Our tour guide then drove us to La Mina Trail, where we hiked downward along La Mina River. We followed a winding rocky path full of vegetation for about forty-five minutes until we reached La Mina Falls. I really enjoyed this walk. However, I was glad I purchased shoes with a good tread, because a slip on this rain soaked path is a possibility if you are not careful. The pathway along the trail is not very wide, and the continuous journey downward along stairs and different concrete rock-ways required careful footsteps. Good health is also required, because you need to be to be fit to walk in and out of La Mina trail. The trail was not busy the day we ventured to the falls, which I was grateful for, as we often had to step aside to let others pass us, who were on their way back to the road.
Oh, but walking within this tropical forest was beautiful. A picturesque serene emerald green world where water droplets slipped from moss covered trees, air plants held fast to their host, and tiny wildlife waited to be discovered. Green, everywhere my eye travelled. I loved finding snails seemingly stuck to trees, or Lizards hiding among the leaves beside the trail. The occasional red flower or El Bejuco Colorado red vine, was simply stunning.
Our tour guide found us enraptured within this tropical world, almost lost within the beauty as we attempted to capture each precious moment with our cameras. We hurried ahead to La Mina Falls and dipped our feet in the cooler water. My daughter’s boyfriend swam beneath the rushing current of water that fell onto his back. A refreshing stop for one, but this girl found the cold water that greeted her feet an acceptable refresher and I did not swim beneath the falls.
We walked away from La Mina Falls, following the Big Tree Trail. This required a bit more stamina as we walked upward, through more green foliage where the light slipped away to a shadier vista. As we climbed higher and higher, the forest changed, and became woodier. As we strolled along, we wondered when we would finally reach the top. Our muscles complained from the rise, but we enjoyed the sounds of birds that sang. At times you just had to stop, close your eyes, and listen. The sound of tiny Coqui tree frogs, no bigger than an inch and hidden from our sight, sang “co-kee, co-kee,” their throaty calls sounding more like birds than frogs. Amazing that tiny indigenous creature’s can make such a joyful noise.
Once we were safely back in the van, we journeyed onwards to Bio Bay for a night exploration. A luminescent experience, which I will share later in the week! But if you ever have the opportunity to visit Puerto Rico, you must journey to El Yunque National Forest. You don’t need a tour guide to visit, only transportation to get yourself there. Without a tour guide, I probably would have taken a picnic hamper, and enjoyed a glass of wine in a picnic enclosure along La Mina Trail. However, having had a tour operator, meant less walking, as we were picked up once we reached the end!