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Island Dreaming: The Quiet Charms of Puerto Rico's Culebra

February 4, 2015

It’s no secret that Zickie and I love islands. You might even say we have an island addiction. (That’s not a bad thing, is it?) But one tropical paradise we’ve yet to explore? That would be Culebra, a small isle that lies 17 miles off the east coast of Puerto Rico. A paradise of white sand beaches, black sand beaches, and coral beaches, it’s also a Spanish Virgin Island, only 15 miles from St. Thomas.  This diminutive Caribbean landmass tempts travelers who love off-the-beaten path escapes and hidden gems.  

(Going towards Flamenco Beach, Culebra. Photo by blucolt, Flickr.)

 

You want high-rise hotels, with Asian fusion restaurants and loads of casinos? Then El Condado near San Juan might be more your speed. Looking for incredible coral reef and a sense that you’ve stepped back into the Caribbean, as it was 30 or even 50 years ago? Word is that Culebra’s the place to be.

(Quiet Culebra, Puerto Rico. Photo by Jirka, Flickr.)

 

Here are 5 Things to Know:

 

1. Many people consider Flamenco Beach one of the most beautiful in the entire world. In light of the number of beautiful stretches of sand throughout the Caribbean (not to mention) the world, this makes it genuinely sound appealing. Swim, lounge, sunbathe…you can even camp on the beach. Order a freshly made piña colada, buy a little snack from a local vendor, and just enjoy.

 

2. Fans of tropical reefs will find plenty of places to snorkel. Access them by boat or kayak out. My personal favorite way to snorkel? Just off-shore. In Culebra this is not a problem. Walk from town to Melones, a coral beach, with brilliant snorkeling. Did I mention you can snorkel at Flamenco Beach, too? If this beach gets too popular for your taste, hike 30 minutes over to Carlos Rosario. Multicolored fish, corals, and seafans await!

(Snorkeling off Tamarindo Beach, Culebra. Photo by Joe King, Flickr.)

 

3. Why are Culebra and its sister island Vieques, so relatively undeveloped compared to many Caribbean islands? The U.S. military used this area as a gunnery and bombing practice site. As of 1975, the U.S. Navy stopped using Culebra and moved its operations to nearby Vieques. (Now that has ceased on Vieques as well.) It took years for the reefs and nature to recover, and you can still spot decaying tanks in the most incongruous places. (Ironically, the bombing prevented development.)

(A decaying tank on Culebra. Photo by Jirka, Flickr.)

 

3. Wild horses. Yes, wild horses roam Culebra. That must be a pretty magical sight to experience. Sea turtles also nest here in April, including the leatherback and the hawksbill species.

(Sign to protect leatherback turtle eggs. Photo by Scott Edmunds, Flickr.)

 

You can see the stars. Light pollution is not a problem on tiny Culebra. At night lie outside and look up and see how wonderful the universe truly is. While Culebra might not rock with nightclubs or brim with flashy casinos, the black dome of sky speckled with light makes this one of the islands we’re dreaming of discovering for ourselves.

(Zoni Beach on Culebra. Photo by Bryan Vincent, Flickr.)

 

Does Culebra sound like it’s the island for you? Or do you prefer more amenities and activities?

 

While Zickie and I have our own dreams of what makes for an ideal island, we’re intensely interested in what our readers and fellow Island Runaways think. Any suggestions? Hope you’ll share them with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,  or our Guest Island Experts page. Thanks!

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