I almost died in Puerto Rico

But it was totally worth it…

Not to over-dramatize things here, but I did have a close call with my end while hiking in the backwoods of Puerto Rico. Now don’t misunderstand me, I am alive and well and live to tell the tale. Even though I had a briefly contracted a mosquito born illness while on the island, the closest that I came to getting seriously injured was when I was on this hike.

I was fortunate enough to go on a few extreme hikes when traveling around Puerto Rico. I was lucky enough to become friends with some locals who had a sincere appreciation for the natural beauty of the island and enjoyed taking advantage of what was out there. One of the hikes that we did was on one of the mountains of El Yunque rainforest in a very untraveled area. It was pristine and about as pure as I have seen in my travels. We decided to take a route up that was basically following a river coming down from the top. Essentially we were going upstream.

On the way up, there were some truly magnificent sights. Seeing the many water falls and high volume of water flow helped me to have a greater appreciation for the natural power of water as it was so up close and personal. As we climbed the river, we hopped from rock to rock dodging the water as we could every once in a while stopping to view our surroundings. The hike turned out to be a true mental and physical test of endurance lasting nearly 8 hours in total.

At the start of the hike we had to walk up some trails near an old gravel road. After, that the real fun started. Most of the rivers scenery looked like this.

river in el yunque

waterfall in el yunque

However, the steepness of the mountain and river ranged in some areas. Like this cascade area.

cascade waterfall in el yunque rainforest puerto rico

One of the biggest highlights of the hike for me, besides cliff jumping about 30 feet from the top of a waterfall, was coming across some petroglyphs from the Taíno indians. You can see it pictured below here. Read more about the Tainos here. These are common markings that the island’s natives made. To this day, they can still be found around the island, sometimes in the most unexpected of places.

taino petroglyphs in el yunque rainforest

I’m sure geologists would have had an appreciation for the hike as well, since in certain areas you could visually see different rock formations fused together. Check out this line of marble between two large rocks.

marble rock between limestone


Towards the middle of the trip is where I got injured actually. We were at a point where we needed to cross the river. We had to walk along a ledge where the water was going down a natural slide. For reference, I’d say the slide was around a 30 degree decline. While crossing the river, I slipped and fell on my back. Within what felt like a fraction of a second I was sliding down with the water rushing all around me. I estimate that it must have been around 50-75 feet (~20 meters) downwards until a small waterfall of thankfully only around 4-5 feet (2-3 meters) in height. There was no stopping. I had absolutely no control and felt completely helpless. I crossed my arms across my chest and just waited for the end, until nature was finished showing me who was in control. As I reached the bottom my momentum carried me through the jump of the small waterfall. Once I splashed into the water at the bottom, adrenaline pumping, I jumped up disoriented. I saw my water bottle floating away rapidly towards the succeeding chain of waterfalls. I tried to grab it but couldn’t seem to move. I looked down at my arm, which was covered in blood from an elbow wound that I didn’t feel yet. I felt lost, almost out-of-body. It took me some time to come to grips with the reality and the fact that I had just survived the fall with no major injuries. I was extremely lucky and narrowly escaped what could have been far worse. If this had happened in other areas with higher falls or where the volume of water was much greater, then it may have been a different story. I peered over the rocks to let the others know that I was alright, and made my way back to them so we could continue the hike. I did walk away, but felt the fall for some weeks after. Sadly when finished the hike, we were talking to a local who lived near the trail, and they said that someone had died in a fall the previous year when they slipped.

A few hours later, I became more animated again, although it took me some time and reflection. The fall was a subtle reminder that nature is well-worthy of respect. We mustn’t forget that we are just a part of it.

Andy Andersen

We continued the hike traversing various areas of the river until we reach the top.

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Once we climbed to the top of the river we came to the rain forest. It seemed almost like uncovering an area lost in time. There was an area in the rain forest where an old railway line was located. It was almost like a time capsule in of itself. Before the island became modernized, transportation and communication, were somewhat limited. Shipping goods around the island was almost easier to do via boat and then redistribute from there. However, there were a few rails that ran through the mountains in the center of the islands, most of which have since become obsolete.

railway in el yunque puerto rico

railway in puerto rico el yunque rain forest

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The forest vegetation in some areas was dense as you can see in the pictures here.

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Overlooking some of the surrounding scenery was definitely another highlight of the experience. The views were quite nice.

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A panoramic of the east side of El Yunque rain forest in Puerto Rico

El yunque rain forest in puerto rico

In conclusion, this was easily among the most memorable hikes that I’ve ever been on. If given the chance to do it again, I would without question. This hike showed me some of the true inner beauty of Puerto Rico that I feel few ever come to know. Outdoor sporting can be dangerous, but it can also be personally rewarding. We have to take risks to see these things, but need to be careful about what we do as well. I believe there is balance.

I must thank the friends who made this trip possible and a memorable experience for me.

Read my other articles on Puerto Rico here:

Driving in Puerto Rico

Guide to Puerto Rico

Best of Puerto Rico in Puerto Rico in Pictures

Check out my video on the 2014 Sanse Festival in Old San Juan

Don’t forget to follow Backpacking Diplomacy on Facebook for future article updates, travel tips, and pictures from the journey.

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  1. Quite the adventure and some nice photos. I visited the Damajagua falls in the Dominican Republic which looks quite similar in places.
    I had an incident almost like your on the island of Phuket many years ago. We had gotten lost on a hike and coming back we made our way down a river with rocks like you have in your photos. My feet went out from under me and I fell backwards but caught myself with my hands behind me. Sprained a wrist but could have been a lot worse..unlike you didn’t get propelled down a waterfall. The scary part is that you could have banged your head and been out in the water and drowned.
    Sometimes we think back of things that happened and how it could have been so much worse. Glad you came out of it ok.
    Frank (bbqboy)
    Frank recently posted…We’re not on Holiday! Differences between vacationing and travelling explainedMy Profile

    • Hey Frank, it is good to hear from you. It was definitely a scary experience. You seem to realize how fragile life is. Glad yours was just minor as well.

  2. Haven’t read your blog in a while but after this well written story (it really felt as if I was there), I feel like catchin up with your posts. Glad you are doin well.

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