December 2015 – Following our cruise, we rented a car and traveled to the east side of the island for one night. We used Charlie’s Car Rental based on positive reviews I had read and comparably inexpensive prices. We called the rental company when we arrived in port, and they sent a shuttle to pick us up. About half an hour later, we were on the road on our way to the rain forest.
El Yunque National Forest was a highly anticipated stop for me. It is the only tropical rain forest within the United States National Forest System. It is about a 45 minute drive from the cruise port. We had been told that we should bring rain jackets, but we never needed them. In fact, we probably would have suffocated if we had tried to wear them. It was incredibly hot and humid within the forest.
Our first stop was the visitors center. We bypassed the tour groups (guides were
explaining to visitors the need to drink a lot of water while walking trails) and started down the nearest trail. It was pretty short and not that interesting, so we drove further up the road. We were getting hungry, so we pulled off at a little place for lunch and had lunch and coconuts while overlooking the mountain.
After lunch, we drove a little further up the mountain and parked to see some waterfalls. The falls were incredibly crowded, most likely because they are only a short walk from the parking area.
After a few minutes, we continued on to a trail and followed it for a few miles. It was much quieter, and we could hear the sounds of the forest around us. The air was thick and hot, so we weren’t surprised to see the number of people crowded around the next waterfalls that we arrived at.
After hiking for a bit, we decided it was time to continue to our next destination. We got back on the road and drove about an hour to the Humacao Nature Reserve. The first parking lot was full when we arrived, but we were able to find an empty spot in the overflow lot and walked across the street to the entrance.
The great thing about this park is that it is free and is beautiful. The not-so-great thing is that certain areas of the park, particularly along the beach, are very littered with trash.
There are several miles of trails lined with palms and coconuts. We walked around for a couple of hours enjoying the scenery. The park does offer kayak rentals, but we were too late in the day to have been able to keep them for very long.
The park would be a lot nicer if someone regularly cleaned up the trash. I do recommend a stop here, however, for an off-the-beaten-path and free activity. If I return one day with more time, I will rent a kayak and find out what I can see by water from there.
After leaving the park, it was about a fifteen minute stay to our hotel, Humacao Wyndham Gardens. The hotel was pretty awesome and is in the middle of a gated neighborhood with lots of sidewalks. We walked around quite a bit and walked about two miles up the road for dinner (still within the gated neighborhood). Coming back in the dark was a little annoying because there were not many streetlights and the sidewalks are actually used as golf cart lanes. We kept having to step off the sidewalk for golf carts to pass, and we actually had one older couple ask us if we needed a ride somewhere. We just enjoyed the walk.
On our drive back to the airport the next day, we stopped in Caguas for lunch. We had some delicious Cuban sandwiches at Manoli Pan & Deli. The service was good and the food was great. Even though the workers did not speak much English and we don’t speak much Spanish, communication was not hard and we were not ignored. The prices were also reasonable for the food.
We left the rental car back at Charlie’s and took their shuttle back to the airport. The view of the island for the last couple of minutes as we lifted off was great, but it marked the end of a fantastic trip.