The best way to avoid the legions of tourists that are unloaded every hour in front of the roadside waterfalls in El Yunque, Puerto Rico’s most popular national park, is to actually go on a hike. Pick one – any one – from the 15 or so mapped out at the visitor’s center and you will enjoy a breathtaking walk through America’s only tropical rainforest. Most of the trails are short (the longest will take around 4 hours) are just arduous enough to ensure that the fannypack-and-white-tennies crowd won’t be waiting to snap family pics in front of the waterfall or medieval-looking tower at trail’s end.
Of course the best way to ensure some quiet time in the jungle is to camp – even the Puertorricans looked at us in disbelief when we said we were staying overnight in El Yunque (for they are deathly afraid of the “resident” chupacabra) – we were the only ones in the park the night we stayed. Jungle camping is not for the faint of heart – there are no facilities and be sure to pack plenty of rain gear – but before you start to panic about possible dangers like I did (“Pumas! Boars! Snakes!”), know that your biggest worry will be a mongoose going through your trash.
I’m not going to lie: when dusk came and the clouds settled into a thick fog in the palm trees, I got a little creeped out. But the deafening chirping of thousands of tiny coqui frogs was a magical thing to experience, and there is no better way to wake up than with a morning walk through a torrential tropical shower.