El Yunque. Puerto Rico. An Enchanted Forest
Yunque or white mountains, that’s how Taino aboriginals used to call this island of the Lesser Antilles, Sierra de Luquillo, because in the distance they were not able to make out the cloud-capped peaks and it looked more like a sacred shrine up in the sky. Still today, this place seems to beckon visitor to silently gaze at the surroundings of a location where life connects intensely with nature.
El Yunque (The Anvil) –as Spanish colonizers nicknamed it- is just 30 miles away from San Juan, down Highway 3, and it offers visitors the most stunning and unrepeatable natural shows on this island, the only place on the face of the earth that features all greenish shades that possibly exist, like the palette of a Florentine painters. Here, soft sapphire blue to bright emerald are hues easily found everywhere around. Moreover, it’s the only place that embraces the entire foliage universe of the Caribbean. The lush jungle invites trekkers to saunter past the park turnstiles into a place called El Portal, home to the wildlife reserve headquarters. The Caribbean National Forest –the name of reference for the 11 hectares of the Sierra de Luquillo where El Yunque is located- also harbors the Cacique, Toro, Este and Monte Britton peaks, dominating the height of the park. Each and every one of them provides spectacular views, but for those who want or need more enjoyment with less physical exhaustion, the reserve managers have picked strategic locations for watchtowers and platforms in a variety of conditions, outfitted with long-range binoculars. Two of them are Palo Colorado and Picachos, yet the best of all is Britton, from where visitors can make out a considerable portion of Puerto Rico and beyond –the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea- in clear, unclouded days. Everything in El Yunque is about getting carried away and painting a picture of how the Caribbean was actually like in the past: a blend of the small and the big, an inching vegetal clash, a cobweb of foliage that through the passage of time has crossed and spliced, unaware of what’s going on outside its boundaries, like a game of life between prehistory and eternity. The most attractive trails are the well-known Pista de los Vientos Alisios (The Trade Winds Runway) with a total surface of 13 kilometers that embraces all of the Caribbean National Forest; and the Pista del Arbol Grande (Big Tree Runway) that runs through an astounding waterfall called La Mina –a genuine getaway for Puerto Rico’s sweltering days. And equally spectacular is the more powerful and plentiful La Coca waterfall and the nonstop music produced by the water as it clashes on the rocks. But the high Yunque, the one jutting some 1,000 meters above sea level and where haziness and humidity lord their own ways, rainfall is abundant and visibility pretty slim, especially as a result of low clouds that cast their long shadows over the valley. That’s the hallow place, the legitimate shrine of the Taino ancestors that doesn’t seem to give up on its everlasting condition.
Centennial trees dominate the lush foliage, with palm trees, yagrumos, laurels, cedars, mahoganies, guaraguaos and the always-dazzling climbing fern that stands as the great heir to the longstanding history of these Puerto Rican landscapes.