In view of Puerto Rico’s ongoing power infrastructure problems, we wanted to remind everyone of the Island’s “vacation destination” potential – The following is an extract / reprint from our partner themountainhiker.com.
I suspect that most people think of the Caribbean as a place to relax on the beach with a Pina Colada in hand... and while that's a great idea, when I think of the Caribbean, I paint a mental picture of hiking through a lush rainforest, heading up-hill of a green mountain or volcano, enjoying the eye-popping views of the Caribbean Sea along the way! Puerto Rico is a great place to experience tropical rainforest hiking!
A popular and comfortable tourist destination for Americans, Puerto Rico is located in the northern part of the Caribbean Sea. Puerto Rico is a 5,324 square mile (13,790 sq km) island that divides (the Greater and Lesser islands of) the Antilles. While small relative to the other islands of the Greater Antilles (like Cuba and Hispaniola), Puerto Rico is massive in size when compared to the islands of the south-eastern Caribbean. Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic side) is located approximately 60 miles (100km) to the West and the US Virgin Islands are only 15 miles (25km) to the east of the Puerto Rico.
If you’ve ever been there, Puerto Rico is probably most memorable for the town of Old San Juan and its massive 16th-19th century Spanish fortresses, their “coqui” frogs that can be heard all night long, as well as being the birthplace of the Pina-Colada. The island has plenty of fun attractions, including fascinating and unique Bioluminescent Bays and Subterranean Cave Parks, as well as a number of Nature Reserves and places for Scuba Diving, not to mention Rum Tours. While most vacationers enjoy the beaches and nightlife of Puerto Rico, the island's remote forests and mountains, a refuge for a variety of wildlife, are just waiting to be explored.
The best time to hike in Puerto Rico, in terms of the weather, is typically between December and April, with March typically being the driest month.
The Cordillera Central mountain range, runs the length (east – west) of the southern half of the island and contains dozens of volcanic mountain peaks. The island has 21 State Forests (Bosque Estatal), including the El Yunque National Forest, the only sub-tropical rainforest in the United States. El Bosque Estatal de Toro Negro has a number of peaks higher than 3,300 feet (1000m), including Puerto Rico’s highest, Cerro de Punta at 4,390 feet (1,338m) above sea level. El Bosque Estatal de Monte Guilarte is also home to a number of peaks above 3,300 feet (1000 meters), with Monte Guilarte standing at 3,934 feet (1,199m) being one of the highest peaks in Puerto Rico. While there are amazing mountains in Puerto Rico begging to be hiked, very few of them have well documented trails, and some even have highways crossing their peaks. For example, the “Panoramic Route” highway goes across the top of El Bosque Estatal de Maricao, where there's even a nice campground nestled in the mountaintops. That said...
The best maintained hiking trails are in the 28,000 acre El Yunque National Forest. There are a few mountain ranges in the park, with the most noticeable peaks being: Pico El Yunque at 3,461 feet (1,055m) and Monte Britton at 3,012 feet (918m) in the north part of the park; El Toro at 3,474 feet (1,059m) in the south-western part of the park; Pico del Este at 3,409 feet (1,039m) and Pico del Oeste at 3,340 feet (1,018m) in the south-eastern part of the park; and El Cacique at 3,327 feet (1,014m) in the centre of the park. Probably the most popular trail in Puerto Rico combines Pico El-Yunque and Mt. Britton to make for a very enjoyable intermediate type of hike. This 3 mile (5 km) round trip hike will take you a leisurely 2.5 – 4 hours to complete. The actual vertical hiked is probably less than 1,500 feet (450m), although you'll find the views of the island from both peaks are pretty amazing. The mix in trail type and flora will provide you with a nice variety, and you may get lucky and experience walking through a cloud as you near Pico El Yunque. While the best advertised and maintained park on the island, it is usually far from crowded.
Other recommended and somewhat challenging trails for up-hill hiking in Puerto Rico’s El-Yunque Forest include the El Toro Trail (officially no longer maintained) which is a 4.4 mile (7km) round trip hike with an elevation change of 1,400 feet (427m) taking you to the tallest peak in the park; Perhaps even better is the Tradewinds Trail, which hikes 7.5 miles (12km) round trip, with an elevation change of over 1,800 feet (550m), to El Toro from the east; La Coca Trail is a 3.4 mile (5.5km) round trip hike that is a little hilly and crosses a number of rivers.
There are trails in El Bosque Estatal de Monte Guilarte, one of the more popular being a short and steep hike to Punta (Monte) Guilarte, where the views of the southern coast of the island are spectacular. There is also a campground, with campsites and cabins available in this park.
While you can access Puerto Rico's tallest peak Cerro de Punta, with a short walk off a main highway in El Bosque Estatal de Toro Negro, you can actually hike to it from an old coffee plantation “Inn”, just north-east of the mountain. This (likely unmaintained) trail appears to be about 4-5 miles (7-8km) long round trip, with a vertical change in elevation of approximately 2,300 feet (700m). From the concrete monument marking the highest point on the island, you will get a 360 degree view of the entire island, it’s mountains, the Caribbean sea and Atlantic ocean, as well as San Juan – 75 miles (120km) to the north. There are also a number of short trails from a campground within the park, one of which leads to an observation tower 3,500 feet (1070m) above sea level providing you with another fantastic 360 view of the island. Other trails go to one of the many waterfalls in the area, the most popular being the 200 feet (60m) tall ‘Dona Juana’, which is near a popular natural swimming hole.
So... If you've walked around Old San Juan and it's amazing fortresses, and find the time to get away from the beach and Pina Coladas (actually, Mojitos are now more popular on the island), you should try to experience Puerto Rico's rainforest trails. Weather permitting, some of the trails in Puerto Rico provide stunning views of the island and/or Caribbean sea, and all of the hikes will provide you with a gratifying sense of accomplishment - From a physical 'I did it' perspective'. For the full 'living in tropical nature' experience, campsites are also available on the island. If you still have time and energy after your hikes, remember there's still Bioluminescent Bays and Subterranean Cave Parks to explore on Puerto Rico!
Please – Let’s all travel to Puerto Rico and support it’s ongoing recovery.
Travel safe and "enjoy your day in the sun!" - Be sure to protect your head, face and eyes from the sun's harmful UV rays by wearing an Urban Canairie hat whenever you're outdoors in the Caribbean. It's ideal for hiking as well as everyday sight-seeing.