Caribbean Travel Info & Hiking Recommendations for Puerto Rico
A good place to hike / backpack… The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is an island that divides (the Greater and Lesser islands of) the Antilles. Puerto Rico is small relative to the other islands of the Greater Antilles, however it is massive in size when compared to the islands of the Lesser Antilles. The island is roughly 142 miles (229km) long (from east to west) and 45 miles (73km) wide (from north to south), covering an area of approximately 5,324 sq miles (13,790 sq km). Hispaniola (Dominican Republic) is located approximately 60 miles (100km) to the West and the US Virgin Islands are just 15 miles (25km) to the east of the island.
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. However the island is covered with remote forests and mountains, which are great for hiking and are a refuge for a variety of wildlife. Puerto Rico is home to more than 240 species of trees, including giant tree ferns and over 300 species of birds such as the red-tailed hawk, Puerto Rican lizard-cuckoo, gray kingbird, pearly-eyed thrasher, shiny cowbird, emerald hummingbird and of course the Puerto Rican parrot. Yes, there are few species of snakes that live on the island, including Boa Constrictors that can grow as long as 6 feet, however snakes are rarely seen, are non-venomous and typically pose no threat to humans.
Spanish and English are the official languages of Puerto Rico and the currency on the island is the US dollar. Puerto Rico’s electrical power system is 120V (60Hz), consistent with North America. Folks travelling from the UK or Europe may require power adapters/converters in order to use/charge your electrical devices.
The best time to hike in Puerto Rico, in terms of the weather, can be anytime between December and April, with March typically being the driest month. These months typically have the least amount of rain and the daily average temperatures range comfortably from a low in the mid 60s to a high in the mid 80s fahrenheit (high teens to 30˚ celsius). Please note that it can be 10˚ fahrenheit (5˚ celsius) cooler in the mountains, than in the main towns/cities of Puerto Rico. It’s a little hotter, with much more rain later in the year.
The Cordillera Central mountain range, runs the length (east – west) of the southern half of the island and contains dozens and dozens of volcanic/mountain peaks, including Puerto Rico’s highest point, Cerro de Punta at 4,393 feet (1,339m) above sea level. Strangely, there is only a single US National Park in Puerto Rico, and Castillo San Felipe del Morro is a historical fortress in San Juan, not a wilderness area. However, the island contains 21 State Forests (Bosque Estatal), including the El Yunque National Forest, the only sub-tropical rainforest in the United States, and the Guánica Dry Forest, which is recognized by the United Nations as a Biosphere Reserve.
Be forewarned… Unfortunately, it appears as though serious hiking is not that popular in Puerto Rico, and hence it is very difficult to obtain reliable information for the hiking trails on the island. State park information is limited and can be out of date. Most trails are not well maintained and there is little signage. Do not be discouraged – There is excellent hiking in Puerto Rico, however you must expect to work hard to find relevant information. Hopefully the information that I’ve compiled here will help.
The El-Yunque National Forest Reserve, located in the north east corner of the island, is the largest and best maintained of Puerto Rico’s parks. More on that later… but first, from west to east, the other State Forests within or near the Cordillera Central mountain range that are ideal for “uphill hiking” are: Maricao; Monte Guilarte; Toro Negro; Tres Picachos and Carite. A brief description of each of these parks follows:
El Bosque Estatal de Maricao – Perhaps one of Puerto Rico’s most biologically diverse forests, this park is over 10 thousand acres of mountainous terrain. The park is famous for the thousands of plants, and dozens of bird species that live there. The mountain tops in this park range from 2,300 to 3000 feet (700m to 900 meters) high, with Monte del Estado, being the tallest. The “Panoramic Route” highway goes across the top of the mountain range of this park, so there are few isolated peaks that can only be accessed by hiking trails.
