Culebra is a small Caribbean island, mostly covered in nature preserve that lies about 20 miles (32 km) east of Puerto Rico and 12 miles (19 km) west of Saint Thomas. Culebra is administered as a municipality of Puerto Rico.
Culebra is 5 miles by 7 miles, without streams. It may have been populated by Caribs before the Spanish conquest, but was then empty until the end of the 19th century. It was used as a practice bombing range by the US Navy for much of the 20th century. Development has been recent and slow, and the island is still mostly woodlands. This makes it a spectacular backcountry destination, away from the crowds and the mega-resorts.
You can reach Culebra via daily ferry from Fajardo or on week days from Vieques. Maritime Transport Authority website for schedule and price information. Price is $2.25/adult and $1/child for the ferry ride and it takes 1-1½ hours from Fajardo. However, reaching Fajardo from San Juan by taxi costs $80–100. If you are two people or more traveling the taxi from San Juan to Fajardo might be the better option over flying.
For a budget traveler, you may also want to consider taking one of the local buses from San Juan to Fajardo. Prices may be negotiated if you speak Spanish, and $10–20 per person should cover the two to three hour ride. This highway tends to get busy. Check what time the last ferry leaves Fajardo. The buses are vans that depart sporadically, do not have air conditioning, and primarily serve locals. Tourists may have difficulty persuading taxi drivers that they want to go to the bus station.
Although the ferry is a cheap option, it is extremely busy during the high season (holidays and summer months). During these times the ferry will be extremely hard to use as people camp out as early as 4AM for tickets. This would be a good time to consider flying in.
- 1 Benjamín Rivera Noriega Airport (CPX IATA). Daily airplane service from San Juan, Fajardo, Vieques or nearby Saint Thomas. This option is the best and easiest way to travel, particularly for a single traveler. Air Flamenco and Vieques Air Link have a service that leaves from Isla Grande Airport to Culebra. San Juan Isla Grande Airport (SIG) is approximately a $25, 15-minute cab ride from San Juan International airport. These are small 8 passenger planes. The plane ride may cost $60 one-way and take 35 minutes. There are also flights leaving directly from San Juan International Airport, but they are much more expensive (from $115).
There is only one town on the island: Culebra Pueblo, also called Dewey. The sights are several miles away, so walking is not a practical option.
There are 3 primary modes of transportation on Culebra: publicos, rental cars or golf carts, and bicycles.
Publicos are shared taxis/shuttles that offer transportation to and from anywhere on the island including the airport, Flamenco Beach and the ferry terminal. The cost for most rides is $3 one-way or $5 roundtrip.
Publicos on Culebra include:
- Raul Transportation: +1 787-358-4816 or +1 787-448-6630
- Miguelito: +1 787-473-2594 or +1 787-633-6020
- Xavier: +1 787-463-0475
- Nata: +1 787-969-2863
- Nelson: +1 787-972-0928
- Adriano: +1 787-590-1375
Rental cars, golf carts, and scooters
There are several businesses on the island that rent scooters, road-legal golf carts, and cars at the airport. You can rent a jeep for $60 a day, or a golf cart for $35 a day. If you arrive with the ferry, you can take a shuttle to the airport. If you want to see the many beaches on all sides of the island you can rent a car for 1–2 days and pretty much cover the entire island.
- Jerry's Jeeps is right across the street from the airport. He has older vehicles for $50 a day.
- Carlos Jeep Rentals (+1 787-742-3514) has a booth and jeeps at the airport.
There are two gas stations on the island: Ricky and Lili's garage by the ferry dock (the area can get very crowded when the ferry is there), and Dakiti on the other side of the channel, past the Colmado Milka supermarket.
- 1 Culebra Pueblo (downtown Culebra). See the historic Roman Catholic church, Spanish-style recreational plaza, and the municipal buildings surrounded by streets and shops.
You can drive around the pueblo or park your car and walk around the square and into the plaza. The Spanish law, which regulated life in Puerto Rico in the early 19th century, stated the plaza's purpose was for celebrations and festivities.
