If you want to see thick, virtually uninhabited tropical jungle as far as the eye can see, so high in the mountains that you can look down on the clouds, Toro Negro Forest (along Ruta Panorámica on Carr. 143 south of Jayuya) is the place to go. From these heights you can see clouds drift between the peaks below you and you’re surrounded by tangles of wild bamboo, banana trees, hibiscus, enormous ferns, impatiens, elephant ears, flamboyan trees, and seemingly millions of sierra palms, distinguished by their long straight trunks and pale green foliage towering 30–50 feet high.
The roads are steep and twisty, putting a strain on small engines and inducing dizziness—or worse—motion sickness. But it’s one of the most exotic sights you’ll see on the island and well worth the effort.
Toro Negro contains the highest peak on the island, Cerro de Punta, 4,390 feet above sea level, on the northwestern end of the forest. To reach the summit, park in the lot at Carretera 143, km 17, and hike up about 1.5 miles. Cerro Maravilla, along about km 20 on Carretera 143, is 3,800 feet high and is the site of the infamous Cerro Maravilla murders in 1978, in which police officers killed two independenistas who were suspected of planning to sabotage a television transmission tower on the mountain’s summit.
In Toro Negro you can also see one of the island’s highest waterfalls, Salto de Doña Juana (Carr. 149, km 41.5). It can be viewed from the road (it’s on the left if you’re traveling south) if you look way up high. Although it’s not particularly wide, the water propels off the mountaintop with great force, making it a spectacular sight.
The highest peaks of Toro Negro Forest contain dwarf or cloud forest, where the foliage has been stunted from the constant moisture in the atmosphere. The southern part of the forest features many rugged rock cliffs, jagged peaks, and waterfalls. Much of the forest has been subjected to clearing by the logging industry, but long-term reforestation efforts have helped repair some of the damage.
There are 10 trails in the forest, most of which originate from the information office (Carr. 143, km 32.4, 787/867-3040, Mon.–Fri. 7:30 a.m.–4 p.m., Sat.–Sun. and holidays 9 a.m.–5 p.m.). One trail is a 10-minute walk to a natural freshwater pool (open Sat.–Sun. and holidays 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Apr.–Sept., $1 adults, children under 10 free). Another popular hike is a 3-km trek to Torre Observación lookout tower. A camping area with toilets and showers but no electricity is a 550-yard hike away.