Located 18 miles east of mainland Puerto Rico, Culebra Island is the epitome of a tropical paradise. Unlike many other Caribbean destinations, the island has no high rise hotels, casinos, or chain restaurants. Instead, the greatest attractions of the island are ones that nature created.
With an area of roughly 25 square miles, Culebra has numerous natural areas and pristine locations to explore. A large portion of the island is a natural refuge, originally protected by Theodore Roosevelt in 1909 and now administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The area is an important nesting site for three species of sea turtles, a home to numerous species of sea birds, and a protected area for some of the healthiest coral reefs in the Caribbean.
Founded in 1880 by Cayetano Escudero, Culebra Island has a rich history. The island served as a U.S. Naval base from 1903 until 1975. During its time as a gunnery and bombing practice range for the U.S. Navy, a considerable amount of military equipment was transported to the island. Some of the equipment too large to move after the closure of the base can still be seen along the island’s coast, now decorated with bright splashes of color to make them into pop-art pieces. The old ammunitions warehouse has been turned into the Culebra Historical Museum, holding archeological artifacts, historical maps, and depictions of life on the island during the 1880s.
Today, visitors flock to the island to enjoy its natural beauty. It is considered one of the best places in the world for snorkeling and diving for both beginners and those with experience. Around the island are more than 20 cays with lively underwater scenery teeming with spectacular coral reefs, tropical fish, and sea turtles. Carlos Rosario Beach and Tamarindo Beach have been tagged by visitors as the best snorkeling areas.
The island is also home to Flamenco Beach, one of the best and most beautiful beaches in the world according to many travel guides. The beach features soft white sands, bright blue skies, and crystal clear water. A government-run campground is located on the north shore of the beach, allowing visitors to camp after securing advance reservations. While the island has no major hotel chains, visitors can also book accommodations at one of the numerous guest houses, villas, and vacation rentals on the island.
There are two ways to reach the island. Visitors who want to arrive swiftly can take an Air Culebra plane for a short commuter flight from San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport to Culebra’s small airport. Travelers should book these flights early as tickets quickly sell out during the busy season. There is also a ferry that leaves from Fajardo for Culebra twice a day, departing at 9:00 a.m. or 3:00 p.m. This scenic ride takes longer, but is much cheaper than taking a flight.
A trip to Culebra Island is good for a long vacation or a special weekend escape. In addition to water-related activities, there are numerous hiking trails that lead to breathtaking locations and sightseeing opportunities in the residential and commercial areas. If you are looking for a peaceful escape, this secluded paradise off the east shore of Puerto Rico may be the perfect place for you.