My Beautiful Puerto Rico: Mountains and Forests Part 1

I am from Puerto Rico. I wrote a previous post about the Island, and in trying to describe all the beautiful areas there are to visit, I decided to write separate posts to try to include all that I can about this wonderful place. (To read previous post see https://fullofcoffee.blog/2019/03/16/my-beautiful-puerto-rico-this-is-where-i-come-from/)

Because of Puerto Rico’s location in the tropics, weather is warm and humid most of the year. Warm temperatures fluctuate around 80°s and 90°s F. There’s no snowfall during winter season. Cold temperatures might get as low as 50° – 60° F in the central region, due to the high altitude areas. In general, cold temperatures are in the 70°s F. If it gets below 70°F, it feels cold.

There is a line of mountains in the central area of the Island, the Central Mountain Range best know as “Cordillera Central”, that extends for about 50 miles from the west to the central region. This line clearly defines the north and south areas of the Island. There are high peaks along the way, some lakes and rivers, and also beautiful forests.

I decided to start writing about mountains and forests as the first topic, because it reminds me of the place where I grew up. Our house was surrounded by mountains, greenery, and amazing views. As kids, we walked through those hills to explore and play. I haven’t done that in a long time. We also used to go spend a day in the nearby rivers or at the beach.

As I did my research, I found out there are 20 areas designated as forests and 35 designated as natural reserves in Puerto Rico. I picked a few well known areas for this post. I also found out there are over 200 native tree species to the Island! Around 300 bird species visit for migration, and 18 of those are native species. This include the Puerto Rican Parrot “Amazona Vittata”. At the moment, 2019, it’s considered an endangered species, because its habitat was greatly affected by the impact of Hurricane María.

Photo from Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources

Most of the information I obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Services, the website to visit is https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/elyunque/home/. I also obtained information from the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources. To learn more, visit their website http://drna.pr.gov/, although most of the information is in Spanish.

In the eastern region, there’s another range of mountains known as “Sierra de Luquillo”, being Luquillo one of the towns where they’re located. There are three prominent peaks: El Toro- at 3,523 feet high, El Yunque-at 3,494 feet high, Pico del Este-at 3,448 feet high, and El Cacique-at 3,349 feet high.

Photo from U.S. Dept of Agriculture Forest Services

That’s where El Yunque Rainforest is located, in the vicinity of the towns of Rio Grande, Luquillo, Fajardo, Ceiba, Canóvanas, Las Piedras, and Naguabo. It’s the largest forest in the Island, with an area of around 28,000 acres. This is the only tropical rainforest in all of the National Park system of the United States.

El Yunque was greatly affected by the impact of Hurricane María in 2017, but the forest is recuperating and is open to public. The United States Forest Service has marked six main trails for visitors to enjoy hiking. According to this office, over 600,000 people visit the forest yearly. There are many streams, waterfalls and ponds, plus the beauty of the trees and plants all around. At least eight rivers originate in the area, including Mameyes River, Icacos River, and La Mina River. This is a place I haven’t visited yet, but I plan to.

In 2012, El Yunque was selected to be portrayed in the “America The Beautiful” quarters coin collection, representing Puerto Rico. The images of the Puerto Rican parrot and the Puerto Rican coquí tree frog were added to the design. Information obtained from https://www.usmint.gov/coins/coin-medal-programs/america-the-beautiful-quarters/el-yunque-national-forest.

Next mountain region, en route to the west, is Sierra de Cayey. It extends around the towns of Cayey, Aibonito, Caguas, Salinas, San Lorenzo and Maunabo. It also connect the areas of Carite Forest and Toro Negro Forest. Mountains located in this area, well known in all of Puerto Rico, are “Las Tetas de Cayey”. The peaks got that name because of their resemblance to woman’s breasts. The highest of the peaks is 2,762 feet high. They’re actually located in Salinas, but because of being close to the Cayey region, they have always been called “de Cayey”.

Photo courtesy of José Alvarado

In this area, next place to visit is the region of Carite Forest. It goes from Cayey, town in the central zone, all the way to Guayama, Patillas and San Lorenzo, towns in the southeast of the Island. It extends for about 7,000 acres of land, with many trails and ponds, and many beautiful recreational stops to spend the day.

Photo from Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources

The Carite Forest is also source for three big rivers: Río Grande de Loíza, Río Grande La Plata y Río Grande de Patillas. The Patillas River has a spectacular pond, that is about 12 feet deep, called “Charco Azul” because of the bright blue color of its water. It leads to a beautiful lake, Lago Patillas. The La Plata River leads to another lake, Lago Carite in Guayama.

Before entering the forest area, along Road 184, there’s a neighborhood called Guavate. It has a big variety of businesses that serve the most amazing and exquisite samples of authentic Puerto Rican food. There are many open air “lechoneras” serving their specialty: slow roasted whole pig. Roasted pork is what Guavate is famous for, and it’s what people go there for.

From Cayey, continuing to move west, there’s the Toro Negro Forest. It extends from the central region near the towns of Orocovis, Ciales, and Jayuya, to the south region in Juana Díaz, and Ponce, for almost 8,000 acres. The three highest peaks in Puerto Rico are part of the Toro Negro forest: Cerro Punta- the highest peak at 4,390 feet high; Cerro Jayuya- at 4,314 feet high, and Cerro Rosa- at 4,157 feet high.

Photo courtesy of
Francisco Alvarado

Also in the Toro Negro area, is the Doña Juana Waterfall. It’s located right by the side of Road 149, visible to all who travel by. There’s a recreational area, plus many trails, as well as natural ponds that are accessible to public.

There’s a stop on Road 143, better known as “El Mirador”, where both north and south coasts can be viewed. It’s an amazing view! It reminds me of home, since my parents’ house is only about 45 minutes drive away.

View of the south coast from El Mirador in Orocovis-Villalba
Photo courtesy of Francisco Alvarado

Next on the journey west is the Guilarte Forest. This forest is located further south, between the towns of Adjuntas, Guayanilla, Yauco, and Peñuelas. It’s the source of three rivers: Río Grande de Arecibo, Río Grande de Añasco, and Río Guayanilla. As the other forests, there are many trails and ponds to visit and enjoy. The Monte Guilarte, located in the forest area, has a peak of 3,934 feet high, the fifth highest in Puerto Rico.

Photo from United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service

One additional forest I want to include in this post is Bosque Seco de Guánica. This is the driest area in the Island, contrary to the rainforest or the tropical forests along the Central Mountain region. It’s located in the southwest region, in the towns of Guánica, Yauco, and Guayanilla. It’s right by the Caribbean Sea, extending for about 9,000 acres. In 1981, according to information from the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources, this forest was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and is considered one of the best preserved subtropical dry forests in the world.

There’s so much more to see and many places to visit in Puerto Rico. Some areas I’ve visited and can’t wait to visit again. Many others I haven’t visited yet, but I plan to. My kids are growing in the urban area of Orlando, so maybe on our next visit, I should plan to go see more of all the forests and wonderful places in our beautiful Island.

I know I’ve included many towns’ names that are unknown for people who are not familiar with our Island. My hope is, if you’re reading this post, you’d be interested and curious about these places. My hope is you’d like to visit Puerto Rico someday. There’s a little bit of everything for all visitors. I definitely have so much more to write about. It’s time for mi tacita de café. Salud!

Para versión en español https://fullofcoffee.blog/2019/04/27/mi-hermoso-puerto-rico:-montanas-y-bosques-parte-1/

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