Culebra Island, Puerto Rico- A Tropical Dream Vacation on a Budget

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.

Tamarindo Beach, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

Tamarindo Beach, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

 

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!

Ferry

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.

Culebra Island Ferry, Puerto Rico

Culebra Island Ferry, Puerto Rico

 

Me on the top deck of the Culebra Island Ferry, Puerto Rico

Me on the top deck of the Culebra Island Ferry, Puerto Rico

 

Plane

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.

Boarding our Air Flamenco plane

Boarding our Air Flamenco plane

Tommaso, inside the plane. You don't choose your seating, they distribute you by weight.

Tommaso, inside the plane. You don’t choose your seating, they distribute you by weight.

 

The incredible view coming up to Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

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.

Casita Tropical, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

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!

Casita Tropical, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

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!

Tamarindo Beach, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

Tamarindo Beach, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

 

The Beaches of Culebra

There are 8 main beaches on the island, each offering their own special charm.

Flamenco Beach

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.

Flamenco Beach, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

Flamenco Beach, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

 

Flamenco Beach, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

Flamenco Beach, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

 

Melones Beach

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

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.

Resaca Beach

On the north side of the island, this is another beautiful beach. Swimming is not recommended here because of the undertow.

Brava Beach

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.

Tamarindo Beach

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.

Tamarindo Beach, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

Tamarindo Beach, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

On the trail to Tamarindo Beach, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

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!

Barbara Rosa's, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

 

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.

Produce market, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

Produce market, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

After dinner, head out to see if the ice cream shop is open. The shop is also home to the mayor’s son.

Ice cream in Culebra!

Ice cream in Culebra!

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!

Dinghy Dock Restaurant and Bar, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

Dinghy Dock Restaurant and Bar, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

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.

Jose, a beautiful Culebra Island native

Jose, a beautiful Culebra Island native

Memories of Culebra, a documentary about the island, featuring Jose

Memories of Culebra, a documentary about the island, featuring Jose

Close to the ferry dock, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

Close to the ferry dock, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

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.

Arriving to Culebrita Island, Culebra, Puerto Rico

Arriving to Culebrita Island, Culebra, Puerto Rico

 

Culebrita Island, Culebra, Puerto Rico

Culebrita Island, Culebra, Puerto Rico

Culebrita Island, Culebra, Puerto Rico

Culebrita Island, Culebra, Puerto Rico

Culebrita Island, Culebra, Puerto Rico

Culebrita Island, Culebra, Puerto Rico

 

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 Island, Puerto Rico

Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

Culebrita Island, Culebra, Puerto Rico

 

Why Culebra?

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.

The only sign of being in the US, the post office on Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

The only sign of being in the US, the post office on Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

 

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!

 

 

 

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39 Responses to Culebra Island, Puerto Rico- A Tropical Dream Vacation on a Budget

  1. Maria Felton February 1, 2013 at 12:08 PM #

    Wow! Laurel what an amazing review! I’ve been to Vieques, but never Culebras… Looks like I may need to change that!!

    Great work and lovely pictures!!

  2. laurelp February 1, 2013 at 3:02 PM #

    Thank you, Maria! We went back and forth in deciding which island to go to. Ultimately, we chose Culebra because it was smaller. Would love to make it to Vieques one day too!

  3. wandering educators February 1, 2013 at 5:09 PM #

    I so want to go. What amazing colors, people, food, and of course, swimming!! wow!!

    • Laurel February 1, 2013 at 9:58 PM #

      Thank you! The colors were fabulous!

  4. Allison February 9, 2013 at 4:42 AM #

    What a delightful armchair vacation on a day when I have two feet of snow in my front yard. Culebra Island looks like a great off-the-beaten-path Caribbean destination. Thanks for the review!

    • laurelp February 9, 2013 at 4:51 AM #

      Sounds like just what you need, Allison! Certainly, the perfect winter getaway. Thanks for stoppng by!

  5. Reynaldo February 17, 2013 at 2:25 PM #

    Love your review!
    Im from Puerto Rico and my first visit to Culebra was a month ago. I fell in love with Culebra, can’t wait to go there again. If you live in PR, I suggest you use the cargo ferry and take your own car.

    • Laurel February 17, 2013 at 3:42 PM #

      Thank you, Reynaldo! We had such a lovely time there! What a hidden gem! Great suggestion to bring your car over. I will be making a post about Old San Juan at night soon, stay in touch!

  6. Culebra Online February 18, 2013 at 3:05 AM #

    This is one of the best reviews we have seen.

    The old man in the photo is Don José Pérez,,
    he is a model boat builder and crossword puzzle
    fanatic. He is also the father of my partner in the Island
    News, Benjamín Pérez, Benjamín was a protestor
    and went to prison for Civil disobedience in Culebra’s
    fight for liberation from the US Navy in the early 70′s

    The Culebrense fought to protect wildlife from the
    bombing and strafing of the Navy which had used it
    as a target range. The Island won it’s liberation in 1975
    the Culebrenses have been in control ever since and
    true to their word, they fight overdevelopment and
    keep the Island as one of the last true virgin islands in
    the West Indies.

