Caribbean

An El Yunque Adventure

written by | Posted on July 1st, 2009

Whether it’s a chic hotel within San Juan’s city limits or a beachfront getaway in the wilderness, Puerto Rico’s resorts have plenty of adventure in store. That’s because the El Yunque Rainforest—the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Park system—lies just outside the bustling neighborhoods of San Juan, letting clients split their vacation between the city and the country, or immerse themselves in its lush outlying areas completely.

san juan marriott resort & stellaris casino Set in San Juan’s ritzy Condado district, the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino probably isn’t the first place you’d think of booking for clients in the mood for rugged adventure. But that’s part of what makes the resort so appealing. It’s close enough to El Yunque for extensive day trips filled with strenuous hiking, exotic bird- and animal-watching and thrilling dips in cold, crystal pools fed by cascading waterfalls. And when it’s all over, it’s back to San Juan for rest, relaxation, and some old fashioned pampering.

Lying in wait about an hour outside of San Juan, El Yunque beckons adventurers of all sorts, from true backpacker types to city dwellers in the mood for a rugged escape from the capital. The rainforest is a hiker’s dream locale, with trails traversing much of its landscape, giving clients the chance to explore the most intimate and exotic corners of its 28,000-acre breadth. True adventurers—think hiking boots, backpacks and binoculars—can attempt the trails that snake up to some of El Yunque’s highest peaks, lasting up to five hours. But for the average hiker, the trail snaking down to La Mina Falls is one of the forest’s most popular sites. Travelers arrive by car, winding past steep rocky slopes and several waterfalls, then begin the paved trail to La Mina. But though the trail is paved, hiking to the bottom can be treacherous, especially when lingering moisture from rain or fog makes its craggy surface slick. As they travel the stone path sloping slowly down into a valley, hikers will hear the chirping of the ubiquitous coqui, a tiny frog with a big voice that sounds like a cross between a cricket and a songbird. Other animals they might see: snakes, mongoose, and even the rare Puerto Rican parrot, all of which call El Yunque their home.

The path into the lushly forested valley can be steep in parts, with humidity in the air that seems to be trapped around you by the densely packed canopy above—all of which makes the attractions waiting at the bottom all the more appealing. La Mina Falls is the centerpiece of the hike, where cold, clear water rushes down the stone side of the mountain into a natural swimming pool surrounded by large rocks. Tell clients not to forget their bathing suits on this journey—taking a dip in these falls is a rejuvenating (and surprisingly frigid) experience. It’s also a necessary experience, because when they’ve finished bathing in La Mina, hikers must hike the rest of the way back, this time uphill. The path out of the canyon can be a workout, even with benches and resting stations along the way. As they sweat their way up the trail, clients will be happy to have enjoyed a cool, relaxing respite when they had the chance.

AAA Island Tours offers tours of the El Yunque rainforest, including hiking trails like the one to La Mina Falls. The company can also package El Yunque excursions with relaxing visits to local beaches in Luquillo and Fajardo, or take clients to local markets for some post-hike shopping.

After a day filled with the sights and sounds of the tropical rainforest, clients are sure to want to indulge in a bit of luxury. The Marriott fills the bill with high-end facilities to rival anything on the Condado strip. At its full-service Ocean Club spa, guests can indulge in an ever-evolving menu of body scrubs and wraps, facials, manicures and pedicures, massages and massage lessons. (During our stay, the spa’s featured ingredient was pumpkin, which was used in both a body wrap and a massage; special, limited treatments run for a limited time and are often themed according to holidays and other special events.) The classy Ristorante Tuscany offers a luxury dining experience in classic Italian steakhouse ambiance. Its award-winning, four-diamond cuisine includes some truly choice cuts of meat in the form of filet mignon and ossobucco, as well as a range of pasta dishes, unique offerings like gourmet lobster pizza, and an antipasto bar that’s unmissable.