Welcome to Culebra Island, Puerto Rico!
Dream of a secluded tropical Carribean vacation, but you’re on a budget? Look no further!
Culebra is one of two smaller islands east of the mainland of Puerto Rico. Culebra is smaller and less busy than her sister island, Vieques.
Culebra is a grand 11 square miles! It is inhabited by a small Spanish and English speaking community, it serves as a haven for American expats, and is outlined by some of the most natural, pristine beaches and crystal clear water you will ever see.
How to get there
There are two ways to get to Culebra. You can take a small plane from the main island, or take the ferry. Don’t get discouraged, it’s not as complicated as it seems! No one said getting to paradise was easy!
One of the reasons we chose Puerto Rico was the low cost of airfare to get to the main island. We found tickets from Tampa, Florida to San Juan for $120!
First, do NOT pay any attention to the negative reviews you read about the ferry!! Apparently, the ferry used to be crowded, slow and unreliable. Not anymore! It was a perfectly pleasant, 45 minute ride and right on time. They just got a couple of new ferries that have really changed transportation to the island for them.
The ferry ride is only $2.25! The expense is the $80 (without tip) cab ride from the airport to the Fajardo port where you get on the ferry.
You can get the schedule and more info from the Isla Culebra site.
I have to admit, the plane ride was an incredible experience! Seeing the islands and the sea from the air was just breathtaking! Riding in that little plane was pretty fun too!
You can get a small plane from the main San Juan airport (Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport) or pay less by departing from Fernando Luis Ribas Dominicci Airport, more commonly known as Isla Grande Airport. The taxi ride from one airport to the other is about $17.
Taxis are a flat rate on the main island and they are NOT cheap! We spent $80 in taxis in our first 24 hours there. Lesson learned!
Flights are anywhere from $35-$150 one way, depending on the season, the airline, and which airport you leave from. The cheapest we could find in early January was $80 (On Air Flamenco from Isla Grande Airport). The two main airlines are Air Flamenco and Vieques Air.
You can get more info about planning your fight on the Isla Culebra site.
Where to Stay
While there are options for rentals at any budget, know that this is not a place where you will find big hotels, luxurious spas, and fancy restaurants. You will want to stay on the main island of Puerto Rico if that is what you’re looking for. There is one ATM on the island, and it was not working the one time I tried to use it.
We found Casita Tropical a wonderfully modest and quaint guesthouse. We chose a single room. The room was very clean and the bed was comfortable with clean linens and good pillows. There is a bathroom in the room, small fridge for keeping your food and a good sized counter with a coffee pot.
The kitchenette on the patio is shared with the room next door. We had no problem with this at all. It has a stove, microwave, dishes, cooking ware, and various other kitchen items you may need. The cabinet is filled with complimentary toiletries you may have forgotten. We loved our neighbors and actually ended up spending quite a bit of time with them. We paid $80 with tax for our room!
The patio was a perfect place for relaxing in the hammock or sitting with your morning coffee. (The local coffee is fab!)
The Guesthouse also offers a larger efficiency apartment/family rental and a cottage rental. There is a well cared for above ground pool and an outside shower as well.
Casita Tropical is perfect for a solo-traveler, couples, families, or larger groups traveling together wanting to rent rooms in the same place. It really felt like a community rather than a hotel.
This is Molly, the more than gracious owner and host. She will pick you up from the Culebra airport or ferry dock, drive you to the beach, loan you snorkeling gear and tell you EVERYTHING you need to know about exploring the island. Sophie is her sweet pooch that always rides shot-gun!
What To Do On the Island
This is a place for tranquility. Relaxing on one of Culebra’s many sandy beaches and snorkeling the coral reefs is where it’s at! If you are a treasure collector like me, you will spend hours walking up and down the beach, filling your pockets with perfect pieces of sun bleached coral and you may even be lucky enough to find an empty conch!
The Beaches of Culebra
There are 8 main beaches on the island, each offering their own special charm.
Flamenco Beach, on Culebra’s western shore, is certainly Culebra’s claim to fame. This horseshoe shaped beach is bordered by the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge and a lovely campground. There is a terrific vendor area just off the beach filled with sweet little huts that sell food, drinks and beach necessities.
As beautiful as this beach really is, it wasn’t for me. I am partial to the more secluded beaches and chose to avoid the larger crowd here.
Melones is a tiny east facing beach with fantastic snorkeling! The waves and current are light, which make for even more pleasant swimming. We loved swimming around the coral reef here!
Punta Soldado Beach
Punta Soldado is at the SE point of Culebra with a view of Vieques and the main Island of Puerto Rico. This beach is another good snorkeling spot.
Zoni Beach is known for its beauty and spectacular views. Not the best place for snorkeling, but perfect for relaxation.
Carlos Rosario Beach
Carlos Rosario beach is located on the northwest side of Culebra and has a beautiful beach. The snorkeling is fantastic and the hike to get there beautiful.
