The jungle closes in quickly. Huge green leaves, bamboo trees and vines surround us. The sun is blocked by the green canopy overhead. Underfoot is a slightly muddy trail that zig-zags down the hill. I see a few snails clinging to the tree when I stop to wait for the others. My family is in El Yunque National Rainforest on La Coca Trail, hiking to our ultimate destination, a waterfall hidden in the jungle.
Well, it’s not really hidden, but this trail is seldom used and doesn’t even appear on some of the maps of the Park. That is what makes it so great! It is a short hike down to a river crossing – maybe a bit more than a half mile. Once there, we turn left and walk on the rocks up the river to the waterfall. We are, as usual, the only people here. It is a two-tiered waterfall, and you can climb to the middle of it using the rocks on the right. There are hand and foot holds in the black rock that make it possible to get up and down. Not without some danger, however. I stand in the middle of the river, with part of the waterfall behind me and the rest flowing in front of me. Suddenly I lose my footing on the slippery rock and crash to the ground. Ouch. Rock doesn’t have much give to it!
After playing in the water for a while, we climb up the trail that was so easy coming down. We make good time, so we get back in the car and drive to our next hike. The Big Tree Trail leads to La Mina waterfall. It is a nice trail, very well marked, with lots of big trees, snails, vines and Jurassic-looking leaves to keep us entertained. At the bottom is the very popular waterfall, La Mina. We take pictures and the brave ones go swimming up under the falls. The water is pushing hard so you can’t handle being under it for long. There are two trails to reach the waterfall, Big Tree and La Mina. Both are nice, but Big Tree is more interesting, in my opinion. La Mina trail is paved in some places and has stairs in others.
If you are still feeling energetic, there is another hike we like. This one takes us up into the clouds (and rain, of course – this is a rainforest!) The Mount Britton trail has a stone walkway that leads us through more great jungle scenery, gives access to a river to cool off and affords us nice scenic vistas along the way. At the top, we climb the Mount Britton tower, but we can’t see anything but clouds. The way they are moving so fast around us is beautiful and, surprisingly for the tropics, cold!
After a full day of hiking, we are ready to hit the beach and have a piña colada. We drive back down out of the hills and head to the balneario (public beach) at Luquillo. This is a perfect place to have a drink, soak in the sun and eat some tasty empanadas. Another great day in paradise!
El Yunque is about 30 – 40 minutes from San Juan. Take Route 66 until it ends at Route 3. Continue on Route 3 East until you see the large sign on your right advertising El Yunque. Take a right on Route 191 and follow it as it winds up the mountain. Once in the Park, you will see a sign for El Portal Visitor’s Center. http://www.elyunque.com/elportal.htm They have a lot of information, a gift shop and bathrooms, if you want to visit it. There is a $3 per person fee to enter the Center. You can print trail maps online if you do not want to go into El Portal. You can also find bathrooms at some of the larger trailheads, like La Mina.
La Coca Trail is just after La Coca Falls, which you can’t miss because they are right by the road. Look for the sign at around km 8 on the left. There is a small parking area and a trail map. The actual trail is much longer that what we did. If you are really looking to go adventuring, keep going past the first river crossing. The whole trail takes between 3 and 4 hours.
Big Tree Trail is at km 10.2 on Route 191. There is parking at the trailhead. First you pass the Yokahú Tower, which is nice to climb if you have time.
To get to the Mount Britton Trail, you need to go to km 12 and take a right onto Route 930. There is a sign for the trailhead and parking. At one point in the trail, you will reach a service road. If you continue up it and then to the right, you will get to the tower. Come back down the way you came up.
The rain forest is a great place to have a waterproof camera. We use the Stylus Olympus Tough and love it.
Good luck and happy hiking!