My friend Taré (who had recently moved back to his native Puerto Rico) and I drove to El Yunque National Forest in eastern Puerto Rico. From Levittown, a suburb just west of San Juan where Taré had moved to a few days earlier, it took about 40 minutes to drive to El Yunque and another 15 minutes or so to drive up the mountain via PR 191 to the Palo Colorado information center.
Along the way we stopped at the replica Yokahu Observation Tower. This is a replica of the Yokahu tower that is much farther up the mountain and a couple of hours hike away. At this point, only half way up the mountain, the replica tower affords breathtaking views for those not willing or able to hike the nearly 1500 vertical feet to the original Yokahu Observation tower. We continued to Palo Colorado and received a free map of nearby hikes from the park workers. They were extremely helpful and the map had a Spanish side as well as an English one.
Taré and I wanted to hike to the tallest peak in El Yunque which, based on the information we received at Palo Colorado, should take about 2 hours. So off we went – within three minutes we were in a different world. The tourist crowd near Palo Colorado quickly dissipated and the sounds of car engines and tires on the sloped curves of the mountain road turned to the sounds of our shoes on the trail, the occasional coqui call and very soon some heavy breathing from my hiking partner and I. The trail was rocky but well-defined and safe. I say safe, but after a rain shower which occur often (it is a rain forest!), some of the sections get quite slippery. We had more difficulty with slipping on the way down (partly because of the damp conditions, partly because it’s easier to slip on a steep trail on the way down and partly because we’re old and out of shape so were a little beat after the hike up!) but overall we didn’t have any major issues. The trail weaves back and forth through the forest crossing the various streams several times affording many opportunities for postcard style pictures.
As we approached the top I realized all our hard work had paid off in spades with a vantage point at the peak unmatched in Puerto Rico (and most other places I’ve traveled). There is a small, very old Spanish observation tower at the peak with a lot of graffiti on the interior walls but it’s quite interesting and seems a perfect fit atop this mountain….and it’s just plain cool to find at the top of a mountain. The interior has two small benches, some red tile work around the edges and forming a cross in the middle, all surrounded by a white stone floor. There’s a staircase that goes to the roof around the northern exterior wall where you get the best views and a much deserved Caribbean breeze in your face. This small hexagon shaped observation deck sports a large stone altar-type structure that has the same Spanish cross carved in it. From the observation deck you can see the north coast well past San Juan, the northeast coast and Fajardo area, the entire east coast, and in between other mountain peaks Tare and I thought we could see some parts of the south coast (hence the best vantage point in Puerto Rico). This little Spanish building was a welcome surprise and perfect way to rest a while before starting the hike down.
On the way down we, somewhat mistakenly, took a different trail and came across two other interesting areas that had old ruins. I won’t give up the surprise of what they were and let you find them for yourself when you visit El Yunque National Forest, a perfect day trip when you need a break from the beaches on the coast and busyness of Viejo San Juan.
Big thanks to Taré for acting as my tour guide on this day!
Click HERE for Spanish version on lobu.do!