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We have been to Puerto Rico many times for long weekend getaways, but can’t say we have explored much of this island nation.
So when Yvonne, of Hello Wander World, who previously wrote about Puerto Rico, Iceland, Costa Rica and Bangkok, sent us a write-up about Culebra Island, we actually had to Google it. Here are her practical travel tips should you choose to explore beyond San Juan.
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Culebra Island is a small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico. The island is full of pristine beaches, water activities, friendly locals, and delicious food. I recommend spending at least 2 days on the island, especially if you are particularly into beautiful beaches or snorkeling.
Most tourists stay on the West side of the island close to the ferry dock. There are enough beaches and restaurants in just the West side to keep you busy for a few days. If you want to explore the whole island, you’ll want to spend about a week. With such a small island, you can go end to end in about 30 minutes, but there are many things to do and see. Even during their high season, we would find ourselves completely alone in some stretches of beach.
- Bug repellent is very important to have on. The tropical environment allows mosquitoes to thrive; Zika is still an issue in the area so pregnant women need to be especially careful.
- Remember to stay hydrated! Stick with bottled or filtered water.
- Credit cards are accepted in some restaurants, although they almost exclusively accept Visa only.
- For the smaller restaurants, the ferry, and beach rentals, have cash handy. Bring enough cash for your whole trip – the ATMs on the island charge a transaction fee on top of what your bank may charge.
How to get to Culebra Island
There are two ways to get to these islands: flying or riding the ferry. Flying takes about 30 minutes and will cost about $40-60 each way, depending on which season you go. These flights depart from the Fajardo airport and the San Juan airport. Taking the ferry takes about 45 minutes to an hour and will cost about $2.50 each way. Kids under 12 and seniors over 75 get a discounted rate.
How to get to Culebra Island: The Ferry
The ferry leaves from the port of Fajardo 3 times a day starting at 9AM. If you go during the busy season of December – February, it’s recommended you arrive at the port 2 hours in advance to ensure a spot on the ferry. During the other months, arriving half an hour to an hour before should be sufficient.
There is a parking lot near the port, where you can safely leave cars for about $5 a day. Just remember to take out any valuables! There are also some hotels and hostels nearby that are convenient for early starts.
Currently, there isn’t a reliable online purchase option.
If you plan to only stay for a day, buy a roundtrip ticket in Fajardo (mainland port). If you stay longer, it’s easier to leave the island, so just get your return ticket a few hours before you plan to leave.
- There is an extra baggage fee so travel with a light bag – you’re allowed to take on a backpack and beach chair at no additional fee
- The ride can be a little rough on windy days, so have motion sickness pills prepared, especially if you are prone to seasickness
- Trips may not always leave on time and weather can cause some trips to be cancelled. It’s important to be patient and flexible. If that happens, you will get a voucher for another trip.
How to Get Around
An island essential is either a golf cart or a jeep. Golf carts are about $60/day and jeeps will run you about $100/day. There are two main rental companies that rent: Jerry’s Jeep Rental and Carlos Jeep Rental. They’ll pick you up from the ferry and drive you to their rental office.
Driving is easy, as everyone is moving at a slower pace and there are lots of golf carts on the road. Just watch out for chickens crossing the street! Directions are given with respect to points along the road (ex. like Tamarindo Beach is a left at the yellow house) instead of street names.
Where to Stay
The lodging options on the island all align with the laidback island vibe, which means beach villas, Airbnbs, and camping options are usually quaint, simple, and airy. Most of the options are on the West side of the island.
Beach villas range from $80 to $400 a night, depending on your proximity to the beach and accommodations. Flamenco Beach offers tent camping on the beach for about $20/night. There are camping rentals so the equipment is taken care of for you. Private rooms of Airbnbs are very affordable, costing about $80/night with hosts that will treat you like family and royalty at the same time.
Best for: lounging and swimming
Flamenco Beach is consistently ranked in the Top 10 Beaches in the World (as ranked by Lonely Planet). With its flour white sand and clear blue, warm waters, it’s no wonder this beach is ranked with the best. Even in its peak season, the beach won’t be overcrowded. At certain times, you may even find yourself alone.
A fun addition is the rusted tanks a little walk down from the main entrance. These full-sized tanks were abandoned after WWII and now sit on the beach as canvases for graffiti art. The beach is free to enter and has food and drink shacks for refueling.
Best for: Snorkeling with sea turtles
Culebra is a snorkeler’s dream because of its clear and fairly shallow water. One of the coolest beaches is Tamarindo Beach, home to many sea turtles, coral, and fishes. The best part is that this experience is FREE! Even though tours are offered, you don’t need a guide to take you out because you can see everything the beach has to offer with just a 50 feet swim out from shore – even the turtles!
The best area to see the marine life is to the left of the main entrance where the sea turtles hang out and eat the seagrass. Don’t be surprised if you see some stingrays too. And watch out for sea urchins!
I would recommend bringing your own snorkel gear – buying them online is the same price as renting for 2 days. If you do need to rent gear, there is a guy that hangs out near the entrance. There are also rental companies near the ferry dock.
Best for: Snorkeling & Getting Away from it all
Melones Beach offers an underwater kingdom of colorful coral and fishes to match. The impressive collection of coral is off to the right of the beach near the big rocks. And just like Tamarindo Beach, watch out for sea urchins!
There are many great restaurants on the island serving classic Puerto Rican dishes of rice and beans, mofongo, and fresh seafood.
One of the most popular is the Krusty Krab, a food truck situated on the top of a hill, overlooking the sunset and serving fresh seafood. It only opens for dinner at 5 and fills up quickly for the sunset viewing. Don’t miss this delicious food truck.
Best Time to Visit Culebra
The island is a beautiful destination all year round. The weather changes constantly, so it’s not possible to predict rainy days, although late August to late October is the rainy season and increases the possibility of precipitation. This weather forecast results in thinner crowds during this time, with the biggest crowd being from the mid-December to mid-April range.
If you’re looking for even fewer crowds and more pristine beaches, visit Vieques, the sister island to Culebra, also accessible via ferry and plane.
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