El Yunque, Beach & Surf
Head East: Target.... El Yunque (The Rain Forest)
Our meandering route makes this an all day journey, perhaps 8 to 1`2 hours. Pack a lunch cooler with beverages and snacks or break it down into several day trips as noted at the end of the itinerary.
Start by heading out of the Playa Salinas neighborhood and turn right on highway 3 heading east. towards Maunabo. Just before reaching Maunabo you head up the oceanside cliffs. At the top is Paisajeo Curet, a little restaurant with superb ocean vista views. It is worth a stop for a soda, beer or bathroom break and photos as you ooooh and ahhhh over the beauty of your surroundings.
The road next returns you to sea level. s Highway 3 heads into the mountains, you take a right onto Highway 760. Put Punta Tuna Light House. in your Google Maps and follow directions to the point. This ruins is open to the public for free and also has bathrooms. Playa Punta Tuna (beach) is just to the east of the lighthouse and might be worth a photo opportunity if you need another break, GPS it for directions. The surf here is high and deep. Big crashing waves. Swimming is not recommended here, but photos are and if you wanted to harvest a coconut or two, we've done that here. An interesting challenge!
Leaving the Maunabo area put Humacao in your GPS and head that direction. You will start on Highway 901 to 53, stay on 53 skirting downtown Humacao by staying on the ocean side of town. Humacao is home to Monkey Island and oceanside horseback riding.
Separate day trip: Monkey Island
This is not a stop that would be part of a day trip to the rain forest, but perhaps you would like to do it another day. We recommend that you hook up with the local tour operator, Barefoot Travelers, to take you out to the island. We have met Keisha, but haven't toured with them yet. Our two trips to Monkey Island were both DIY taking our own SUP equipment with us. Weather and wave activity vary greatly here. One of our trips was calm as can be and we were able to encircle the island on our stand-up paddle boards. The second visit was a little scary with huge waves for a SUP paddler. Be safe, hook up with Barefoot Travelers for this trip. They will also make sure that you stay within the new (Since Hurricane Maria) distance requirements.
Now is a good time to put El Yunque in your GPS and take the highway the remainder of the route about an hour to the Highway 191 exit at Rio Grande, the turn off for El Yunque. Here we always take a refueling break for smoothies or a bit to eat from the delicious vegan dining options at Degree18. Here you will find a veggie burger, humus and and a few other yummy items including a delicious energy snack, all vegan. They specialize in smoothies and juices. The atmosphere is cool and laid back with hammocks, umbrellas and bright colors. This is a stop well worth making.
Leaving Degree18 it's now time to head across the street and to the right a block or so to the El Junque information center. Last time we were here this temporary site was home to all the background information you would want on the rain forest, Hurricane Maria effects and recovery and a good stop for more interesting trinkets to take home. The permanent location for the Visitor's Center is inside the park, but damaged by the hurricane and not yet open on our last visit and is still listed as closed on the website. Refer to the El Yunque map of the park for a listing of what areas are now open and which remain closed.
The park entrance is still a 10 minute drive from the temporary visitors center. We like driving to the top of the mountain, hiking around a bit and then making all the stops on the way back down the hill. We have been told the hike to the La Mina waterfalls should be reopened by 2020. If not La Coco waterfalls is open. When planning your day, note that the forest closes at 6:00 pm.
Now go home! We use Google to find the fastest route home, which is going to be somewhere around 2 hours.
Do this itinerary in reverse. Start with putting El Yunque in your GPS and do the quickest noted drive. This gives you all the time you want for the rain forest and your route home is your meandering and not in rush hour traffic.
Reverse the itinerary as noted above and when done with the rain forest put Luquillo Beach in your GPS, about 10 minutes away (after Degree18 of course!) Bring your swim suits and lotion. this is one of those long beaches you can walk and walk. Lots of good swim areas. Swim where others are swimming, to avoid rip-tides if you don't know what they look like. Watch beach flag colors. Red=Danger, Yellow=Precaution, Green=Safe.
Visit El Yunque in the morning and make arrangements for a surf lesson with Surfing Puerto Rico and Brian, a world class surfer for the afternoon on La Pared beach in the town of Luquillio. We have done this twice and loved it both times. The lesson was a ton of fun in the sun and waves. Everyone with us has gotten up and ridden several waves which is really intoxicating! Those in your group who don't want to take the lesson have plenty of beach to play, walk or just sun bathe This plan skips all the early part of this itinerary, but that can all be done a different day if you like.
Bring: Hiking shoes, Sunscreen, swimsuit watershoes, camera, binoculars