Mountains, hiking, forest vegetation, rivers, waterfalls, and a crystal-clear, calm-water beach … all in one day! If you have at least 3 days in San Juan, I highly recommend you visit El Yunque and finish your day at Luquillo Beach.
We spent last Valentine’s weekend in Puerto Rico. Our trip was short, but long enough to see some of the highlights of the island. We got most of our recommendations from a local, and I am very excited to share our day trip itinerary to the only National Forest in the continental US!
Make sure to go all the way down for a short highlight video as well!
El Yunque facts and tips
Some things you should know before visiting El Yunque:
- It usually rains about 4 times per day here! 100 billion gallons of rainfall each year! We got super lucky, but it’s recommended you come prepared.
- There are NO mosquitoes in the park because there’s no standing water. No need to bring repellent, it’s harmful to the wildlife and it won’t do you any good anyway.
- There are NO venomous reptiles living in El Yunque, feeling more comfortable now?
- El Yunque is the only home to the Puerto Rican Parrot, an endangered specie. Drones are allowed in the park, but please be mindful!
- Unless you’re planning to do a lot of hiking, 4-5 hours is enough time to enjoy the highlights of the park
- Get there early, the sounds of an empty park filled with native birds and animals was the most rewarding experience
- Bring swimwear and water shoes for the rivers & comfortable and sturdy shoes for all the walking/hiking. Also, shoes with grip are better, it is a rainforest, therefore it’s slippery. Be careful.
- Open daily 7:30 a.m. – 6 p.m., 365 days a year. However, on Christmas Day there are no Rangers or security
- Phone signals are very weak once you enter the park. Remember to download the offline version of Google map to your smartphone.
- Due to the current COVID situation, you must make a reservation to enter the park. More details here.
How to get from San Juan to El Yunque rainforest
El Yunque is located approximately 30 miles from San Juan and it takes under 45 minutes to get there. You have two options; you can rent a car and drive yourself or you could join a guided tour. You don’t need a guide, though — if you’re adventurous. It’s pretty well marked.
Uber is not allowed in the park! You might find a driver offering to drop you off around the park, but you will still need to do a lot of uphill walking to get to the forest. You will also have issues finding a return trip to San Juan, especially considering how weak the Internet connections are around the area.
We rented a car during our entire stay in San Juan, but I recommend you to get the car only for the days you’re venturing out of the city. Finding parking in San Juan is a nightmare! (more about San Juan here)
El Yunque opens at 7:30 AM, and trust me, you want to be there at that time. That way you can have the park all to yourself. It makes a huge difference! We got there as soon as it opened and stayed in the park until around noon. Avoiding the crowds and tour buses was the best decision we made since it gets packed. Parking next to the main attractions and waterfalls is limited.
There is no entrance fee to the forest itself, here are the GPS coordinates for the main entrance. It has changed since Hurricane Maria.
Main Entrance coordinates: 18.3395914, -65.7642072
Visit their official website for driving directions and coordinates for other entrances.
El Yunque Tours
If you don’t want to drive or simply decide a guided tour is a better option for you, here are some popular options:
El Yunque & Luquillo Day Trip Itinerary from San Juan
As I mentioned at the beginning, we split our day between El Yunque & Luquillo Beach. Here is a high-level overview of what we did, more details below.
I would like to highlight that we DO NOT consider ourselves hikers, so this is a more relaxed itinerary, designed to enjoy the main highlights of the park. I can say we left satisfied and I’d recommend it to anyone, even families with young kids. If you are feeling more adventurous, visit their official website for more details on all the available hiking trails.
~6:15 a.m. – Breakfast at Kasalta Bakery
~6:45 a.m. – Start your drive from San Juan to El Yunque
~7:30 a.m. – Arrive to El Yunque National Park. These were our main stops:
- La Coca Falls
- Yokahu Observation Tower
- Juan Diego Creek
- Angelito Trail
~12:30 p.m. – Leave el Yunque and drive to the Luquillo Kiosks for lunch
~1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. – Relaxing afternoon at Luquillo Beach
~6:00 p.m. – Back in San Juan for dinner & night out
Breakfast at Kasalta Bakery
Kasalta is a Spanish bakery located in the Ocean Park neighborhood of San Juan. A friend recommended a visit and coincidentally our San Juan Airbnb was across the street. Even president Barack Obama came to eat here during his visit to the island, that’s how well known the place is! Breakfast was good and quick, lots of options and it felt like an authentic Puerto Rican experience. Here you can also buy snacks to eat later in the park.
