When I found out that El Yunque was up for consideration as one of the "New Seven Wonders of Nature", I was both pleased and proud. I love the rainforest, and it has a special place in the hearts of every Puerto Rican. Then I started to think about other ways that nature has helped shape and make Puerto Rico such a beautiful and unique destination, and I came up with my own list of 7 natural wonders. And these don't even include the beaches!
Yunque means "The Anvil," and is so named for the flat peak that resembles the anvil of some ancient deity. At least, so goes the legend. As for what makes it a spectacular natural treasure, the rainforest is home to 150 native fern species and 240 unique tree species. It has no large fauna, but the musical and colorful coquí tree frog, the rare Puerto Rican parrot, and the pygmy anole are among the creatures that call it home. When you find yourself under its leafy canopy, listening to birdsong and rushing water, you'll understand why it ranks as Puerto Rico's top natural attraction.
I've written a lot about Puerto Rico's biobays, of which the one in Vieques is by far the most amazing. There are only about six or seven biobays in the world, and three of them are in Puerto Rico. A biobay is named for its phosphorescence, which is caused by a concentration of tiny creatures called dinoflagellates, which give off light whenever they are agitated. When the concentration is strong enough, as it is in Vieques' Mosquito Bay, the effect is a magical neon green glow that will take your breath away.
The Camuy Caves
The Camuy Caves are one of the largest cave systems in the world, and they have been formed by the third-largest underground river in the world. A trip to this subterranean wonderland sculpted, smoothed and molded from limestone karst is a journey into another realm, one that has been millennia in the making. The caves are beautifully illuminated and easy to walk through, and your guided tour will teach you all about them. Of course, the more adventurous tourist can try caving, to really see these caves up close.
Palomonitos is a tiny island off the east coast of Puerto Rico. It would be just another small and beautiful island - one of many in an archipelago of keys - were it not for another natural phenomenon by the name of Hurricane George, which came along in 1998 and demolished exactly one-half of the island. The result? An unusually picturesque little island, with a clump of trees on one-half and a pristine beach on the other. Small wonder that Palomonitos is so popular with boaters, who come here for a remote slice of tropical heaven.
Puerto Rico is a much-loved dive destination, and its most famous dive spot is The Wall. Off the Southwest coast, near La Parguera, The Parguera Wall runs for 22 miles and features incredible drop-offs and visibility from 60 to 150 feet. The diversity and quantity of marine life to be found here are astounding, including octopi, sharks, rays and a tremendous variety of fish. La Parguera is also home to a rare forest of black coral. Beneath the water, it is Puerto Rico's most stunning natural resource.
The Guánica Dry Forest
Much less famous than El Yunque, the Guánica Dry Forest is nonetheless a natural treasure in its own right. A subtropical dry forest, it is home to a United Nations Biosphere Reserve. Within its 10,000 acres of arid land are more than 600 uncommon types of flora and fauna, as well as 48 endangered species, 16 of which are unique to Puerto Rico. Hikers who visit Guánica find a totally different experience from EL Yunque, but one that is also pretty special. This is one of the best preserved dry forests in the Caribbean.
The Coquí Tree Frog
I saved the cutest for last. The coquí is a tiny little frog endemic to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and the unofficial mascot of the island. You'll find its image everywhere, and you'll hear its song anytime you get closer to nature. And what a voice it has! The frog produces an amazingly clear, high-pitched call that sounds like ... well, "coquí." It is a lovely sound, and part of the magic of Puerto Rico.