Situated on the United States island of Puerto Rico, the El Yunque National Forest was previously recognized as the Luquillo National Forest and the Caribbean National Forest. The second highest mountain peak in the forest is also the named El Yunque. It is the sole tropical rain forest in the whole of United States National Forest System.
El Yunque National Forest – History
Set up on 17 January 1903 as the Luquillo Forest Reserve by the General Land Office, the National Forest in Puerto Rico was a region originally set aside for forest land in the year 1876 by the King Alfonso XII of Spain, and it represented one of the earliest forest reserves in the Western Hemisphere. Occupying an area of 65,950 acres, it got promoted to the status of a National Forest in the year 1906. It was then renamed as Caribbean National Forest on the 4 June 1935.
An Executive Order issued by President George W. Bush on the 2nd of April, 2007 finally altered the name of the Forest to El Yunque National Forest, a name better expressing the cultural and historical sentiments of the people of Puerto Rico. Owing to its location on the south of the Tropic of Cancer, Puerto Rico has a tropical climate and there is no wet or dry season in particular in the El Yunque as it experiences rainfall throughout the year. The temperatures as well as length of daylight are more or less same all through the year. These are the factors that contribute to the year-round growth of the forest plants.
El Yunque National Forest – Flora and fauna
The El Yunque National Forest is home to more than 240 species of plants and trees, 23 of which are out and out exclusive to this forest and 47 of which have been brought in from elsewhere. You can also find here 88 species of uncommon trees, 50 species of indigenous orchids and more than 150 various species of ferns.
The forest is generally divided into four types of forest:
Between 100 to 2,000 feet higher than sea level is found the Tabonuco Forest. Here the trees generally have a height of around 120 to 125 feet and the main species found here are the Tabonuco and the Ausubo. Among other regular plants and trees found here include the Guaraguao, Yagrumo, Laurel Sabino as well as the giant ferns.
Between 1,970 and 2,950 feet higher than sea level is found the Palo Colorado Forest. This area covers the valleys and slopes. Caimitillo, Caimitillo Verde and the Palo Colorado are the general tree species found here.
At a higher elevation of more than 1,958 feet inside the forest, in the flood areas close to the rivers and creeks, and also in steep terrain is found the Sierra Palm Forest. The main species found here is the Sierra Palm.
The peaks just above 2,500 feet above sea level comprise the Cloud Forest. Nemoca, Roble de Sierra, Limoncillo, Guayabota and Camasey are the common species of vegetation here.
Mainly home to reptiles, amphibians as well as birds, the El Yunque National Forest preserves as many as 30 of the endangered Puerto Rican Amazon (Amazona vittata). You get to see here eight species of the Anolis lizards, 13 out of the 16 species of “coqui”, 11 species of bats, a huge variety of shrimp, fish, and other aquatic creatures; and more than 50 species of birds, which includes the rare Puerto Rican Parrot.
El Portal Rain Forest Center
Inaugurated in the year1996, the El Portal Rain Forest Center has been designed and developed to help the visitors with a thorough introduction to the El Yunque National Forest. Positioned at 60 feet higher than the sea level, there is a walkway which enables views of the treetops, and one more walkway winds along the feet of trees. The main displays at the Forest Center revolve around the rain forest plants and animals, the significance and need of rain forests all across the world, dangers faced by the rain forests and the various attempts being taken towards their conservation.
What to Do There
The most interesting activity at the El Yunque National Forest apart from exploring the forest inhabitants, is hiking trails. The most popular trail here is La Mina Trail, because it takes you to the La Mina Falls, which is the only falls in the rainforest that allows the public to swim in its waters.
How to reach El Yunque National Forest
If you are traveling by car from San Juan, avail of the Route 3 outside the city and drive for almost an hour to take Route 191, which will leads into the rainforest.