Out Of Town Trips Travel

Puerto Rico Travel Guide // El Yunque & Luquillo Beach // Part 2

The second day of my recent couple’s trip to Puerto Rico was dedicated to exploring El Yunque Rainforest and relaxing at Luquillo Beach. Two very different settings, yet both are equally beautiful and worth taking the time to visit. If you haven’t read Part 1 of my Puerto Travel Guide, be sure to catch up on our first day wandering the streets of Old San Juan!

Just a short drive, about 20-30 minutes, east of San Juan toward the Sierra de Luquillo Mountains, you can experience El Yunque National Rainforest, a true tropical wonder. With many beautiful and rare flora and fauna species, El Yunque is one of the most biodiverse places in the U.S. Though it’s obviously not technically in the U.S., it is part of the U.S. National Forest System. Hiking through the rainforest you can expect to see waterfalls, hear the calls of the coquí (small tree frogs that are native to Puerto Rico), and if you’re really lucky, you may even spot a Puerto Rican parrot!

El Yunque

What’s nice about El Yunque is that it has something for everyone! There are plenty of scenic views on your way up the mountain and a few spots where you can safely pull over and take in the panoramic view of the mountainside and the ocean in the distance. One of the best stops to pull over at is the lookout tower called Yokahú Tower. Parking is literally right by the entrance of this observation tower (we had a rental car for our trip… it was such an easy drive to the rainforest thanks to Google Maps – not sponsored. Lol!) The view on the top of this tower is unreal! You do have to walk up a bunch of steps to get up there, but it’s totally worth it. My sister-in-law is not a fan of heights, but she went up and we took a picture for proof. Lol! After taking lots of pictures of the incredible view, be sure to check out the little gift shop that’s at the bottom of the tower. 🙂

On your way up to the trails, you’ll pass La Cocoa Falls and it’s awesome. There’s no hiking involved here as it’s literally right on the side of the mountainside road. However, you can climb up the rocks and sort of scale the giant rock formation which is always fun. This can be dangerous though just a warning because it’s steep, the rocks are sharp, and the whole area can be quite slick at times. But if you’re careful and paying attention, you should be just fine. 🙂 It always amazes me how little I feel in comparison to the Lord’s creation. You will feel itty bitty next to this natural roadside feature.

There are several trails you can hike throughout the rainforest that range any where from 5 minutes to over an hour. Unfortunately, El Yunque still hasn’t completely recovered from Hurricane Maria, so many of the trails and waterfalls are not safe to hike through or even accessible. We were able to do a {very} short hike to Juan Diego Creek where there’s a natural pool and a little waterfall. It was still beautiful nonetheless! In the past, I’ve hiked down to La Mina Falls (Cascada La Mina) on the popular La Mina trail. The waterfall that greets you at the bottom is incredible! I was so bummed this trail wasn’t open, but hopefully it will be on the next visit. 🙂

There’s a really cool gift shop called Caribbean Trading Co. that you’ll have to stay on the look out for that’s right at the entrance of the road that takes you up to El Yunque. This place has such cool souvenirs, many items are made from local artists. This time I picked up something a little different – fragrance oil! Also, across the street is an auto shop of sorts but it sells really good limbers funny enough! A limber is sort of like an Italian ice or a popsicle but Puerto Rican style. 😉 It’s ice made with fresh fruits. I had limber de coco and it was amazing and totally refreshing!

The tastiest limbers!

After adventuring through El Yunque, we headed down to the infamous Luquillo Beach (aka Monserrate Balneario) for some fun in the sun! It’s very close to the rainforest, so we were there in no time at all. It has always been known to be one of Puerto Rico’s most beautiful beaches. I had read that the beach had reopened after Hurricane Maria, so we figured it was definitely worth a visit. It was a little strange that when we got there, the parking lot was closed. We went on a Tuesday and there wasn’t a holiday as far as we knew. We were directed by a couple of locals on where to park on the side of the road and they asked for $3 in return. I think parking is around $4 or $5 in the gated parking area when it’s open, so we didn’t mind paying. What’s nice about this beach is that they have bathrooms and outside showers to rinse off in. When I’ve gone in the past, there have been kiosks where food and souvenirs were sold, but there weren’t any when we went. 🙁 I’d suggest picking up a little something to eat prior to be on the safe side. Luckily, we had a good breakfast and that limber treat, so we weren’t starving.

The beach itself and the water were both quiet and clean. The water was warm and so clear that even my husband got in! He usually only goes in to his waist because he can’t handle not seeing what’s going on underwater. He has to see everything! We had such a relaxing time and the view was just beautiful. We even decided to go kayaking on the ocean! There was a kayak rental van right there on the beach that let you rent a kayak for $5 per person for 30 minutes and you get a life jacket too. This was really fun and a good challenge with the current! I would totally do this again. It’s a great way to work together with your significant other. My husband got into Marine mode and kept chanting “Left, Right, Left, Right…” to keep us on the same “wavelength.” Haha!

After an afternoon well spent on the beach, we headed back to our airbnb and got ready for dinner because we were definitely hungry at this point. We had planned on going to Vaca Brava, a casual restaurant right in downtown Old San Juan that had been recommended to us on two separate occasions. We called to make a reservation but were told that none was needed. Well, they were wrong on that. When we arrived around 6:30pm (not long after we had called), there were so many people that there was a line out the door… we were told the wait would be awhile. Not sure how it went from no wait to a long one but we decided to try someplace else. We walked to La Bodega, a Cuban-Puerto Rican restaurant we had seen the day before, but it was closed! We then tried one more restaurant that I can’t even remember the name for and the line was out the door as well. By this point we were ready to settle for just about anything. Lol!
On our way back to the car, we tried one more place, Cafe del Angel, as a last ditch effort (it was around 7:45pm). We were so happy to be seated right away and were ready to order within minutes, excited for our authentic Puerto Rican meals! I’ll gloss over the drama, but I also want to be honest, the experience was terrible. Our waiter served us our initial drinks 15-20 minutes into the service. We also asked for water, never got them from him but eventually did from someone else. One waitress saw that we were getting antsy and looking at our phones because it had been 45 minutes of nothing (our waiter evidently forgot about us), and she said she’d check on our food. She didn’t come back to our table, so we knew that our food was never coming. 🙁 Haha! Totally not funny in the moment though because I was mortified at the thought of leaving. That’s just who I am. Well, we left. We left cash for our drinks and walked out at few minutes past 9pm. We ended up at McDonald’s. I had a mini break down and cried (as everyone else in the car was laughing because they’re good sports)!! I don’t know what came over me other than #hangry. Hahaha So our last night in Old San Juan wasn’t necessarily the best experience, but it was certainly memorable! 😉

Have you been to El Yunque or Luquillo Beach?? If you have, tell me what your favorite part was down in the comments below! 🙂

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