This was the first time since Kathleen and I were very young that we visit El Yunque, breathe in the beauty, and take on the trails. We were both very excited to reconnect with our past memories while simultaneously creating new ones. We were staying at one of Caribbean Luxury Rental’s Ocean Villas and Google maps said we were less than four miles away from the entrance to the United States National Park Service’s only rainforest.
Kathleen and I went back-and-forth on the subject of guided vs. unguided tours through El Yunque. We read and discussed opinions on as many reviews as we could. There were five major factors that can influence the decision:
- The fitness level of the group. Different tours and different routes have varying levels of difficulty. Some routes can take less than one hour whereas other routes can take an entire day. Be sure that everyone’s’ abilities are taken into account before embarking on any route or tour.
- The weather of that day. El Yunque is a rainforest meaning that conditions can be very wet and even a sudden flash flood. If the roads are too dangerous the park service will close them. Make sure to check the weather report and to be extra cautious if there is warning of flash flood. Be prepared to handle the weather conditions of that day.
- Time/Day of Tours: The different tour companies start and end their tours at different times and on specific dates. For example, one of the most popular companies offered tours every other day. Some require you to meet early in the morning because of a strict itinerary, whereas others allow you to take your time. Figure out and plan what days/times work best for you.
- Cost: This can be a big factor for many visitors. The guided tours recommended (By Diana and TripAdvisor) start around $75 and range up to $150. There is an option to walk into the visitor’s center and listen to a presentation about El Yunque (cost $4), but it in no way substitutes the level of detail one can expect to receive on the more expensive guided tours.
- Additional Activities: Most of the tour companies also offer additional activities such as zip-lining, rappelling, and trips to lesser-known lakes. Some of these activities are included in the tour price and other activities are extra (zip-lining seems to always be extra). Again, this decision should be based on your group and the type of experience you are hoping to have.
Everything considered, Kathleen and I decided to take the unguided route of Las Minas. On the way we stopped at another waterfall visible from the road and the Yokahú Observation tower to take pictures (they are breathtaking!). We kept following the signs up the road until we finally found the place to park and to start the route.
The route was moderate difficulty, more long than tough, and took us about 35 minutes to descend and 45 minutes to ascend. The scenic path and waterfall were worth every bit of effort. Although it may be cold to some (between 60 – 65 degrees Fahrenheit), after a long hike the water felt very refreshing.
Overall we had an excellent experience and would recommend it to anyone that simply enjoys outdoor activities and has considered visiting El Yunque!