- I can’t say for sure if there’s any good ‘up-hill’ hiking in this park or not. Unfortunately, good information about hiking is difficult to find remotely. I will endeavour to pick up a trail map if I can find one, the next time I am there, and update this information accordingly. Apparently there are trails that go up the south-west side of the mountains… I’ve heard mention of: ‘Vereda Descanso’ – which may be an up-hill hike, with an elevation change of about 1,000 feet (300m) to Alto del Descanso at 2,457 feet (749 m) above sea level; and ‘Camino El Chorote’ – a 3.5 mile (5.5km) long up-hill gravel path with an elevation change of 1,600 feet (500m), which takes about 2 hours to hike one way. There’s also a short hike (20-30 minutes one way along/in a river) to the Salto Curet waterfalls/cascades from the highway.
- Apparently the park has a good campground high in the mountains, with 12 campsites and 24 cabins, from where there are short trails that lead to a lookout or observation point, called Torre de Piedra (the tower of stone), that has spectacular views of the southwest corner of the island. There’s also a fresh fish nursery and the ruins of an old stone house called Casa de Piedra (maybe the same as the Torre de Peidra?).
El Bosque Estatal de Monte Guilarte – This forest park, a collection of half a dozen separate forests, covers over 4,500 acres and is home to or close to more than half a dozen peaks above 3,300 feet (1000 meters) high. Monte Guilarte stands at 3,934 feet (1,199m) and is one of the highest peaks in Puerto Rico. Other tall mountains in the area include: Cerro Vaquina at 3,369 ft (1,027m); Cerro Vaquiña at 3,369 ft (1,027m); Monte Membrillo is a 3,579 feet (1,091m) mountain just west of the park, and east of the park are: Cerro Garrote at 3,356 ft (1,023 m); Cerrote de Peñuelas at 3,307 ft (1,008m); and Cerrote de Penuelas at 3,307 ft (1,008m). In the town of Adjuntas, north-east of the park, there’s a Visitor Center, where you should be able to get directions, information and hopefully a trail map. Just off one of the roads through the north-central part of the park, there is a well marked trail leading to Punta (Monte) Guilarte – This clay trail is short and steep, with a vertical gain of a mere 656 feet (200m), however the views of the southern coast of the island are spectacular. Apparently, there are other trails through-out the forest as well. I will endeavour to pick up a trail map if I can find one, the next time I am there, and update this information accordingly. Bird watching and an eucalyptus plantation are other highlights of this park. There is a campground, with campsites and cabins available.
El Bosque Estatal de Toro Negro – This forest park consists of three separate forests, covering about 7,000 acres in total. There are over half a dozen peaks higher than 3,300 feet (1000m) in this park, including Puerto Rico’s highest, Cerro de Punta at 4,390 feet (1,338m) in the north-west tip of the park. Other tall mountains in the area include: Monte Jayuya at 4,252 ft (1,296m); Cerro Rosa at 4,144 ft (1,263m); Cerro Maravillas at 3,960 ft (1,207m); Cerro Saliente at 3,845 ft (1,172m); Cerro El Bolo at 3,527 ft (1,075m); and Cerro Dona Juana at 3,471 ft (1,058m).
- While there is an (unmarked) road less than a mile long off Road #143 that people take to reach the Cerro de Punta, you can actually hike to it from an old coffee plantation “Inn” (Hacienda Gripiñas), just north-east of the mountain. The (likely unmaintained) trail appears to be about 4-5 miles (7-8km) long, there and back, with a vertical change in elevation of approximately 2,300 feet (700m). On the mountain top, there is telecom building/antennas, along with a set of concrete stairs that lead to a concrete monument marking the highest point on the island. From there, you will get a 360 degree view of the entire island, it’s mountains, the Caribbean and Atlantic oceans, as well as San Juan – 75 miles (120km) to the north.
- In the most easternly section of the park, near the ‘Area Recreativa de Doña Juana’, there is a ranger station, a campground and about 10 short (<3 miles / 0.5 – 4.5km) trails that could probably all be hiked in a single day. One of the trails goes uphill to an observation tower which is about 3,500 feet (1070m) above sea level and has a 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 natural swimming hole.
