Must see attractions in Culebra & Vieques

  • Top ChoiceSights in Culebra

    Playa Flamenco

    Stretching for a mile around a sheltered, horseshoe-shaped bay, Playa Flamenco (Flamenco Beach) is not only one of Culebra’s best beaches, it also makes a regular appearance on the world's best beaches lists. It gets its name from the nearby lagoon, which attracts flamingos in winter. If you plant to visit during this time, you’ll feel like Robinson Crusoe contemplating the clarity of the water. Backed by low scrub and trees rather than lofty palms, Flamenco gets very crowded on weekends and holidays, especially with day-trippers from San Juan, so plan a weekday visit. Alone among Culebra's beaches, it has a full range of amenities. Facilities Services include a collection of kiosks (selling snack food, lunches, rum punches and beer, and renting beach gear), toilets, outdoor showers, lockers, lifeguards, picnic tables and an often jam-packed parking lot. Camping is allowed. The M4A3E8 Sherman tank at Flamenco Beach on Culebra Island is an iconic photo opportunity. ©cdlutez/Budget Travel Tank on Playa Flamenco The iconic rusting tank is at the Playa Flamenco's western end, a legacy of when US troops practiced invasions here. Its swirling green and yellow stripes, the work of local artist Jorge Acevedo, represent a dancing fish. Ferry to Playa Flamenco The most popular – and cheapest – way to Culebra from the mainland is on the Autoridad de Transporte Marítimo ferry service from Ceiba ($2.25 for adults). The service is reasonably reliable, but delays often occur. Buy your ticket and check times at www.porferry.com and get to the ferry terminal at least an hour early. Schedules vary but there are usually at least five round-trips a day; journey times are 45 minutes. On busy weekends, especially during summer, travelers may get bumped by island residents. Playa Flamenco is 2.8 miles (4.5km) from the Culebra ferry terminal and is a straight shot from Dewey. The road is paved and has some inclines, but the destination is idyllic. The main road leading out of town becomes Hwy 251, passes the airport and ends at the beach. By car, the trip takes about 15 minutes; by foot, plan on 40 minutes. Públicos have one route on the island, from the ferry terminal to Playa Flamenco (per person around US$4). As long as there's room, passengers can flag them down anywhere along the route. The fare remains the same, regardless where you get on. This could be the view that greets you each morning at Flamingo Beach. ©cdwheatley/Getty Images Can I stay on Playa Flamenco? So far, Culebra has shunned the advances of any major hotel chains, so the island offers apartments or homestays rather than hotels and resorts. There are a few good accommodation options close to Playa Flamenco itself. Camping Culebra Playa Flamenco is the only place you can legally camp in Culebra. Campsites are in five zones: A is closest to the food kiosks while E is closest to the beach and therefore the most popular. Outdoor showers have limited hours; bathrooms are open 24/7. Reservations aren’t typically necessary and camping gear can be rented. Villa Flamenco Beach Gentle waves lull you to sleep and you wake up to one of the best beaches on the planet just outside your window: this six-unit home-away-from-home is an absolute winner. There are self-catering kitchen facilities and inviting hammocks, and friendly owners Violetta and Juan are on-hand to offer island advice. Closed from the beginning of October to mid-November. Culebra Beach Villas This is the only accommodations complex on Playa Flamenco. There are 33 self-catering apartments with kitchens for two to eight people. Each villa is individually owned, decorated and maintained and some are in a better condition than others. The setting is stunning, of course, though you’ll want to stock up on provisions in Dewey. Wi-fi in the reception area only.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Culebra

