El Yunque National Park

Only an hour from downtown San Juan and firmly on the tourist track, the lush tropical El Yunque National Rainforest is one of the oldest forests in the Western Hemisphere and one of the most visited sites in Puerto Rico.

Now under U.S. jurisdiction, these 12,000 acres of land were originally divided by the Spaniards in 1876 after they found the forest to be useful in its abundance of wood, copper, gold and water. The natives initially gave the forest the name “Yuke”, meaning sacred land, and when the Spanish separated the land they altered the name to Yunque, meaning anvil, or a sharp piece of iron, which is what the forest resembles from a distance.

Carpeted with 240+ plus species of trees – some of them 1,000-years old, the park is home to a dazzling array of flowers and fauna . It also harbours the exotic ylang-ylang tree which yields the chief ingredient in Chanel No 5. At dusk you can’t miss the riotous chorus of chirping Coquí frogs whose likeness adorns mugs and t-shirts. The Puerto Rican Coquí is a very small and tiny tree frog about one inch long.

The forest collects a staggering 100 billion gallons of rainwater each year. The leaves of the towering trees act as a canopy perfect for bird watching and an amazing backdrop for zip  lining above the tree-tops.

El Yunque contains 4 distinct forest zones, defined by elevation and each with its own unique mix of flora and fauna: Tabonuco Forest, Palo Colorado Forest, Sierra Palm Forest, and Dwarf Forest. El Yunque is also renowned for its unique Taíno petroglyphs. This is the only rainforest in the hyper-organised US National Forest system – it’s well staffed and criss-crossed by an excellent network of sign-posted trails.

Trails range from easy to intense and a hike will allow you to take in a variety of sights, including waterfalls, swimming holes, lookout towers, and mountain peaks. The Trailwinds and El Toro trails are long enough to stretch into an overnight trek.