Exploring Puerto Rico's rainforest

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of February 14-21, 1996
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Exploring Puerto Rico's rainforest

Exploring Puerto Rico's rainforest
Q: What can you tell me about traveling to Puerto Rico?
Fernando Rodriguez
Peoria, IL
[email protected]
Puerto Rico's lush Caribbean National Forest
A: The most important thing to remember is that there's more to Puerto Rico than the honky-tonk, traffic-jam-infested chaos of San Juan. So even though you'll have to fly into the capital city, once you escape the throngs of city-dwellers and tourists, you'll find the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. national forest system, miles of deserted beaches, world-class surf, and a salsa-flavored rural rhythm. That said, we recommend heading out to El Yunque, about 22 miles east of San Juan in the Luquillo Mountains. As the primary recreation area in the 28,000-acre Caribbean National Forest, it's home to 80 types of orchids, 66 species of birds, and 225 native tree species--not to mention a network of hiking trails.

If you're feeling ambitious, try the eight-hour slog on the El Toro/Tradewinds Trail to 3,524-foot El Toro, the forest's highest peak. Camping is allowed in designated areas with a free backcountry permit available at the Sierra Palm Visitor Center. For Caribbean National Forest information, call 809-887-2875.

From El Yunque, head down to the coastal town of Fajardo for some of Puerto Rico's best diving. Sea Ventures runs two-tank dives out of Puerto del Rey Marina to the scores of islets and larger islands off the coast ($65-$80; 809-863-3483). While you're there, bed down at the Ceiba Country Inn Bed and Breakfast (doubles, $60; 809-885-0471).

As for travel particulars, San Juan's airport is served by most major carriers, including--among others--American, United, TWA, and Delta. Expect to pay in the neighborhood of $325 for round-trip fares from New York. Rental cars are available at the airport from Hertz, Avis, Budget, and National. The Puerto Rico Tourism Company (800-223-6530) can provide you with additional travel information. Before you leave, be sure to check out "Caribbean & Atlantic Isles" in our 1995-1996 Winter Travel Guide for more don't-miss Puerto Rico destinations.

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