    Isla Culebrita

    If you need a reason to hire a water taxi, Isla Culebrita (Culebrita Island) is it. This small island, just east of Playa Zoni, is part of the national wildlife refuge. With its six beaches, tide pools, reefs and nesting areas for seabirds, Isla Culebrita has changed little in the past 500 years. The north beaches, especially the long crescent of Playa Tortuga, are popular nesting grounds for green sea turtles – you might even see them swimming near the reefs just offshore. The Isla is also home to Faro Culebrita. Built in 1886, it was one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the Caribbean when it was shut down by the US Navy in 1975. Currently in ruins, it is earmarked for extensive repairs. A well-marked path leads you there – the lighthouse itself is off-limits but the vistas are picture-postcard perfect. Bring a lot of water, sunscreen and a hat if you head for Isla Culebrita – there's little shade here. And don't forget snacks and snorkel gear! How to get to Isla Culebrita Unless you've chartered a boat (or have your own), round-trip water taxis from Culebra are the only way to see Isla Culebrita. These cost around US$65 per person, including beach gear, hammock and snorkel set. Water taxis There are a number of reliable water taxis who will take you to Isla Culebrita, but if they are booked, you'll often find captains along Dewey's waterfront. H2O Water Taxi Captain German offers round-trip boat service to Culebra's nearby cays. Beach and snorkel gear often included in his rates. Phone 787-685-5815 or email amarog1281@hotmail.com. Cayo Norte Water Taxi Licensed Captain Louis Padrón offers tours and water-taxi services to Isla Culebrita, Cayo Norte and Cayo Luis Peña. Phone 787-376-9988. Can I stay on Isla Culebrita? As Isla Culebrita is uninhabited, there are isn't anywhere else to sleep on the island. The nearest hotels are on Culebra. Beaches There are several beaches on the island, though most people will only visit one or two in a day. West Beach This is where the majority of water taxis from Culebra Island will moor up. It's a lovely narrow stretch of twinkling sand on the west of the island. Playa Tortuga (Turtle Beach) The diamond-dust sands of this crescent-shaped beach on the north coast is used by sea turtles as a breeding ground, hence its name. At the head of the beach are a number of rocks which absorb the waves and create warm tidal pools, known locally as the Jacuzzi. Trash Beach Strong winds and undercurrents can mean that Trash Beach lives up to its name — it's where flotsam, jetsam, driftwood and plastic tends to end up if the conditions are right. However, this isn't always the case. If you're lucky, it's a glorious stretch of isolated sand on the east of the island where the waves can boom theatrically. East Beach Although it's close to Trash Beach, this smaller slice of paradise doesn't suffer from the same issues and has a decent pedigree among snorkelers. You'll also find two of the lagoons nearby. South Beach This secluded stretch of shoreline is the least visited, but affords some of the best snorkeling. Cayo Luis Peña It may be less visited than Isla Culebrita, but Cayo Luis Peña can be a good, cheaper alternative. You’ll pass this small cay of peaks, rocks, forests and coves just a few minutes before the ferry arrives at Culebra’s dock. This island is part of the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge and has a collection of small sheltered beaches and snorkeling all around the island. Luis Peña is a short kayak or water-taxi trip (fares from US$40 per person) from Culebra.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Vieques

    Bahía Mosquito

    Locals claim that the magnificent Bahía Mosquito (Mosquito Bay), a designated wildlife preserve located on the island of Vieques, about 2 miles east of the town of Esperanza, has the highest concentration of phosphorescent dinoflagellates (algae) not only in Puerto Rico, but in the world. When movement disturbs these creatures, a chemical reaction takes place in their little bodies that makes a flash, a trait scientists speculate that dynoflagellates have developed to ward off predators. As such, a trip through the lagoon is nothing short of psychedelic, with the movement of your kayak, paddle, electric boat, even fish, whipping up fluorescent-blue sparkles below the surface. Touring the Bahía Mosquito (Mosquito Bay) You can drive east on the rough Sun Bay road from Esperanza and stop for a view (parking well back from the water and mangroves). However, an organized trip will give you far more opportunity to really take in the spread of phosphorescence. Guides offer a wealth of information on the phenomenon as well as the flora and fauna. Look for birds including pelicans, frigate and cuckoos. In the waters below, small sharks and rays are among the fish stirring up the light show. Abe's Snorkeling & Bio-Bay Tours and Aqua Sunset Tours – the latter offering trips in a crystal-clear canoe, which makes an already magical experience extra-special – are two good outfits. Ensure to book tours with operators who only use kayaks or electric motors, as anything else will damage the bay's fragile ecosystem. Reservations for tours are essential in high season, and the best time to go is at new moon. There’s another inlet to the east, Barracuda Bay, that’s also filled with dinoflagellates, but tour operators don’t venture out that far. Swimming in the Bahía Mosquito is illegal. Hotels near Bahía Mosquito (Mosquito Bay) The island of Vieques has plenty of accommodation options for travellers. For Bahía Mosquito, the town of Esperanza, just 2 miles to the west, makes for a great base, which boasts boutique hotels in the hills and guesthouses lining oceanfront Calle Flamboyan. For proximity to the Bay, Acacia Guesthouse and El Blok are two good options, both a 40-minute walk (or 7-minute taxi ride) away. Those counting the cents might alternatively consider Bananas, Esperanza’s original budget guesthouse.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Culebra