    More info on Culebra at http://www.CulebraOnline.com
    check out the Island History link on the left bank, it
    is an amazing story.

    Culebra is not for everyone, but if you like secluded
    beaches and starry nights in a small town setting, you
    will love Culebra.

    If you are a ‘been there, done it’ or snooty/picky tourist,
    don’t waste your time or ours.

    James Petersen, Publisher
    (and husband of Barbara of Barbara Rosa’s Rest!
    Barbara says thanks for the kind words.)

    • Laurel February 18, 2013 at 5:10 PM #

      James, Thank you so much! I just fell in love with José and wanted to know so much more about his story. What a gem he is there! Luckily, my partner is Italian and we were able to work through the languages fairly easily.

      Indeed, Culebra is not for everyone, which is why it has remained so charming. Though, it certainly was for us! We will certainly be back!

      Please give Barbara our best!

      Laurel

    • Douglas Hill October 18, 2013 at 5:11 PM #

      Jimmy Hi. I stayed with Tommy and Ana last year and had 2 or 3 excellent meals with Barbara at your house. I’m coming back for the month of January and need to find some kind of lodging for the duration. Any cubbyhole would do. I have Spanish and can (prefer) to deal with locals. I am 65 and very low impact. If you could hook me up with somebody or have any ideas I’d really appreciate it.
      Thanks, Doug

      • Laurel Perry Turner October 23, 2013 at 2:57 AM #

        Hi Doug, I highly recommend Molly’s place that I mention in the article. Very simple with incredible rates. I will stay there again when we go back.

  7. Robin February 18, 2013 at 4:14 AM #

    Great review..Will be there in 3 days. We are “snow birds” and have returned every year since we found Culebra 20 years ago..each year is a new adventure and we meet new people and make new friends!

    • Laurel February 18, 2013 at 5:11 PM #

      Have a great trip, Robin! I can see why you keep coming back!

  8. Marilyn February 18, 2013 at 4:31 AM #

    Wow..it looks like a tricked out version of the Culebra I remember.

    • Laurel February 18, 2013 at 5:11 PM #

      It is a pretty special place!

  9. Gino February 18, 2013 at 12:00 PM #

    This an excellent review of the island of Culebra. I am Puerto Rican and heading there in two weeks. However I want to point out a couple of things. One you speak as Puerto Rico being another country when you infer ” you don’t need a passports and they use the US Dollar”. Puerto Rico is a US Territory and is been so since 1898 after US won the Spanish American War, so you never left US soil. Second all Puerto Rican are US Citizens therefore if you are a us citizen you are not an expat as you have not left US soil. Would you be an expat if you move from Georgia to Texas….I left Puerto Rico in 1997 to join the military and live all over the US mainland and O don’t consider myself an expat…

    • Laurel February 18, 2013 at 5:14 PM #

      Thank you for pointing that out, Gino. I could call them “Mainland expats” :) Many people think PR is another country, the fact that you don’t have to deal with foreign exchanges and passports is a draw for many travelers. Thank you again, I will go ahead and amend that in the article.

      All the best.

      • Gino February 19, 2013 at 1:10 AM #

        Laurel:

        Thank you!!! As I said before your article is excellent an I am very happy you have so much good to say about Culebra.. I hope you also get to visit other parts of the main island specially the west side (where I am from) the also have their charms…You are so right, many go to PR believing is another country, but Is not , is part of the US and we are very proud of being US Citizens…That is what makes the USA a magnificent country…Our diversity is what makes us strong….

        • Laurel February 20, 2013 at 4:39 AM #

          Very well said, Gino! We LOVED the culture in Puerto Rico! We were walking down the street in Old San Juan and ran into about 50 people singing and dancing in the streets. We joined in until everyone ended up at the fort. It was fantastic! It really made it all so beautiful.

  10. Phillip February 18, 2013 at 2:53 PM #

    Great review. We honeymooned here 10 years ago. Glad to see that so little has changed. Hope it stays that way. And hope to visit again! Btw, we did Culebrita too. And it was phenomenal. Guileen, a local fisherman, taxi’d us over and was fantastic. He had a cooler full of drinks and snacks, and gave us plenty of inside tips. Highlight of the trip.

    • Laurel February 18, 2013 at 5:15 PM #

      I LOVED Culebrita! What an incredible place! I hope you are able to find your way back over there one day!

  11. Phillip February 18, 2013 at 2:57 PM #

    Oh… btw, we enjoyed Barbara Rosa’s and Mamacita’s for dinners, too (Dinghy was only open for breakfast and lunch while we were there). And the food was great. But don’t forget Club Seabourne. We had our one “fancy dinner” at Seabourne, and it was absolutely phenomenal. White table cloth dining under the stars.

    • Laurel February 18, 2013 at 5:17 PM #

      Thanks Phillip! We didn’t make it to Club Seabourne, it’s always great to have new suggestions. Thank you for your comment!

