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El Yunque, Puerto Rico Rainforest: The Easy Way to Tour It!

What advice helps baby be safe in the rainforest?

Want to know the safe, easy way to bring a baby to El Yunque? Read on.

Puerto Rico Rainforest Questions…

November 2019 Update: El Yunque continues to be partially closed for repairs after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Please check the official El Yunque website for updated information on which portions of the park are open. 

My original 2014 article begins here:

This is the article I wish I’d found before my husband, baby, and I traveled to Puerto Rico. In the weeks before our trip, I agonized: “Will El Yunque be safe for our cute little son?”

The park is famous for being the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest System, but… is it dangerous? I pictured beasts, treacherous paths on slippery rocks, and pouring rain.

Wildlife in El Yunque abounds, and is mostly friendly. On a side note, do you see the graffiti ON the bamboo?! Wildlife in El Yunque abounds, and is mostly friendly. On a side note, do you see the graffiti ON the bamboo?!

Wildlife in El Yunque abounds. On a side note, do you see the graffiti ON the bamboo?!

El Yunque is Easy to Tour by Car!

Thank goodness we decided to drive to El Yunque to check it out, despite those fears. Not only is the rainforest gorgeous, but it is also extremely customizable in how you can visit, meaning that almost everyone can enjoy its lushness… even an eight month old traveling baby like ours.

The accessibility of El Yunque is thanks to something that I didn’t realize before coming: The road called PR-191 runs right through the park, and the mouth of that road is an easy hour drive from Old San Juan, or thirty minutes from a cute beach town like Luquillo.

What dangers lurk in El Yunque?

Don’t let fear stop you from magical rainforest sights like this.

Just Drive Right Through the Rainforest

What the road through El Yunque means is that, if you are limited in mobility (say, you are schlepping an increasingly portly infant and don’t want to risk slipping on rocks while hiking) you can do the following: Drive the length of the road into the heart of El Yunque, stopping every few minutes at the various attractions.

This became yet another reason it’s so useful to rent a car for Puerto Rico travel. Read on for a summary of our favorite stops in the rainforest, each of which was a one or two minute walk on smooth ground from the road, and baby-friendly.

The Visitors Center in El Yunque is excellent: Clean, helpful, and with good bathrooms and a cafe!

The Visitors Center in El Yunque is excellent… and pretty, too.

The El Yunque Visitors Center

We started our drive at the exceptional “El Portal” Visitors Center. Parents, note that this center boasts clean bathrooms, a cafe with a tranquil patio for eating outside, and an informative movie about El Yunque, in addition to museum-style exhibits. The quality is right up there with the excellent welcome building at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

As an architecture lover, I also have to point out the delicious design of the El Yunque Visitors Center building, pictured above. Well done, National Park Service! 

Watch out for wild babies trying to eat your cafe food!

Watch out for wild babies trying to eat your cafe food in the Visitors Center!

The Puerto Rico Rainforest Tour Begins

After eating like beasts, we hopped into our air conditioned car, turned on some groovy bachata music from a local radio station, and drove about twenty minutes to where the road ends, right in the middle of the rainforest.

We chose to start at the top and work our way down like this so we could take our time coming back down, stopping at various attractions without worrying about how much further there was until the end of the road.

Behold the glory of nature!

Behold the glory of nature!

You Can Hike in El Yunque as Long or Short as You Want

To be clear, if you are NOT carrying a wee baby, there are miles upon miles of trails to hike through and waterfalls to swim in, deep within the forest of El Yunque. This article, however, focuses on the gems you can see in just a few hours (or even a single hour), with minimal risk to your littlest traveler.

Baño Grande is a lovely body of water to walk around in the rainforest.

Baño Grande is a lovely body of water to walk around in the rainforest.

Easy Parking for El Yunque Attractions

The first attraction we pulled up to was Baño Grande, a relaxing man-made pool that was constructed for recreation in the 1930s: the early days of the park’s supervision by the U.S. Forest Service.

We were easily able to park the car in one of the many small lots dotting the roadside, strap the baby into our front backpack, and trot up a few steps to take in the view. Baby Devi was utterly entranced by the rainforest. The entire visit, his face looked like this:

Our baby was completely entranced by the rainforest. He made this face the whole time. "Wow!"

Our baby was completely in awe of the rainforest. He made this face the whole time: “Wooow!”

Listen for Coquí Frog Sounds

Meanwhile, Colin was mystified because we kept hearing the ubiquitous coquí frogs of Puerto Rico sing: “Coh-KEE! Coh-KEE!” but my beloved husband could never get close enough to actually see one of the frogs. He started a running joke that the frogs may not actually exist, and are really just a recording played by speakers all over the island. Hehe.

Baño Grande has neat stairs.

A side view of Baño Grande.

The Must-See TOWER of El Yunque National Forest

Back to the car we went! We paused briefly to change a diaper in the back seat and nurse the baby, then proceeded down the mountain until we came to the next attraction: Yokahu Tower. This is the most fulfilling and fun stop on the road, so if you make no other stop in El Yunque, make this one.

Peeking at the view while climbing Yokahu Tower.

Peeking at the view while climbing Yokahu Tower.

Climbing Yokahu Tower

Yokahu Tower is about four stories tall, and you climb it by a narrow spiral staircase. All the way up, there are windows through which you can glimpse the rainforest as you rise higher and higher off the ground.

At last you see the sky at the top steps of Yokahu Tower.

At last the sky bursts into view at the top steps of Yokahu Tower.

What a View of Puerto Rico’s Rainforest!