    Playa Carlos Rosario

    This remote thin, white-sand beach has one of the best snorkeling areas in Puerto Rico thanks to a barrier reef that almost encloses the beach's waters; you can snorkel on either side of it by swimming through the boat channel – look for the floating white marker – at the right-hand side of the beach. But be warned: water taxis and local powerboats cruise this channel, and swimmers have been hit. To get to the beach, follow a path through an opening in a chain-link fence on the western side of the parking lot at Playa Flamenco. A 15-minute hike over the hill brings you to a tiny beach. Continue north from here, crossing the narrow peninsula, and head down to the sandy basin and shade trees of Playa Carlos Rosario. For truly spectacular snorkeling, continue working your way north along to the beach for about a half-kilometer to a snorkeling site called the Wall, which has 40ft drop-offs, huge sea fans and rich colors.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Culebra

    Culebra National Wildlife Refuge

    More than 20% of Culebra is part of a spectacular national wildlife refuge, which was signed into law more than 100 years ago. Most of it lies along the coastline, including more than 20 cays. Home to three different ecosystems, the refuge is a habitat for endangered sea turtles and the largest seabird nesting grounds in the Caribbean. For visitors, it's a place for hiking, birdwatching and secluded beaches. The US Fish & Wildlife Service office has maps and information.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Vieques

    Sun Bay

    Part of Puerto Rico's national park system, this half-moon-shaped bay, less than a half-mile east of Esperanza, is the island’s balneario (public beach), with all the amenities you could hope for, including lifeguards and a cafe serving criollo treats. Measuring a mile in length, it rarely appears busy – even with 100 people sunning and playing on it, it will still seem almost deserted. The surf is gentle. Head to the eastern end for shady parking places amid the palms and few other sunbathers. For even more solitude, keep heading east on the beach road to Playas Media Luna & Navio. In the evening, kayak companies often begin their tours in the parking lot, taking Sun Bay's dirt roads to access Bahía Mosquito.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Culebra

    Playa Zoni

    Head to the eastern end of the island and you’ll eventually run out of road at Playa Zoni. Many locals think this is a better beach than Flamenco and it's hard to argue. It's not quite as wide and curving, but it certainly is stunning in its own right with soft sand, turquoise waters and idyllic views of Cayo Norte, Isla Culebrita and even St Thomas on the horizon. Do as the locals do and bring a picnic cooler. From the airport junction, it’s a straightforward 3-mile drive through rolling hills dotted with clapboard houses and holiday homes. There’s a paved parking lot next to the beach and a sign alerting you that endangered sea turtles nest on the beach. A short walk will guarantee you solitude amid the sands.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Vieques

    Playa Caracas

    Calm and clear, this beach is reached on a paved road and has gazebos with picnic tables to shade bathers from the sun; there's excellent snorkeling – lots of healthy sea fans and underwater life – off the eastern side of the beach. Walking west, Playuela is a lesser-known cove with less shade, meaning you'll find few people here and you can enjoy the view back to lovely Playa Caracas.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Vieques

    Playa La Plata

    This secluded beach is as far east as you can go at present, spread across a mushroom-shaped bay with icing-sugar sand and a calm sea that shimmers with a thousand different shades of blue. The snorkeling is good toward the western side of the beach. The road here is very rough; only a 4WD will get you close without walking.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Vieques

    Playa La Chiva

    A favorite with locals, this gorgeous playa at the eastern end of the main road is long and open with occasionally rough surf. It's easy to find your own large patch of sand and you can find shade in the shrubs. There’s good snorkeling toward the eastern side of the beach, just off a small island.

  • Sights in Vieques

    Vieques National Wildlife Refuge

    Lying within these protected confines are the best reasons to visit Vieques. This 18,000-acre refuge occupies the land formerly used by the US military. The 3100-acre western segment was used mainly as a storage area during the military occupation and is very quiet. The 14,700-acre eastern segment, which includes a former live firing range (still off-limits), has the island's best beaches along its southern shore. Both sections have beaches that are considered among the most beautiful in Puerto Rico. The visitors center (8am to noon and 1pm to 3pm Monday to Friday) in the refuge's eastern side has a small nature center with exhibits on the reserve's flora, fauna and ecology but was closed for reconstruction at the time of research.

  • Sights in Culebra

    Playa Brava

    It's beauty lies in its isolation; with no road you have to hike about 30 minutes along a little-used trail that is often overgrown with sea grape and low scrub. The rewards are a stunning swathe of sand of wild but utterly enchanting beauty. Bring walking shoes and snacks. No need for snorkel gear – the water is too rough. To get to the trailhead, take Hwy 250 east and turn north on the road immediately after the history museum. Follow it until the pavement ends and you come up against a chain gate near a few small houses. This is the entrance to a cattle farm, but it is also a public right-of-way; park your car or bike and head due north on the trail beyond the gate. The second half of the trail leads through a grove of trees that often attracts butterflies.

