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Discovering El Yunque Rain Forest

Just 40 kilometers northeast of San Juan is a huge piece of paradise known as El Yunque National Forest. Located in the eastern region of Puerto Rico, this nature reserve covers 28,000 hectares of rainforest and includes the municipalities of Canóvanas, Las Piedras, Luquillo, Fajardo, Ceiba, Naguabo and Rio Grande.

El Yunque is home to an abundant and diverse community of flora and fauna. There are approximately 240 species of native trees (23 of which are endemic to El Yunque), 50 species of orchids, 150 species of ferns, 68 species of birds including the endangered Puerto Rico parrot, 11 species of bats and eight species of lizards. The rainforest is also home to the tiny coqui frog, a singing tree frog native to the area. The population of frogs in El Yunque is one of the densest in the world. There are also few species of snakes in the area but it is very rare to find one. As a nature reserve, El Yunque is a protected area and hunting is prohibited.

El Yunque is named after the good-hearted Yuquiyu Indian spirit meaning Cloud Forest. As ancient history says, Yuquiyu resides on the highest mountain peak in the forest and protects all of Puerto Rico and its people. Following the gentle character of its spirit guardian, El Yunque Rain Forest also presents a cool, subtropical climate and a peaceful atmosphere.

It may be quiet in El Yunque, but it’s also very humid. This rainforest receives the highest amount of rainfall of any National Forest with up to 240 inches per year, amounting to over 100 billion gallons of rainwater. However, showers only occur for short durations and there are plenty of shelters available, so you don’t have to worry about getting completely wet during a nature hike.

The National Forest is divided into four according to the types of trees that grow in each area. The four different forests in El Yunque are Tabonuco Forest, Palo Colorado Forest, Bosque En Las Nube (Cloud Forest) and Palma Sierra Forest. Tabonuco forest can be found at elevations up to 2,000 feet. It takes its name from one of its most abundant trees, the Tabonuco, although other species such as Yagrumo, Guaraguao, Laurel Sabino and several giant ferns can also be found there. Trees in the Tabonuco Forest can reach 115-1125 feet tall.

The Palo Colorado forest is at a lower elevation at 1,970-2,950 feet. Caimitillo, Caimitillo Verde and Palo Colorado are the most numerous tree species here. The Palma Sierra forest, on the other hand, is dominated by the Sierra Palm species. This forest is usually found at elevations above 1,958 feet. At the highest peaks of the mountains is the aptly named Bosque En Las Nube or Forest in the Clouds. At an elevation of 2,500 feet, this forest has stronger winds and greater amounts of water. The common tree species here, Némoco, Roble de Sierra, Limoncillo Guayabota and Camasey, usually do not grow taller than 12 feet.

You don’t have to go on a long grueling hike to enjoy El Yunque’s magnificent landscapes. A beautiful waterfall can be visited less than a mile away on paved forest trails. A good elevation allowing a panoramic view of the topography is also accessible in just a few minutes’ walk. You also don’t have to worry about dangerous animals hiding behind the lush foliage. Your biggest risks would probably be pesky mosquitoes and slippery rocks, so at least bring mosquito repellent and wear shoes with good traction.

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