Bienvenidos a Culebra

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By KATHARINE JARMUL
Observer Staff
March 26, 2008

Culebra is a small island about 20 miles off the east coast of Puerto Rico. A popular weekend vacation spot for Puerto Ricans, the beautiful island is known as the “Spanish Virgin Island.” This March, my stepmother and I traveled to San Juan and then to Culebra to see the isla ourselves.

On our flight from Miami into San Juan, American Airlines lost our luggage. Since this was described as a normal occurrence by locals, I wouldn’t recommend checking it. Luckily for us, we didn’t need much to be happy in Culebra, and we made sure to buy some extra swimsuits and essentials in San Juan before traveling over to the island.

Culebra is reachable only by ferry or plane. Although the ferry is only $3.50, it leaves from Fajardo. Since we were in San Juan, we decided to fly to Culebra for only $55. The 30-minute flight in a five-seat plane takes you over the coast of Puerto Rico and the gorgeous islands that spot the horizon toward the east. On our flight back one week later, Air Flamenco’s pilot Juan allowed me to use the controls while we were in the air. The spectacular view was only trumped by the excitement of being a pilot for two minutes.

Once you reach Culebra’s small airport, you are at the intersection of the two major roads on the island (I-250 and I-251). Although these are the major roads, they are gravel and dirt in parts and people travel on them by foot, bike, car, golf cart and horse. A large portion of the northern and eastern parts of the island are reachable mainly by boat. These areas contain a large wildlife sanctuary for tortoises and other marine reptiles, mammals and fish.

The first thing I noticed upon exiting the one-room airport was the roosters. They were everywhere! Walking around the road, yelling out their cocky calls, these guys run Culebra. The novelty of the roosters ran out the next morning at 5:30 a.m. I would highly recommend finding a room with air-conditioning so you can sleep with the windows closed and enjoy a rooster-less sleep.

Most of the restaurants, bars, lodging and stores are in the town of Dewey. You can walk from one side of Dewey to the other in about 20 minutes. There are lots of restaurants where the staff speaks English, so you don’t have to worry about starving if you don’t know Spanish. Most restaurants serve fresh fish and traditional Puerto Rican food. I would recommend eating lots of tostanos (platanos that are made into little pancakes and fried). They are delicious and filling.

The main attraction of Culebra is Flamenco Beach. Known as one of the most beautiful in the world, you can get to the beach by taking a $3 taxi from Dewey or by making the 3-mile bike ride. My stepmother and I decided to make up for the tostanos we were eating by renting bikes and making the 6-mile trip daily. When you reach the top of the hill, you are rewarded with a magnificent view of the beach. You’re nearly there!

When you reach the beach, you should first talk to Edward. When I met Edward, I thought he was a Puerto Rican native because his skin was so brown. But Edward’s teeth and face showed he had a tough past. Still, Edward was nothing but a gentleman. He rents chairs and umbrellas, and yes, you will want at least an umbrella.

Choose a spot on the beach between the green flags if you want to enjoy the clear water, as the life guard is very vocal with his disapproval of swimming in the “red zones.” The water is so clear you can see your toes, even when you’re up to your neck. There are some coral reefs within a short swim from the shore.

With the clear water and the white sand beach, you can just sit back, enjoy a good book or some music and melt away. If you get hungry or thirsty, they serve margaritas, fruit drinks, empanadas, tacos and more in the parking lot. Locals and tourists alike enjoy the beach, and it’s a great place to chat with people.

When you’ve had enough sun, you can head back into Dewey for the night life. There are five main bars open in the evenings. Two of them, Mamacitas and Dinghy Dock, attract mainly a tourist crowd. For a more local feel, go to El Batey or either of the bars by the airport. The bar next to the airport has pool tables and a great clientele.

We were lucky enough to visit Culebra during the annual international regatta sponsored by Heineken. This meant there were lots of drink specials, tons of Puerto Ricans and other locals were out on their boats and there was a huge salsa party out near the docks the night before the regatta launched. Dancing the night away in Culebra’s wonderful heat was a perfect end to a satisfying vacation.

For information about where to stay in Culebra, click here.

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