  • Sights in Culebra

    Punta Soldado

    On the southwestern tip of the island, Punta Soldado has a rocky beach perfect for exploring. The water is calm and clear and filled with healthy coral, also making it a great spot for snorkeling – turtles and puffer fish are often sighted here. Enter the water toward the left-hand side of the beach for the best snorkeling; the reef is about 150ft offshore. To get here, follow Hwy 250 south across the drawbridge for about 1 mile, passing Club Seabourne and finally scaling a steep hill. Here the pavement stops, and it’s a gravel road straight down to the beach. There's plenty of parking.

  • Sights in Vieques

    Playa Escondida

    This deliciously deserted stretch of sand has absolutely no facilities – just jaw-dropping beauty. It faces Bahía Ensenada Honda, which is good for kayaking. The road here is very rough and is 4WD-only, especially after storms.

  • Sights in Vieques

    Pata Prieta

    This gorgeous cove has a slender stretch of sand and protected waters that are excellent for snorkeling. A steep gravel path leads to the beach.

  • Sights in Vieques

    Punta Arenas

    Punta Arenas is excellent for a quiet picnic, some family-friendly snorkeling, and views of the mainland (note the wind farm) and El Yunque across the water. The sand here is not very broad, punctuated with coral outcroppings, but there are plenty of shade trees. Snorkeling reefs extend for miles and you can expect to have this place pretty much to yourself, except on summer weekends, when a lot of yachts out of Fajardo come here on day trips. To get here, drive through the rapidly vanishing former Naval Ammunitions Facility and head west for about 20 minutes through pastoral landscapes and past herds of semi-wild horses. At the western tip of the island, the road turns to dirt and you can park in the clearings.

  • Sights in Culebra

    Playa Resaca

    A resaca is an undertow and a metaphor for a hangover, an allusion to the state of the water perhaps, or the way you'll feel after climbing up and down Monte Resaca to reach it. Not well maintained nor easy to find, the trail is a 40-minute hike that involves scrambling, but the reward is worth it – a gorgeous windswept beach you'll likely have to yourself. The beach lives up to its name and is unsafe for swimming. The trailhead is not well marked. To get to it, take Hwy 250 east and turn north immediately after you pass the airport. Follow this road until it ends at a roundabout. Two paths begin here – follow the smaller one, marked with a huge rock and a sign indicating a turtle nesting zone. Monte Resaca, the island’s highest point, is characterized by an ecologically unique boulder-strewn forest on its upper slopes that harbors rare types of flora and fauna (mainly lizards). It’s a tough (and sometimes prickly) climb. Bring lots of water and sturdy shoes.

  • Sights in Culebra

    Playa Tamarindo

    Snorkeling is the thing here; the beach shares the fish-filled waters of the Luis Peña Channel Natural Reserve, making it a popular spot for independent travelers as well as organized tour groups. This often-overlooked beach is not as flashy and fabulous-looking as others, but offers a good combination of sun and shade, gentle currents and lots of underwater life. Head to the extreme right or left of the beach for the easiest access to the colorful underwater life. The marine reserve protects the rich and shallow waters between Culebra and Cayo Luis Peña. The beach is accessible by paved road; head toward Playa Flamenco and turn west off Hwy 251 about halfway around the like-named lagoon.

  • Sights in Vieques

    Playas Media Luna & Navio

    If it's isolation you’re after, head east on the sandy road that runs along Sun Bay and you’ll enter a low forest. Go left at the fork in the road. In a couple of hundred yards, you’ll stumble upon Playa Media Luna, a protected, shady beach that is excellent for kids. Beyond that is Playa Navio, where bigger waves are the domain of bodysurfers. Both of these beaches served as sets in the 1961 film version of the famous William Golding novel The Lord of the Flies. If you climb the rocks at the west end of Playa Navio, you’ll find a path along the shore with petrified clams and corals.

  • Sights in Vieques

    Cayo Afuera

    This uninhabited pinprick of land lies a few hundred feet across the bay from Playa Esperanza. Part of the Mosquito Bay Reserve, many intrepid locals swim here (not advisable unless you're a strong swimmer and are visible to passing boats); others kayak to it on their own or on organized tours. There's great snorkeling here, both under the ruined pier and on the ocean side of the islet where a sunken sailboat languishes beneath the surface. Antler coral, nurse sharks and manatees have been spotted in the vicinity.