El Yunque National Forest is located in the Sierra de Luquillo Mountains, about 25 miles east of the San Juan area. A short ten-minute drive through the village of Palmer in Río Grande and up PR Road #191 will lead you to El Yunque. Covering over 28,000 acres of land, the forest derives its name from the Taíno word “Yuké” – meaning sacred or white lands. From its peaks, it offers visitors some of the most breathtaking vistas found in the Caribbean. Temperatures range from almost 80 degrees Fahrenheit on the lower parts of the forest to a cool 65 degrees in areas closer to 3,300 feet above sea level.
El Yunque’s biodiversity makes it unique among other forests in the United States National Forest System. Frequent rain showers generate close to 100 billion gallons of rainwater a year and conspire with Puerto Rico’s warm tropical climate to accommodate over 240 species of native trees, 50 species of orchids, and 150 species of ferns. Almost a third of the tree species are native to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and 10 percent of them are endemic to El Yunque and cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
The forest’s animal life is dominated by reptiles, amphibians, and birds, including the endangered ‘Higuaca’ or Puerto Rican Parrot. The forest attracts over a million visitors each year, who come to hike its more than 13 miles of trails while enjoying the lush scenery and fresh mountain air. Guided tours of these trails are available through the USDA Forest Service’s innovative “Forest Adventure Tours” and “Rent-A-Ranger” programs.
The core of El Yunque National Forest remains largely untouched to this day and has proven to be an exceptional asset to the world’s scientific community. It not only serves as a leading research site for numerous studies, but also provides a unique window to the past, when the original forest covered Puerto Rico in its entirety.