*For updates visit El Yunque NF on Twitter but once things start opening up I’ll list them below*
There’s something about traveling late at night, looking out the airplane window and seeing lights over a city you get to call home. Circling the circumference of palm trees and examining the sharp details of the leaves made me feel comfortable after a long day of traveling. Then the warm breeze hits my face and I feel at home.
I’m back on the Island of Enchantment for a while and I have so many things to do on my bucket list. One of them is hiking to the top of El Yunque to see everything I’ve conquered so far below. Unfortunately, as we all know, a huge ass hurricane swept over Puerto Rico in Septemeber leaving the island with a very long recovery process.
Two areas where the damage is evident is in the central and eastern part of the island. El Yunque is the rainforest here in Puerto Rico and it is the only rainforest in the United States National Forest System so tourism from hikers to the area plays a big part in the local economy. Sadly, out of the nine trails throughout the rainforest, only one is open to the public. This trail is called “El Angelito” and it’s located closer to the city/municipality of Luquillo on highway 988.
If you’re lucky you’ll meet a man at the start of the trail named Felipe Lopez. He is a volunteer born just a few miles away from the trail who seems to know everything about the area. He is probably the nicest man I’ve met in Puerto Rico. We talked to him for a few minutes before and after our hike and he said, “Maria hit the mountains but the heart is still here.” How sweet.
So, the trail is very short. It took us less than 15 minutes to hike down and the elevation wasn’t too bad either. It’s only about 492-360 feet start to end. One way, the trail is only 1.8 miles. Along the way, you’ll find tall clusters of bamboo, gorgeous greenery, and pops of color from tropical flowers.
As you stroll along the well-marked path of “El Angelito” the essence of the tropics fills your senses. You can feel the cool breeze on your skin, inhale the smell of damp trees and moss, and eavesdrop into the conversations of the coqui frogs in the distance.
As of right now when you get to the first river the trail is closed. There used to be a bridge connecting two sides, allowing you to go further until the second river. But our new friend Felipe told us that if we were very careful we could climb over the boulders in the river to cross to the other side and continue on until the second river. Obviously, we crossed the river which isn’t too bad. Just be careful when the rocks are wet and definitely do not try to cross the river if it had rained pretty heavily or it’s about to. It’ll become way too dangerous to cross and you might get stuck down there.
Anyway, after you cross that first river, you can keep going a little ways and eventually you will hit that second river which is called Rio Mameyes. There you’ll find a quiet sanctuary in nature where the sound of the river flowing against big rocks downstream sounds through your ears. Unless of course, you like swinging from a rope into the water and making a big splash. If you swim across right where “El Angelito” trail ends, you’ll find a rope swing tied to a sturdy trunk that you can use to plunge into the cool water. It’s a nice place to relax and be surrounded by nature and when we went not a whole lot of people went that far down so you could potentially have it to yourself for a while.
Then, you’ll hike back up and hopefully, Felipe is still there and you can hear his stories about when he was a kid walking these same trails.
There is one waterfall in El Yunque that you can take a photo of as of today, six months after the hurricane season. La Coca falls are on route 191 and it’s a challenging drive but well worth it. You have to go through two checkpoints. At the first one, the forest officer will just tell you what to expect if you keep driving. He told us that we were allowed to keep going but we couldn’t go past the falls. We would have to stop at another checkpoint and take photos from there. The second checkpoint was where you could park your car to take a picture of the falls from a distance. Going through the trouble to see these falls is worth it. They are so beautiful and they’re the only ones open at the moment so it’s good to take advantage of the photo op when you have the chance.
And unfortunately, that’s it for now visiting El Yunque. Felipe told me that they don’t have an exact date for when they will be done with the recovery process and all the roads and trails will be open again but we were told that the trails would be available as soon as possible. We will see how long it’ll take until we can reach the top again.