Forest Center Debuts at El Yunque


SAN JUAN -- Cruise passengers who already have seen Old San Juan might want to take in one of the island's newest attractions -- El Portal Tropical Forest Center.

It is an $18 million exhibition and information center devoted to rain forests and the environment.

The center is located at the 28,000-acre Caribbean National Forest, commonly known as El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System.

The facility features three pavilions offering information through interactive exhibits and bilingual displays.

Included is a documentary called Understanding the Forest, which is narrated by the actor Jimmy Smits.

Smits spent part of his childhood in Puerto Rico, and his mother is from the island.

The open design of El Portal Tropical Forest Center features plazas and patios where visitors can enjoy the sights and sounds of the surrounding rain forest and views of the Atlantic Ocean.

The center, which is expected to receive 1 million visitors a year, also is designed as a starting point for those who want to explore El Yunque's natural wonders.

Guided tours are offered for those who make reservations in advance, or travelers can explore the area on their own.

Puerto Rico touts El Yunque as one of the best-managed and -protected tropical rain forests in the world.

Officials note the forest provides a safe and comfortable environment for travelers, especially families with children.

For visitors, the setting offers nearly 30 miles of soft and paved trails that wind through the forest's lush foliage.

El Yunque boasts 240 species of trees, four different types of forest settings, waterfalls and exotic wildlife, including the rare Puerto Rican parrot.

Fortunately for visitors, animals that prey on humans are not among the forest's inhabitants.

The forest frequently plays host to visiting scientists and also is a setting for training courses in tropical forest management.

The visitors' center was funded by the U.S. Congress, and its educational programs are supported by the U.S. Department of the Interior's National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources and the Puerto Rico Tourism Co.

El Yunque and the tropical forest center are located about 16 miles from San Juan.

It is around a half-hour drive from the city, and modern roads lead up to the main points of interest in the forest.

Located adjacent to El Yunque is one of Puerto Rico's newest resorts, the Westin Rio Mar Beach Resort & Country Club.

The El Conquistador Resort & Country Club is located a short distance away.

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