Rio Espiritu Santo Waterfall in El Yunque
Covering 28000 acres, the El Yunque National Forest is a large area, of which many people only see a tiny portion. Most visitors to the rain forest spend just a few hours of their vacation driving up Road 191 on the northern face of El Yunque and walking around on a few of the trails that start along that road.
But El Yunque has a lot more to explore besides the forest along Road 191. If you have a little extra time and want to get a little more rain forest immersion, you can take a short drive up Road 186, above the El Verde area in Rio Grande, and find a hidden waterfall just steps from the road.
Road 186 into the Rain Forest
Road 186 is just off of Route 3 in Rio Grande. Turn onto Road 186 south (up toward the mountain) at El Verde Bar & Restaurant, which about 3¾ miles west of Road 191 (the "main" road up into the rain forest). Follow Road 186 for a few miles, and you’ll come to a Welcome to El Yunque National Forest sign. The road continues and crosses a few rivers.
At the first bridge, there is parking along the side of the road, and there is a small natural pool with a small waterfall. It is cute, but nothing great.
The second bridge crosses the Rio Espiritu Santo (Holy Spirit River). There is parking along the road and in a small grassy parking area near the bridge. From the bridge, there are some great views of the Atlantic Ocean to the north. If you walk to the south side of the bridge and look up-river and you look closely, you can just about spot a waterfall!
From the road, you can see a river with lots of huge boulders, which block the view of the waterfall. If you stand way back on the right side of the road, you get a better angle and you can see the top of the waterfall.
We chose to do a little more exploring and made our way carefully up the rocks on the right side. Behind the big rocks there is a nice natural pool with a beautiful waterfall at the end of a ravine.
If you continue driving up Road 186, the next river you come to is very small, but there is a little trail on the left that leads to some covered picnic pavilions. The rive is very small here — more of a stream, really — but there are some pools to sit in. The area is not that well-maintained, and restroom facilities are closed.
Continuing farther up Road 186, the fourth bridge has a small waterfall (maybe 8 feet) that is visible from the road. We climbed down to the pool (charco) and falls. There was a family playing the water and having a cook-out picnic.
If you continue even farther up Route 186, you will find some nice openings that offer views looking north-west over the treetops to the Atlantic Ocean and San Juan. Just at the Thank You for Visiting El Yunque sign, you will find the trail head for El Toro Trail, which is a long hike that ends at the highest point in El Yunque National Forest — El Toro Peak.
This ride through the forest and the secret sights are nice. Just be careful, many people that drive this road in these remote parts don’t always stay on "their" side!
Safety Note- these are slippery rocks, so you need to be careful when walking around on them. Also, never go in the rivers during a rain (flash floods happen a lot ) or even a day or two after a rain, since the current can be too strong to be safe. People have been hurt/killed while playing in rivers, jumping from the rocks and climbing around the rivers. Respect nature and be safe. And don’t litter.
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