One of the only tropical rainforests in the U.S. Forest Service system, El Yunque, in northeast Puerto Rico, offers at least 24 miles of hiking trails through the tropical rainforest, passing by waterfalls in lush surroundings and leading to spectacular views from several of the peaks within the reserve. The intermittent mists passing through the forests will certainly refresh those who choose to summit a peak or two within the reserve.
Upon entering the reserve, begin by retrieving information from El Portal Tropical Forest Center. Some of the hiking trails to check out include La Coca Falls, Yokahú Tower, Big Tree Trail, La Mina Trail, Caimitillo Trail, Baño de Oro Trail, El Yunque Trail and Mt. Britton Trail (to Mt. Britton lookout tower). As this is a rainforest, be sure to bring rain gear, particularly if hiking up to the higher peaks, and be cautious of slippery areas along the trails.
Cerro Punta, Toro Negro State Forest (Bosque Estatal de Toro Negro)
Cerro de Punta is Puerto Rico's highest point, at 4,390 feet above sea level. Located in the Cordillera Central, the mountain range forming the central spine of the island from east to west, Cerro Punta offers spectacular views to those who make the journey into the central interior region of the island. La Ruta Panoramica, the scenic road running through the Cordillera Central, passes by Cerro Punta allowing motorists to park nearby and then hike to the summit. Hikers who make it to the summit on clear days will be rewarded with spectacular views of literally all of Puerto Rico. Because Cerro Punta is the highest point on the island, it truly is possible to view the surrounding mountains and coastline scenery in all directions. San Juan may even be visible on clear days. Other trails on and around Cerro Punta in Toro Negro State Forest, offer hikes through cool, verdant forests and by refreshing waterfalls.
Guánica State Forest (Bosque Estatal Guánica)
Guánica State Forest (or Guánica Dry Forest), located along the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico, offers an opposite experience to the rainforests of El Yunque. Guánica is affected by a rain shadow from the Cordillera Central and is therefore the driest area of the island. Visitors to Guánica will see many different types of vegetation than what they may have seen in the tropical rainforests elsewhere in Puerto Rico. A scenic road traverses the park, offering access to over 36 miles of hiking trails that pass through four distinct types of forest. Sections of the reserve are also located along the coast, offering hikers access to undeveloped, natural beach settings. Guánica State Forest is located about halfway between Ponce and Cabo Rojo.
Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge
Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge, in southwestern Puerto Rico, offers unusual and unique scenery and abundant bird-watching opportunities. Migratory birds traveling between North and South America often find the wildlife refuge to be a pleasant stopover point. The Cabo Rojo salt flats area of the refuge, a series of saline estuaries near the Salt Flats Interpretive Center, provides visitors and hikers the chance to witness a unique ecosystem. Other trails in and around the reserve lead hikers through at least six distinct ecosystems. Be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen and wear a hat, as there is little shade in this part of the refuge. The landscape around Los Morillos Lighthouse, on a peninsula forming the most southwesterly point of Puerto Rico, is stunning and offers dramatic hiking opportunities along high cliffs that plunge over 200 feet down to the Caribbean Sea below. Stick around because the sunset from here is truly majestic.
Urban Hiking in Old San Juan (Viejo San Juan)
Urban hikers will enjoy the sights and sounds of Old San Juan. Located on a peninsula along the coast of central San Juan, Old San Juan is the historic, colonial heart of the capital city of Puerto Rico. The cobblestone streets lined with Spanish colonial facades filled with residences, restaurants, and retail provide many experiences for visitors strolling around the area. Several streets intersect around tree-shaded plazas with fountains, statues, and vendors. A number of picturesque colonial churches are also interesting to view. On the tip of the peninsula, adjacent to Old San Juan, is the massive Castillo de San Felipe del Morro Fort located within San Juan National Historic Park. The historic fort, perched over 140 feet above the Atlantic Ocean and San Juan Bay, was built by the Spanish in the 1500s to fortify the colonial settlement. Hikers to the fort can explore the many passageways, ramparts, tunnels, and walls in and around the structure. Many areas along the top of the fort afford visitors dramatic views of El Morro, San Juan, San Juan Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean.