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  • Writer's pictureMark Vogel

Towering Over Puerto Rico's Tropical Paradise, El Yunque National Forest

El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico

El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico
El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico

I was fortunate enough to immerse myself in one of Puerto Rico's most loved treasures - the El Yunque National Forest. In the heart of the island, El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest Service - a lush, biodiverse haven for nature lovers like me. I was comfortably lodged at the Royal Sonesta San Juan Hotel, located in the vibrant Isla Verde neighborhood. To my delight, the forest was a short hour's drive away, an adventure waiting to happen.

“It was a reminder of our place in the universe, how vast it is, and the responsibility we bear to protect such precious pockets of nature.”

As I set off early in the morning, I was embraced by the tropical climate. My route to El Yunque led me through charming towns with colorful buildings, past roadside fruit stalls, and rolling hills. I could see the forest from afar - an expansive, misty green canvas against the backdrop of a seemingly endless sky.

Upon arrival, I was greeted with the forest's symphony of chirping coquís - tiny indigenous frogs that provide the night's lullaby in Puerto Rico - and the distant calls of exotic birds. Everything felt vibrantly alive, like stepping into a scene from a fantasy novel.

Embarking on my trek, I was surrounded by an overwhelming array of plant species, some of which are found nowhere else on earth. Towering tree ferns lined the pathway, with large fronds creating a natural green canopy that intermittently filtered the sunlight. I noticed colorful orchids clinging to the tree barks and the beautiful silhouette of the Sierra palm trees punctuating the landscape.

Though I didn’t see the elusive Puerto Rican Parrot, one of the ten most endangered bird species in the world, it was an exhilarating thought that they were somewhere out there, hidden amongst the foliage.

One of the forest's crowning jewels is undoubtedly its waterfalls. The La Mina Falls was a sight to behold. The waterfall's chilly water cascaded over mossy rocks into a pool below, a refreshing respite from the day's warmth. The combination of the water's roar and the serene ambience made for a tranquil escape. As I plunged into the cool waters, I was filled with an exhilarating sense of freedom, fully embraced by nature’s generous gifts.

Touching the Clouds

A highlight of the day was undoubtedly my ascent up the Yokahú Tower. The stone tower, standing at 1,575 feet above sea level, allows for an unmatched panoramic view of the rainforest. The climb up was an adventure in itself - a winding staircase that seemed to promise an exceptional reward for my effort.

Upon reaching the top, my breath was taken away. In front of me lay an undulating carpet of vibrant green, punctuated by peaks of mountains rising through the mist. The freshness of the air filled my lungs, carrying scents of damp earth and wild blooms. I could see down into the valleys, where rivers snaked through the forest floor and out to the distant, glimmering ocean. It felt as though I could touch the clouds that hung low, casting mystical shadows over the landscape.

My day in El Yunque National Forest was transformative. I felt a deep connection to the natural world, marveled at its beauty, and reveled in its serenity. It was a reminder of our place in the universe, how vast it is, and the responsibility we bear to protect such precious pockets of nature.

As I made my way back to the Royal Sonesta San Juan Hotel, the impressions from the forest stayed with me - the tranquility of the waterfalls, the endless expanse seen from the tower, and the liveliness of the rainforest. El Yunque National Forest isn't just a destination; it's a magical journey, a truly immersive experience that connects you with the primal essence of life. For anyone visiting Puerto Rico, I can't recommend it enough.


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