El Yunque’s Best-Kept Secret: Juan Diego Falls
Playing in a waterfall in the rainforest sounds wonderful doesn’t it? El Yunque has a few waterfalls that are really lovely and very popular. I am about to let you in on a secret – Juan Diego Falls. You can’t see them from the road, in fact to get to the largest and best ones, you have to be willing to do some off-road climbing and get muddy. But I think the reward is worth it.
Located in El Yunque National Forest at KM 9.5 on Road 191 is Quebrada Juan Diego (or Juan Diego Stream). There is a wooden sign marking this lovely little stream. Do not be fooled – this is not where you want to go. Park near this sign, but then walk about 25 feet up Road 191 to the next stream. There is a little trail on the right hand side. It is really a short trail, maybe an 1/8 mile long at the most. It is uneven, occasionally muddy and slippery, and there are some rocks to step up and down from. But I think it is very doable.
As you walk along this trail, you will get to a couple of little waterfalls (maybe 6 feet tall) that have little pools to sit in and cool down. The rocks at these falls are very interesting – more vertical walls than river rocks. The falls get larger as you go up. When you come to the "end" of the trail, there is a nice large area to have a picnic and a 15-foot waterfall. It is easy to walk right into the pool and sit or stand under the waterfall.
When you get here, you’re all happy new-found spot … then you look up, you will notice a much larger waterfall! But how to get there?
This is where you need to be adventurous, physically fit and a bit foolish of a risk taker. This is where we wnet climbing. Initially, we went on the right hand side first and came down a steep rock wall. Kind of scary, but we did it and lived! Wouldn’t really want to do it again though! Then, we meet a local guy, Carlos, and he told us the “safer/easier” way to go (believe me – it is not easy nor safe!). But it was easier and we were less on the edge of the sheer rock his way.
So the way we now go is to cross the stream and start climbing up on the left side. We follow the muddy path kind of to the left and then it turns and continues up and across to the falls. There are foot cut outs made by others that did it before you. The path ends up at the beautiful Juan Diego Falls.
It is about 40 ft tall. And there is a nice "swimming" area that is very easy to just walk into to get under the falls. It is really beautiful – it rivals La Mina in size, but it does have less water volume. The best part was that it was empty except for us, and then a little later Carlos and his friends showed up. We were there on a Saturday at about 11:00am – when La Mina Falls is normally packed! The tranquillity and beauty of enjoying nature by yourself is fantastic. I know locals know about this place, so I bet it is crowded on weekends in June/July and any holiday! Personally, I think if you do get to this beauty, you can skip La Mina Falls. The crowds at La Mina will just disappoint you.
If you are really into more climbing as we are, keep going (continue on the left – up a rock stream bed) and it comes to a longer water fall – more like a water ribbon than a fall. But it was probably 80 feet long and the pool at the bottom was deeper. Really pretty!
I would suggest wearing some shoes that can get muddy and wet that also have good traction.
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