  12. Marco Gialdroni February 18, 2013 at 6:47 PM #

    Wonderful Culebra. a piece of my heart is still there.
    Even my house is still there.

    • Laurel February 20, 2013 at 4:40 AM #

      Thank you for stopping by, Marco! I will have a photo essay on Culebrita in the next couple of days. Stay tuned!

  13. Tammy February 20, 2013 at 8:38 AM #

    Culebra has been a “must visit” every time I go to P.R. to spend time with my dad. Three trips in the last 2 years to be exact. I have visited there more since I moved to the states than when I lived on the other side of the ferry dock in Fajardo. In fact never went to Culebra while living in P.R. Sad, I know. I guess it comes with growing up and learning to appreciate life and the beautiful things in this world we take for granted.
    Speaking of pictures, I love taking pictures, hundreds & thousands, and some of my best ones so far are on this fabulous island, especially the sunsets and the unbelievably breathtaking beaches. Just can’t get enough and knowing that I can’t stay longer in “my happy place” sends me into a desperate state of trying to capture every sight, every moment to keep forever somehow.
    Can’t wait for your Culebrita photo essay. Doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been there or how many pictures I own, it never gets old….Never.

    • Laurel February 26, 2013 at 2:52 PM #

      Tammy, thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with Culebra. A perfect “happy place” :) I take my favorite photos and print them on canvas. Keeps the “happy place” alive in my home!

      Here is a link to the Culebrita post-

      http://capturinglavita.com/culebrita/#comment-297

      Enjoy!

  14. Vicki Moore April 15, 2013 at 11:07 AM #

    Laurel. love this post. However, you might want to change the name of your favorite beach Malena to Melones. It is our favorite snorkeling beach and so easy to get to. When not diving with Taz with Aquatic Adventures, we are snorkeling and Melones does not disappoint!

    • Laurel Perry Turner April 15, 2013 at 7:28 PM #

      Thank you, Vicki. I guess there is also a Malena Beach, I’m guessing we got the names confused. Thank you for letting me know!

  15. bringingtravelhome August 27, 2013 at 2:11 PM #

    wonderful post – this is so helpful and grateful jenna put this question out to her readers. We are staying in Fajardo and hope to get to culebra for a day trip at least a few times during our stay. After reading this, Im wondering if we should stay overnight on culebra – it looks absolutely beautiful. Hoping end of January will bring weather as beautiful as you experienced.

    • Laurel Perry Turner September 6, 2013 at 10:31 AM #

      Thank you for commenting. It really is such a beautiful place. I really enjoy the solitude of Culebra.

  16. Barbara @ You Should GoToo! August 31, 2013 at 1:26 PM #

    Hi, Laurel, I’m new to your site and I loved reading this post! Puerto Rico is one of our favorite places to vacation for many of the reasons you mentioned and Culebra is always one of the highlights of our trip! It’s an amazing destination and one I always recommend to anyone looking for a relaxing, low-key get-away. Reading your post put me right back in the Island state of mind that I like to refer to when I think of the tranquility of Culebra and its friendly people! Thank you so much for this wonderful review of Culebra and I look forward to checking out more of you site!

    • Laurel Perry Turner September 6, 2013 at 10:32 AM #

      Thank you, Barbara. I really appreciate your kind words. Tranquility is the perfect word for Culebra.

  17. Doug September 5, 2013 at 8:15 PM #

    Hi Laurel,

    What a wonderful review of Culebra. I am going to PR on business in October and want to take a side trip over to Culebra. Your post was great for learning more about the island and for some of the things I can see or do.
    Do you by chance have idea if renting boats is allowed on Culebra? I have been looking all over the place and information seems scarce. It seems Capt Dan is in San Fran until December so that is not an option. I was hoping it was possible to rent skiffs of powerboats of some kind to explore the island by water.
    Thanks again for your wonderful description of Culebra!

  18. Sondra November 27, 2013 at 12:30 AM #

    What a great website with such a wealth of information on Culebra! We’re planning on going there this coming January (2014) for several days and were interested in knowing if there was any shade on the beach. We see from your photos that umbrellas and chairs were being used. Are they for rent or do we need to get them from the place that we’re staying? Also… if we rent a golf cart, can we get to all beaches or are some not accessible?

    • Laurel Perry November 29, 2013 at 5:56 PM #

      Thank you so much, Sondra. Most all beaches are lined with nearby trees that you can find shade, but depending on how busy it is, those spots could fill. It never hurts to bring an umbrella to the beach. You can always purchase one there. Some rental properties will provide them, you will need to ask the property itself. A golf cart will get you to most beaches. There are a couple that you would have to park the golf cart and hike to the beach. If hiking is not an option for you, there are plenty of accessible beaches.

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  1. Culebrita- Culebra, Puerto Rico's Secret - Capturing la Vita - April 6, 2013

    [...] uninhabited landscapes make this tiny islet a one-of-a-kind experience. Accessible only by boat off Culebra, Puerto Rico’s northeast corner, Culebrita is a must-see day trip. Whether you are hiking the lush tropical [...]

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