On the north side of the island, this is another beautiful beach. Swimming is not recommended here because of the undertow.
Brava Beach is on the north side of Culebra. There is a bit of a hike to get there, but all the butterflies and solitude will make it worth it! The surf is rough here, so don’t plan on swimming.
Our FAVORITE beach! This beach offers great secluded walks, sandy sections for relaxing and coral covered sections for great collecting. The best part about it is what you will find in the water. There is a section of grass where the sea turtles come to eat and play. Throughout the day of snorkeling here we saw about 15-20 sea turtles, rays, including a magnificent spotted eagle ray, live conchs, sea stars, and of course, all the beautifully colored reef fish. We even had a little group of iguana playing around our little section of the beach!
Keep in mind that there are two Tamarindo beaches, the upper and lower. The northern beach is the one you hike to and is close to Rosario. It has a really nice coral reef. The entrance to the trail is in the back corner of the parking lot for Flamenco. The southern Tamarindo is accessible by car and is the one with the grass where you can swim with the turtles.
The Mamacita’s site has a wonderful, in depth description of all the beaches with directions.
Where to Eat and Drink
Culebra is is not known for its fancy restaurants and gourmet cuisine, but if you know where to go, a great meal will be there waiting for you! The island’s secret is Barbara Rosa, a 25 year resident of the island that runs her restaurant from the living room of her home. She will give you a menu and tell you what is available that night. She will also have a couple of specials listed. You put your order in through the window that looks into the kitchen and wait on the front patio for her to call you to get your meal. You won’t be disappointed.
The tricky part is knowing when she is open! There are no set hours, if you see a bed sheet draped over the sign, she is closed, if the sign is out, she’s open!
Another place to eat is Mamacita’s in Dewey, the main part of town.
Just remember that all shops and restaurants on the island open and close at their leisure. You won’t find many places with set hours. We bought much of our own food from one of the 3 grocery stores and the produce shop. We found they had all we needed and we cooked many meals in our room.
After dinner, head out to see if the ice cream shop is open. The shop is also home to the mayor’s son.
The nightlife in Culebra is significantly low-key. You will find a “salty-dog” group of “Mainland” American expats mixed with other English speaking locals and visitors at the Dinghy Dock Bar. The restaurant sits right off the water and the menu here is actually pretty good too. We even got offered a night-ride on a trimaran in trade for buying the owner of the boat a drink!
Getting in With the Locals
As with anywhere, the best way to get in with the locals is to talk to them. The native people of the island stick to themselves mostly. However, we found that when you start talking to them they just light right up! When I saw 95 year old Jose sitting on this beautifully colored porch, I knew we had to stop to chat. Jose has lived on the island his entire life and is clearly one of Culebra’s oldest residents. He was even featured in a documentary about the island of Culebra. What a kind man! I could have sat there and talked with him all day.
Best Side Trip
There are two main islets just off Culebra, both accessible only by boat. Luis Pena Island and Culebrita. We chose to visit Culebrita by charting a sailboat with Captain Dan’s Classic Sails. We went with two other couples that were also staying at Casita Tropical. A couple of French Canadian doctors and a Turkish woman living in the states, traveling with her American boyfriend. We decided as a group that the $150/couple rate would be worth it for the entire day. Was it ever! I will be making a separate blogpost about this excursion. Until then, here are a few photos.
How to Get Around
Choosing how you will get around Culebra is really a personal decision. Renting a jeep will run you anywhere between $60-70/day. This will clearly give you the most freedom. There are two main rental companies on the island, Jerry’s Jeeps and Carlos Jeep Rental. You can find all the numbers you need on the Isla Culebra site.
You also have the choice of renting a golf cart for $45/day. This is a great alternative, but navigating those pothole filled roads may sometimes be challenging.
We were planning on renting bicycles, but for $17/day each, we hardly thought it worth it.
If you are traveling with a family or not into walking, I highly recommend the jeep or golf cart rental.
You can also get a taxi for about $3 pp to anywhere on the island.
We chose to walk many places, take a taxi, or were lucky enough to catch rides with others going to the same places.
Wildlife on the Island
There is no shortage of wildlife on the island, in and out of the water. We personally saw free roaming chickens, roosters, dogs, cats, a couple of horses, iguana, pigs, and deer; I got the feeling Dr. Dolittle would find himself right at home here. Seeing a chicken and her chicks walking down the beach was great! Bring earplugs if you think the continuous cacophony of roosters will wake you!
Culebra really is a perfect Caribbean vacation. Not only do you get tropical beaches, snorkeling coral reefs, solitude and tranquility, but you get culture! You feel like you are in another country, but have all the benefits of staying domestically. You won’t need your passport, or to deal with customs, and they use the American dollar.
So grab your suit and your snorkel and get ready for a tropical dream vacation!
Any questions or comments? Don’t be shy! Leave them in the comments below!