- Flamenco Beach is quite outstanding and is featured on many "top 10 beaches" lists. Unlike the other beaches in Vieques and Culebra, it is popular enough to attract a real crowd. The beach is in a calm cove and stretches into a circle of nearly a mile in length, and a few rusted-out U.S. Army tanks silently watch over the beach. The water is clear, shallow, and calm, and the waves are small. Reefs exist on each side of the beach and are very easy to access directly off the beach if you have snorkeling equipment with you, and other snorkeling beaches can be accessible by taking the (safe) path through the old army minefield. The reefs are not world class but they are interesting enough for amateur snorkelers. Facilities at the beach are few. Showers run sporadically and there are flush toilets, but no lights other than in the bathroom. Fresh water is freely available. Bring a cooler with plenty of snacks and drinks, plus towels or beach chairs if you can. Campers should be warned that it gets surprisingly windy and chilly at night. Bug spray is recommended. Bring a tent and sleeping bags, and, if you have one, bring a hammock to string between two trees for a night under the stars.
- The Culebra National Wildlife Refuge,. Established by Teddy Roosevelt in the early years of the 20th century, offers pristine environments for bird and turtle watching in several locations on and around the main island.
- Bioluminescent organisms: While the neighboring island of Vieques may provide a more reliable source, Culebra's waters do contain bioluminescent organisms. Talking to the locals and heeding their advice should maximize one's chances of witnessing the phenomenon and kayak rentals are available on the island to bring more mobility to your maritime search in the darkness.
- Snorkeling: Shallow reefs are plentiful around Culebra. However, in the 2010s warmer water has killed off much of the once vibrant coral surrounding the island. Yet, the live patches of coral that remain and the schools of colorful fish surrounding them are spectacular. Combine these traits with amazing underwater visibility, up to 15–20 feet depending on the weather, and it makes for a fun snorkeling experience for both beginners and experts.
- Tamarindo Beach on the west side has a coral reef, and a grass area frequented by turtles and rays. The Luis Peña Channel Natural Reserve is a no-fishing area to help preserve the fish population. You can rent a mask, snorkel, and fins for the day at the beach.
- Scuba diving: The best reason to visit Culebra. Though the shallow reefs have been hit hard by warmer waters, deep sea coral is still thriving. At depths ranging from 20–60 feet these coral formations are spectacular to swim in and around. Sea life is abundant and variable. Visibility is superb and easily ranges up to 60 feet when off shore. Dive masters are knowledgeable, experienced and patient. All of these aspects combined with phenomenal pricing and Culebra becomes one of the most cost-effective places to scuba dive.
- Rent a jeep and visit the beaches. Carlos Jeep Rental has a wide variety of cars and jeeps.
- Rent a small motorboat ($150–200/day) and visit the nearby islets such as Culebrita with even more private beaches.
- Camp on Flamenco Beach and just relax. Call (787) 742-0700 for more information on Camping
- Bird watching: Hosting a wide variety of sea bird species, Culebra makes for excellent bird watching (especially in its numerous sanctuary zones).
- Turtle watching: During the late spring and early summer Culebra hosts a variety of sea turtle species. Returning to the island to lay their eggs, Hawksbill, Leatherback, and Green sea turtles can be observed by beachgoers in the dark of night so long as their direct nesting sites are left undisturbed. The local Department of Natural Resources takes groups of volunteers to survey the turtles on occasion and the agency is your best bet to both find and respectfully interact with the largest sea turtle species on Earth (the aforementioned Leatherback Sea Turtle).
There are several small restaurants on the island and small hotels which have restaurants. Reservations are recommended if you plan on going to a hotel restaurant.
- Mamacitas Hotel and Restaurant (besides offering accommodation). Has a restaurant and a tropical bar on the canal. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all great menus, although a little bit pricier than other local fare.
- Dinghy Dock. Has a wonderful atmosphere and a good ment with a regular crowd of ex-pats. Its name is literal as people dock their dinghys and hop up for a table. If you head down when the chef gets in at about four thirty, you can help him feed the Tarpon fish that swim around the dock waiting for table scraps.