- I can’t say for sure if there’s any other good ‘up-hill’ hiking in the mountainous areas of the park or not. Unfortunately, good information about hiking is difficult to find remotely. I will endeavour to pick up a trail map if I can find one, the next time I am there, and update this information accordingly.
El Bosque Estatal de Tres Picachos – This park is over 2,000 acres large and unites the two bioregions of the island, the Karst lands in the north with the volcanic mountain forests of the south. The park has many high peaks, the highest being Los Tres Picachos at 3,894 feet (1,187m). This mountain has, as the name implies, ‘3 peaks’ and is one of the tallest in Puerto Rico. Apparently there was once a rustic trail that climbed close to 2,600 feet (800m) on its way to the top of the peak – I’m not sure where it is or if it is still hike-able.
- There are many waterfalls in the park, including the Cascada Bosque Los Tres Picachos, deep in the park, as well as the more popular Las Delicias WaterFalls Ciales at the north end of the park. Other attractions include the Toro Verde Nature Adventure Park on the east side of Park, where they have zip-lining, a suspension bridge as well as an area for rock wall rappelling.
- There are supposed to be hiking trails in this park, however I can’t say for sure if there’s any good ‘up-hill’ hiking or not. Unfortunately, good information about hiking is difficult to find remotely. I will endeavour to pick up a trail map if I can find one, the next time I am there, and update this information accordingly.
El Bosque Estatal de Carite – This park is comprised of four separate forests, covering over 6,000 acres of land in the vicinity of Lago (lake) Carite. The park has many mountains, including Cerro La Santa at 2,904 feet (885m); Cerro Honore at 2,795 feet (852m); and Cerro de Nuestra Madre at 2,431 feet (741m). You’ll find palm and pine trees, ferns as well as an abundant and varied bird population in this park. There is a forest information office at the north end of the park, near Guavate, Cayey. I understand that there used to be over 2 dozen hiking trails through this park, however only one is currently maintained. From the southern end of the forest, near Patillas, a short (1/2 mile / 800m) long trail travels to Charco Azul, a beautiful blue freshwater swimming hole with a campground and picnic area.
El Yunque National Forest – This 28,000 acre park in the north-east of Puerto Rico contains the only subtropical rainforest in the United States, and is by far the largest and best maintained park on the island. 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 central-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; El Cacique at 3,327 feet (1,014m) in the centre of the park; and La Mina at 2,920 feet (890m) in the central-south part of the park.
- The El Portal Visitor Center is located at the north end of the park and has a store, a cafe, film exhibits and interactive displays about the rain forest. The Palo Colorado Information Center is located more in the centre of the park, and can provide a trail map that covers half a dozen hikes in that area, the highlight being the Pico El-Yunque trail. That said, there are apparently 24 miles of hiking trails in the park, however a detailed trail map can only be purchased on-line from National Geographic. That said, featured trails for up-hill hiking in Puerto Rico:
Other recommended trails for up-hill hiking in Puerto Rico’s El-Yunque Forest include:
- El Toro Trail (officially no longer maintained) – West end of the park (off Road #186 near the 10.8km marker)
- Tallest peak in the park at 3,474 feet (1,059m)
- Difficult – 4.4 miles (7km) return, with an elevation change of 1,400 feet (427m)
- Tradewinds Trail – Road #191 near the Rio (river) Cubuy (location to be confirmed)
- Hikes to El Toro from the east
- Difficult – 7.5 miles (12km) return, with an elevation change of over 1,800 feet (550m)
Other recommended trails for hiking in Puerto Rico’s El-Yunque Forest include:
- La Mina trail – from the Palo Colorado Information Center
- Easy – less than a mile (1.5km) return with an elevation change of 500 feet (152m)
- La Coca Trail – On the East side of the road near the roadside La Coca waterfalls (Road #191)
- Descend into, ascend back from 3 rivers / waters