La Coca Falls
Exact Location: Road 191 km 8.1
Once we arrived at the park, the plan was to drive to the different attractions mentioned above, stopping and parking to explore each one. Our first stop was La Coca Falls.
It’s a waterfall located along the main road; you won’t miss it on your drive up. The fall is 1476 ft tall, but there was not a lot of water flowing when we visited in February, mainly because rain was not abundant during those days. Still, it was a beautiful sight, and a great spot to take photos.
One thing to keep in mind, the parking lot close to the waterfall is small, and there is a 30 minutes parking limit. One of the many reasons to come in early, otherwise you will not be able to get out of your car.
Yokahu Observation Tower
Exact Location: Road 191 km 8.8
The view from Yokahu Observation Tower was possibly my favorite stop during our visit. I attribute that to the fact that there was no other person around and it was a foggy morning, with the sun still rising.
Here you can find (and go up) a 69 ft tower, but even if you don’t climb upstairs, the view of the forest, the mountains and all the surroundings from this point is breathtaking. Lots of green and a great stop to soak it all in.
There is a lot more parking than in the prior stop, but the time limit is also 30 minutes. From La Coca Falls just keep driving up until you see the sign.
Juan Diego Creek
Exact Location: PR191 km 9.6
From Yokahu tower, we kept driving through the forest all the way to Juan Diego Creek. From the main road, you can take a short 5 minutes hike to the small Juan Diego waterfall. There is a small natural pool at the bottom where you can swim and refresh. This was a cool little spot, quite easy to access, but keep in mind that it can get slippery due to the the mud.
Exact Location: Road 988 km 3.6
Our next & last stop in El Yunque was Angelito Trail. A fun 15-20 minutes hike that goes down into the Mameyes river, where you can also swim or walk around the rocks in the water. This was a lovely area; the water was COLD but also very refreshing. The hike itself is easy and peaceful, full of exotic vegetation.
We spent more than an hour here. We ate our snacks, got in the water, attempted to move through the many slippery big rocks, took lots of pictures and just sat down to relax. My main recommendation is to come prepared with good water shoes if you want to make the most of the river. If you bring the proper shoes and a hiking pole, I am sure you can move further away from the trail and have a portion of this Puerto Rican paradise all to yourself.
From Angelito Trail we drove out of the park to the Luquillo Kiosks. It’s basically an outdoor food stall place with hundreds of options, right next to the beach. And it is only a 15 minutes drive from El Yunque! I told you, you can have everything in just under 12 hours!
Once you get to the kiosks, don’t let the rustic looks discourage you. The inside surprised me, with a very casual, welcoming, and beachy atmosphere! The food was also delicious, here we met with some friends and had lunch in kiosk #2. The best fried fish I have had in years!
After lunch, we walked around the kiosk and looked at the many souvenir stores and had a few drinks.
Moserrate Beach (Luquillo Beach)
Our last stop during the day trip was Luquillo Beach. There is a beach right behind the kiosks, but I recommend you drive to Balñeario Monserrate (only 5 minutes drive).
Monserrate Beach is a proper Caribbean beach. I am talking palm trees right next to the water, thin sand, NO waves & amazing mountain views. Walk all the way to the north end to get away from the crowds and just enjoy the beach. Seriously, you will love it there!
Entrance is only $5 per car & there is plenty of parking, bathrooms and a small kiosk inside the park selling drinks and snack food. No better way to end your day.
We do not have photos of the beach but here is a video. I think it makes up for the lack of photos. Please feel free to like & subscribe if you like it! 🙂
Return to San Juan or take a bioluminescence tour in Fajardo
That concludes our day trip itinerary to El Yunque and Luquillo Beach. You can be back in San Juan just in time for dinner and a fun night out OR you could choose to stay overnight in the area and drive back the next morning.
If it is a dark night and you don’t mind returning to San Juan later, you could also add the bioluminescence experience to your day trip. We did not go for it, mainly because we checked the lunar calendar and there was a full moon that night.
A local friend told us the best one is in Vieques, which is an island off PR. However, she also recommended the tours in Fajardo, which are close to El Yunque. She also mentioned a guided tour is the best option. I can’t recommend a particular one since we did not take one, but I thought it was worth mentioning it in case you’re interested.
We would love to go on a bioluminescence tour next time we visit the island, we’re definitely going back soon!