As square as a slab of butter, 575m El Yunque, 10km west of Baracoa and streaked in mist, seems to float above the other mountains in the Sagua Baracoa range. Christopher Columbus noted its conspicuousness: his journal entry of November 27, 1492, mentions a “high square mountain which seemed to be an island” seen on his approach to shore – no other mountain fits the description as well. El Yunque is the remnant of a huge plateau that dominated the region in its primordial past. Isolated for millions of years, its square summit has evolved unique species of ferns and palms, and much of the forest is still virgin, a haven for rare plants including orchids and bright red epiphytes. The energetic though not unduly strenuous hike to the summit should take about two hours.
A shorter and easier option is a guided trek to a waterfall within the protected area. After a 2km walk you reach a pristine lake, perfect for bathing in. An easy enough fifty-metre scramble then takes you to a pretty waterfall. It’s well worth it for a short morning excursion.