- Susie's. Makes delicious fish and meat dishes in a casual and elegant environment,Indoor and outdoor facilities next to the canal. Chef Susie specializes in Tropical latitudes cuisine mixing Puerto Rican food with Asian and Indian nuances.Full bar and wine selection available. Popular with older expats and locals.
- El Eden, up the road from Colmado Milka. This restaurant comes particularly recommended, and provides a taste of America if island food grows tiring. Also has a bar, liquor store, sandwich shop, and gift shop. Open daily.
Several food vendors hawk their wares daily at the entrance to Flamenco Beach. The grilled meat-on-a-stick is both delicious and cheap. Lots of bottled water and other cold drinks from vendors with ice chests.
- Colmado Costa del Sol is the largest supermarket on the island (it's still tiny), by the airport (221 Calle 1).
- Colmado Milka, a reasonably priced grocery store with recognizable American brands and native foods, and the only fresh meat supply on the island. Open daily but only in the morning on Sundays. Take a right just past the bridge.
- Superette Mayra is a small jam-packed grocery store that has it all, including sundries such as cooking pots, supplies for diabetics, reading glasses, cheap coffee machines, beach toys, plastic flower pots, sewing needles. Closed Sundays and during siesta time 1-3:30PM. On Calle Escudero.
Mamacita's bar and restaurant, in the heart of the town, is popular but relatively pricey; the bar area is right by the water. Dinghy Dock also has a waterfront bar. El Eden has the best selection of wine in Culebra.
There are half a dozen or so guest houses, including the Palmetto Guesthouse, and small hotels on Culebra.
The term "resort" is a bit misleading as the average facility will be 2-3 stars at best. This is a small island after all! Some of the older hotels are barely a one star. Service is typical laid back (i.e., slow) island style. There are also plenty of houses and villas for rent on the island. Camping is permitted for up to four months at a time on the beautiful government-run Flamenco Beach, just a few miles outside of the main town.
- Harbour View Villas. Overlooking Bahia de Sardinas and the town of Dewey. It consists of 3 individual cottages and 3 suites. The villas are on one level and the suites on another level. They all look out to the ocean. You can walk to Melones beach and the town of Dewey from the Villas, in 5-10 minutes.
- Mamacita's Guesthouse, 64 Castelar Street (Culebra island), ☏ . Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 11AM. Waterfront guesthouse with a Caribbean style bar and restaurant offers 10 rooms with balconies. The perfect place to enjoy your vacation, right in the heart of Culebra. Mamacitas can be loud in the evening so if you want a quieter option chose another place to stay. $89.
Many private apartments are also available on the island, most can be book through Culebra Vacation Planners.
- MangoTree Culebra, Near town, ☏ . Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 11AM. Private apartment, sleeps 4 with kitchen and private balcony. Conveniently located, no need for a car. See the web site for pictures. $90.
- Club Seabourne. One of the nicer hotels on the island, it is on the way to Soldier's Point. The accommodations here mainly consist of several small but well-furnished cabanas that overlook the hotel's moderately-sized pool. The very friendly staff offers complimentary breakfast, as well as lunch baskets, bike, snorkel and kayak rentals for small fees. In addition, they have a good bar and a pleasant but overpriced restaurant. Reserve, because the rooms here go quickly.
- 1 Tamarindo Estates Beach Apts. (between Flamenco Beach and Dewey, at the end of the road to Tamarindo Beach), ☏ . Tamarindo Estates provides twelve 1-BR guest rental apartments on a remarkably virgin 60-acre estate, in the quiet and exclusive Tamarindo beach location, across from Culebra's Marine Reserve. It is nicely secluded, yet a 5- to 7-minute drive to town, where restaurants, grocery, and other stores are located. The 12 guest apartments afford great views of the ocean while you relax and sit on the apartment's private, covered deck. $149/night.
- The Culebra Calendar, Calle Castelar. Culebra's only newspaper has information on current events and historical information. Nautical charts, weather, tides, astronomy, telephone directories, all free. They are non-profit and produced by a local volunteer staff. General Information Free.
- Vieques is the other "Spanish Virgin Island", a few miles from Culebra
- Fajardo on the Puerto Rico mainland
- Saint Thomas in the US Virgin Islands