At the top of Yokahu, the blue sky suddenly breaks into view! Pant with excitement and exhaustion as you scale the last few steps to gaze out onto a sea of undulating emerald green in all directions. Look far enough and you can even see the blue ocean at the coast of Puerto Rico, misty as blends with the edge of the sky.

The view from the top of the tower: El Yunque rainforest stretches on and on. Can you see the sea far beyond?

The view from the top of the tower: The rainforest stretches on and on. Can you see the sea?

The Best Place for Photos in El Yunque

This is your primo number one photo opportunity, folks. Snap those pics, and don’t be shy about asking strangers to take a family portrait! Experiment with different angles, and make funny sounds until your baby gives some form of a smile.

Oh and make sure you note what time the tower closes, because we got out just in time before it locked for the evening.

The view from the top of Yokahu Tower is gorgeous, and totally doable with a baby.

The view from the top of Yokahu Tower is gorgeous, and totally doable with a baby.

The Waterfall in El Yunque National Forest: Wow!

We had a few more stops as our car chugged down the mountain, but the most exciting happened at silvery La Coca Falls: a waterfall that you can ogle just steps from the road. In the parking lot there, we met a boisterous gaggle of friends who offered to take our picture as a family, if we photographed them in return.

I had an awkward moment where one of them asked me how I became a travel blogger, and I handed her my card and replied, “It’s a long story. Just read the ‘About page of my blog.” Tacky? Whoopsie!

La Coca Falls in El Yunque is just a few feet from the road.

La Coca Falls in El Yunque is just a few feet from the road.

Anyway, those people were as nice as the rainforest is beautiful, and we had a great time posing for them while they snapped photos with my camera. They egged us on to funnier and funnier poses, until we ended up with this gem right here:

Dangerous chomping beasts of El Yunque: Overly loving parents!

Dangerous chomping beasts of El Yunque: Overly loving parents!

So there you have it! El Yunque rainforest is very safe to rock out with a little baby, provided you skip the slippery hiking and stick to the enjoyment that can be found just off the road, still nestled deep in nature’s embrace. El Yunque was a shining highlight of our Puerto Rico trip, so don’t miss it!

Where to Stay near El Yunque:

Tours and Guidebooks:


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This is how happy we felt about having a rental car in Puerto Rico.
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Akshay Agarwal

Tuesday 27th of June 2017

Hi Lillie.. so great to hear that you could visit the rainforest with an 8mo old.. we are traveling with our 8mo old daughter and were worried that we cannot do the Rainforest.. thanks a lot for all the info.. we will certainly rent a car and do this.. how long did this tour take?

Akshay Agarwal

Wednesday 28th of June 2017

Will definitely let you know.. some people suggesting that we take her inside the forest do, and do the 'easy' trails but I'm unsure of doing that..

Also, can we get to the waterfall if we stay on the motored road? By get, I don't mean see, but rather get in the water etc

Lillie

Tuesday 27th of June 2017

Glad to help, and congrats on your sweet daughter! Because you're just driving up a road (getting out when you want), the tour can take as long or short as you want. I'd recommend two hours, though, because there are so many beautiful spots that you'll want to see and photograph. Enjoy, and do let us know how it went afterwards, if you have a moment!

Jeanne K

Friday 17th of March 2017

Is this area safe for three 19 year American girls driving that don't have much travel experience! Especially not on a tour? My daughter is insisting it's safe, and she's going this summer if 2017! I'm afraid of her being attacked, hurt, drowned, the usual Mom concerns! All she's used to is the NJ beaches! Thank you for any insight and advice!

Lillie

Friday 17th of March 2017

Hi Jeanne, Thanks for your comment, and I understand your concern! No place is 100% safe, so the best bet is to follow guidelines. When we were in Puerto Rico, there were many tourists and we always felt fine, but we did follow the guideline to never drive during dark night hours. I encourage you and your daughter to keep doing research so that she can enjoy all the great aspects of Puerto Rico. Best of luck!

Charlie

Tuesday 7th of February 2017

Thank you for the informative article! I am wondering, can you get closer the waterfall if driving to it? I am hoping my fiancé and I can get some wedding pictures taken right near it, but I don't want to hike through the forest in a wedding dress :)

Lillie

Tuesday 7th of February 2017

Glad to help! I'm not 100% sure how close you can get to the waterfall, but I'd recommend contacting the park itself via social media or email. They're usually quite helpful. Good luck on your exciting photo shoot! Report back if you have a chance once you get an answer!

Sari

Tuesday 19th of July 2016

Great tips! We will be traveling to Puerto Rico with our daughter who is 11 months old so this sounds like a great plan to follow! Quick question, how long did it take you to "do" el Yunque. I just want to see how much time I set aside...Thanks!!!

Lillie

Tuesday 19th of July 2016

Glad to help! I'd set aside at least two hours, but given the ease of the road to drive along, you could conceivably do less, and of course could do more. Enjoy, and do report back any additional tips you glean!

Dali

Friday 9th of October 2015

Great article, thank you! Question - how do you get to the Bano Grande? I'm looking at maps and information and I keep seeing that to get there you have to do the Bano de Oro trail, which is 20 mins each way. Is there a specific place we could park and have a short walk there, or did you do the 20 min walk back and forth?

Lillie

Saturday 10th of October 2015

Hi Dali, Thanks for reading and commenting! Since we took this trip over a year ago, my memory is fuzzy, but I can tell you we did NOT hike 20 minutes. All the photos you see here were taken by driving the car up that big path which runs through the park, parking, and walking no longer than 10 minutes on very easy, paved paths. Hope that helps. Have a wonderful trip!

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