Strolling alongside a prickly playground of towering cacti, I feel like the sodden sponge that is Puerto Rico’s El Yunque Rainforest near San Juan could be a continent away, not
a mere two-hour drive. In the Guánica Dry Forest Reserve on the southwest coast of the island, my sister and I stumble upon little marvels in a parched patch of desert that has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1981. Squat succulents shed fuchsia pepper-shaped flowers onto the dirt paths, and a troupial bird streaks over a grove of stunted bonsai trees, its body of Day-Glo orange flashing like a neon sign.
Along the trail we dodge ocean surges slapping the cracked limestone shore until, finally, we surrender to the water’s refreshing properties. A 10-minute boat ride from San Jacinto Restaurant, also part of Guánica, leaves us at an adjacent section of the reserve, the sandy beach cove of uninhabited Gilligan’s Island – named by fishermen after the TV show. Masks sealed tight, we snorkel through clear shallow channels, trailing stern-faced trumpetfish and black crabs through a tangle of mangrove roots. Back on dry land, I hear the inquisitive two-tone chirp of the island’s adorable mascot, the tiny coquí frog, leaving no doubt that I am, indeed, in Puerto Rico.