El Yunque National Forest is a must while in Puerto Rico and while you’re in that area, you should make a stop in Luquillo for a pretty beach and a large number of food kiosks. Having a free weekend during a two week business trip to Aguadilla, I decided to do just so.
El Yunque is also easily reached from San Juan or Fajardo, which is where most tourists to Puerto Rico stay. There are many hotels in the vicinity.
The first thing I needed to do was find accommodations since I knew a one day trip was just not going to cut it. It’s a solid 2 1/2 hour drive – actually took longer – from the Aguadilla area so I did what I do often and headed over to AirBnB to find a place. Just to be fair, I also searched for hotels but found a lovely place for about 1/4 what the hotels were coming up at and I always prefer to stay with locals. I found Elizabeth’s place in the Canovanas area and it was absolutely lovely. Gorgeous home in the forest and she was extremely welcoming – as were her pups!
I left on Friday afternoon and arrived by 6:30 PM after driving through some good rush hour traffic and a fair share of narrow, twisting, mountain roads. Beautiful scenery, just not sure I’d have wanted to drive them at night for the first time. I settled in after a good conversation with Elizabeth and enjoyed a great night’s sleep – windows open, sounds of the forest coming in, and very cool weather (surprisingly so – I had to reach for a comforter in the middle of the night!)
In the morning I got up early and headed out. First top was at the visitor center to get oriented and get a map for some hiking. Map? Did I say map? Seems the Department of Agriculture which runs the National Forest program must have cut their budget as the only maps available are laminated on the table and you can take a photo and use that. Fare enough, but had I know that ahead of time, I’d have printed some reference material from the Forest Service web site. I did and talked with the person working there. Turns out the longer hike had several detours due to landslides so I decided not to do it without a proper map. I proceeded to the first trail head.
The first stop was at La Coca Falls – small waterfall right off the main road where I walked up a short trail to reach the falls. There I found a group of photographers from a local club taking photographs so I enjoyed watching them “work” and worked my way around them to get some photos. I just soaked in the sound of the water.
After La Coca, I continued up the road and headed to the Yokahu tower. This is a very easily accessed observation tower with some great views. A very well maintained spiral staircase leads to the top and from there you can soak it all in.
Further up the road, I stopped at the Big Tree trail head and started toward La Mina falls. The trail is very easy and mostly paved in concrete. There are some areas that are a bit steep and some with stairs, but other than that, I’d consider it an easy to moderate trail. Along the way, you get to see some great rain forest vegetation.
Once you reach La Mina, you are rewarded with a beautiful waterfall and swim hole. I did not bring a swimsuit as I wasn’t planning on swimming, but there were quite a few people enjoying it. I stayed for a while – working around the crowd to try and get that “one photo” that made it look as though I had arrived at a far out of the way forest waterfall and not a tourist destination. Eventually, my patience paid off. It usually does.
By this time, it was about 3:00 PM and I decided I’d head out to Luquillo to check out the beach and the kioskos I had been told about. I needed something more than water as well as a bit of food and I wasn’t about to have concession stand food so it seemed like a good idea.
Upon arriving I was instantly rewarded with a beautiful beach and a long stretch of food kiosks (that’s what the kioskos are). While most places served the same type of food, some were just walk up service while others had a more extensive menu and sit down service.
Rather than sit down at one place, I figured I’d contribute to the local economy at several establishments and proceeded to have several bacalaítos, alcapurrias, pastelillos/empanadillas, the Puerto Rican version of a taco, and a mojito. All were good. I love this type of street food so I indulged, though I was really tempted by some of the other more hearty food I saw.
Overall, it was a great change of pace and a very relaxing weekend. My accommodations were right on, the rain forest was enjoyable, and Luqillo was a good combination of beach and food festival.