El Yunque: Puerto Rico's natural selection

RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico -- The 28,000-acre El Yunque Caribbean National Forest, located 45 minutes east of San Juan, provides a natural choice for visitors to the island.

The mountainous rain forest was named after the Taino Indian spirit of Yukiuu, the Sacred Spirit of White Earth Mountain.

El Yunque is revered by locals because the mountains help dissipate the power of hurricanes, thereby protecting the island and its people.

Known as the "rainiest" national rain forest within the park system, El Yunque is the source of 14 rivers and numerous waterfalls and pools. At higher elevations, the waters are pure enough to drink.

Several species of wildlife and vegetation reside within the rain forest region; 26 species of vegetation can be found nowhere else and the inchlong coqui, or tree frog, and the endangered Puerto Rican parrot make their homes in the rain forest.

The true rain forest, commonly called the Tabonuco Forest, is found on the lower slopes below 2,000 feet.

One of the special educational programs available at El Yunque is called Rent a Ranger. This program features two-hour guided tours, led by a trained forest interpreter.

The Rent a Ranger program is available Mondays through Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

There are several hiking trails within El Yunque that are well-maintained for foot travel.

Those who want to plunge in cold pools and frolic under waterfalls can choose several trails including La Mina.

Before hiking in the forest, visitors should check in at one of three information centers to learn the region's history: El Portal Tropical Forest Center; Sierra Palm Visitors Center, and Palo Colorado Visitors Center.

Many visitors recommend El Porto Tropical Forest Center, which is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The center has interpretive displays and information on camping and picnic areas.

Discussions with park rangers and a brief movie on the forest environment also are offered.

El Yunque Caribbean National Forest is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information and to book tours, call (787) 888-5646.

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