More than a million people visit the picturesque El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico each year. It is less than an hour’s drive from Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, yet the natural sanctuary of this rain forest has changed little since the dawn of time. With overflowing streams and abundant rainfall, El Yunque offers refreshing opportunities to those who dare to slip from the tropical heat into its swimming holes.
Swimming in El Yunque
The U. S. Forest Service recommends two swimming holes in El Yunque. La Coca Falls drops 85 feet, spilling over a huge rock formation into a pool that is perfect for wading and swimming. Look for the La Coca Falls parking area shortly after entering the park. La Mina Falls tumbles 35 feet into a spacious pool surrounded by the pristine rain forest. La Mina is more isolated than La Coca, reached by a 0.7-mile hike along either the Big Tree Trail or the La Mina Trail. The water temperature in El Yunque’s swimming holes is between 60 and 65 degrees F.
Natural Beauty Surrounding the Pools
While swimming, don't forget to soak in the natural beauty that surrounds you. The rich variety of flora include sierra palms, bromeliads (related to the pineapple plant), moss, lichens, orchids and giant tree ferns. Fauna include frogs, lizards, bats and birds, including the endangered Puerto Rican parrot. Make time during your visit to climb one or both of the stone towers built by the Civil Conservation Corps in the 1930s. These are excellent vistas for getting a bird’s-eye view of the rain forest, as well as viewing both the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Sea to the south.
Entrance to El Yunque National Forest is free at the time of publication, and the gate is open most days from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission to the El Portal Rain Forest Center is optional, costing $3 as of publication. Bikes and horses are not permitted on trails, and trails are not wheelchair accessible. The winter months are most popular for visiting El Yunque, when temperatures are warm but not oppressively hot. Caribbean travel in June to November is not recommended due to the possibility of hurricanes.
Safety Considerations while at El Yunque
Wear foot protection in and around the pools in El Yunque. With the copious rain and an abundance of moss and mud, you need to take care not to slip on rocks. Thankfully, you will not encounter venomous snakes since none live in Puerto Rico. Neither is malaria a problem, but dengue fever is carried by mosquitoes in the lowland areas, so it is best to pack insect repellent. Remember that the risk of sunburn and heat stroke is greater at the higher altitudes of El Yunque, so consider wearing a head covering and light, loose-fitting clothes. Use plenty of sunscreen and carry ample drinking water, especially when hiking to the more distant La Mina Falls. You can refill your water bottles at many of the picnic and information areas in El Yunque National Forest.