- Difficult – 3.4 miles (5.5km) return, with an elevation change of > 600 feet (185m)
- Note: This trail is not on the Ranger’s map, however there is a trail map on the sign-post at the trailhead
Other potentially interesting areas for hiking in Puerto Rico include:
- San Cristóbal Canyon (Central part of island – south west of San Juan)
- 500 feet (150m) descent to 5.5 miles (9km) long along the Usabon River / Hiking, waterfalls and rappelling
- The Lake Luchetti Reserve (south-west area of the island)
- Rio Abajo Forest Reserve (Utuado – north-west from centre of island)
- 70 Trails within 5,780 acres of forest, home to 223 plants and 175 wildlife species
- Guánica Dry Forest (south-west area of island)
- > 30 miles of trails / Home to the largest number (>150) of bird species in Puerto Rico
- Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge (south-west tip of island)
- 12 miles of hiking trails are available for ‘shore-bird’ watching, and wildlife observation
- Bosque Estatal De Guajataca (Isabella – north-west corner of island)
- 46 trails covering 25 miles within 2,350 acres / some trails go to large bat cave
- Bosque Estatal de Vega (North – west of San Juan)
- System of paths for long walks to observe the flora and fauna of the forest / Public squares
I am not aware of any multi-day backpacking type hikes in Puerto Rico. There are however, a number of campsites and cabins within some of the state parks and coastal reserves (think – camping on a beach), as well as private campgrounds available. All of these require applications to be made weeks in advance of your visit. More information can be found within the links provided below.
For more information about hiking in Puerto Rico, please visit the following websites. While I don’t usually provide links to non-government sites (that may not be maintained over time), I have little choice for Puerto Rico.
http://drna.pr.gov/ look under the ‘División de Manejo de Bosques’
http://www.puertoricodaytrips.com/ use the search function – look for hikes I’ve listed above
Other things to do (besides hiking) in Puerto Rico:
- Old San Juan (western tip of the city of San Juan)
- Spanish Fortresses of Castillo San Felipe del Morro (16th century Citadel) and Castillo de San Cristóbal (Largest Spanish fort in the “new world”)
- City walks – Too many landmarks / attractions to mention
- Bioluminescent bays – Dusk kayaking on glowing waters…
- Reserva Natural de las Cabezas de San Juan in Fajardo (north-east tip of island)
- Mosquito Bay on Vieques island east of Puerto Rico mainland (ferry required)
- Punta Santiago – Humacao Nature Reserve (west side of island)
- Kayak through the canals and lagoons of this tropical wetland ecosystem
- Aguirre Forest Reserve (South side of island)
- Kayak through mangroves, tidal flats, bird rookeries and a large manatee population
- Julio Enrique Monagas National Park (Bayamón: south-west of San Juan)
- Mountain bike tracks / limestone cliffs for rappelling
- Scuba Diving (South side of island near/around La Parguera
- Also nearby islands of Desecheo, Mona in the west and Culebra and Vieques in the east
- Beaches – Puerto Rico has many nice beaches along all coastlines
- Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (south side of island)
- 2,800 acres of mangrove forest & freshwater wetlands, with pelicans, falcons, turtles and manatees
- Punta Ballena Reserve (Guanica: south-west corner of island)
- UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for bird watching
- Punta Guaniquilla Reserve (Cabo Rojo: west side of island)
- 388 acres that includes an arid promontory, a dry forest, palm and mangrove fringes, unique limestone formations in two lagoons, a cave system, cacti, and swamp areas
- Vega Alta Forest (North side of island – just west of San Juan)
- Caves, deep sinkholes and twelve different type of soils
- Rio Camuy Cave Park (North-west area of island)
- 268 acre park which holds subterranean caves (third largest in the world)
- The Panoramic Route (Mostly along PR 105, PR-143, and PR-142)
- Network of > 40 secondary back-roads that connect the east to the west). Journey to > 20 small towns, the highest peak and the biggest waterfall on the island and more
For more information about visiting Puerto Rico:
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