We live in a beautiful world created by a master hand, we can find majesty in many corners of the world. There are places, that seem to have been sprinkled with special qualities unfound anywhere else on the planet; the tiny island of Culebra is one of those places. To those that know Culebra, it’s a secret they both love and hate to share. Culebra offers the solitude and tranquility of a place that even though is not far, certainly feels like a world away.
Culebra is located 27 km (17 miles) east of Puerto Rico and 19 km (12 miles) west to Saint Thomas, its dimensions are about 11 km (7 miles) long and 5 km (3.5 miles) wide. Its total area including surrounding Cays is 7,000 acres.
This small island is known as “Isla Chiquita” (small island) and “Ultima Virgen” (last virgin). Culebra was founded on October 27, 1880 by Cayetano Escudero.
Culebra original names were “Isla Pasaje” and “Isla de San Idelfonso” in honor of Bishop San Idelfonso de la Culebra. Cayetano Escudero was the first Delegate of Culebra appointed by a Governmental order from Vieques on August 2, 1881.
The capital is Dewey, which contains most of the archipelagoes 2000 souls. The municipality of Culebra includes all surrounding islets: Cayo Norte, Cayo Ballena, Cayos Geniqui, Culebrita, Arrecife Culebrita, Cayo de Luis Peña (named after its second owner), Las Hermanas, El Mono, Cayo Lobo, Cayo Lobito, Cayo Botijuela, Alcarraza, Los Gemelos, and Piedra Steven.
The small sleepy island of Culebra was unfairly blessed with beaches so visually stunning, no video or camera can possibly capture their beauty. While other islands on the Caribbean have exploited their beaches and destroyed their natural beauty with cement structures along the shore, Culebra is one of the few destinations left where one can step back in time to see beaches in all their natural glory.
On June 26, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt established the Culebra Naval Reservation. With the outbreak of WWII in 1939, the Culebra Archipelago became the primary gunnery and bombing practice site for the U.S. Navy and continued to be used for these purposes until 1975.
On February 27, 1909, a bird refuge was established, making it one of the oldest refuges in the system. Since then much of the island and the surrounding 23 islets including Culebrita are protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a nature preserve, making the islands one of only two nesting sites for giant sea turtles in the U.S. The Culebra National Wildlife Refuge, 600 ha, protects large colonies of sea birds (with approx. 85 species), particularly terns, red-billed tropic birds and boobies, and nesting sea turtles. The refuge is accessible by ferry from the east coast or by plane from San Juan.
The beaches of Culebra have incredibly clear water since there are no rivers running into them. The visibility is incredible allowing snorkelers to have a clear view of the living creatures and gardens underneath. Beach goers won’t find crowded scenes, but perhaps encounter sea turtles gliding by. Children and adults will have easy access to excellent snorkeling sites just a few laps from shore.
You may have seen Playa Flamenco (Flamenco Beach) on television shows and popular travel media, it has been consistently ranked among the top 5 beaches in the world for many years. Culebra offers more beaches well worth exploring, you can easily spend a full week on the island exploring beaches, each one completely different than the next.
You can visit the surrounding cays by chatting up the local fishermen or by arranging dives through local operators. There’s a ferry to Dewey from Fajardo that takes two hours, and air connections to Culebra from both Fajardo and San Juan. The surrounding cays require special use permits available from the Fish and Wildlife Service, Box 510, Boquerón, PR 00622. Visits to the lands administered by Culebra National Wildlife Refuge are regulated to insure protection of the rich and diverse resources. For information write to: Refuge Manager, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, General Delivery – Lower Camp Culebra, Puerto Rico 00775.
You can also do like I did, and book with a catamaran that will take you to the island. Upon departing marina Puerto Del Rey, they head straight out to Culebra along the Cordillera Islands. After about 45 minutes on our high-speed catamaran we arrive at one of Culebra’s beautiful reefs and anchor for about an hour and a half of snorkeling. Depending on water condition our captains may take you to: Luis Pena, Carlos Rosario, or Melones. They then move on to the beach stop. The usual destination is Flamenco beach. Occasionally due to water conditions we may choose Culebrita, Playa Tortuga or another beautiful beach that will be the best to enjoy the rest of the afternoon. At either location you can swim into the beach or do some more snorkeling. The catamaran departs Culebra around 3:00 pm, returning to the marina between 3:45- 4:00pm. Lunch is served at approximately 11:45-12:00pm, where guests can enjoy local pastries; build your own sandwiches with fresh baked bread, fresh fruit, our signature pasta salad, chicken salad, coleslaw and cookies.
Here is the link to the catamaran: http://www.eastislandpr.com/culebra-snorkeling.html
Hopefully, this has inspired you to take a trip to Culebra for your next vacation or at least book it for a day if you’re already headed for Puerto Rico. As always, a huge thank you to my BBC Fam for taking the time to read about Culebra one of Puerto Rico’s hidden gems!