Just a short boat ride from the Puerto Rico mainland, these enchanting islands are home to world-renowned beaches and the world’s brightest bioluminescent bay. If Puerto Rico has a best-kept secret, it is the islands of Culebra and Vieques. Puerto Rico is an archipelago, so it has dozens of cays and islets. Two of its most popular nearby islands are Culebra and Vieques. Whether you’re coming for a day trip or making it an extended stay, these two islands are worth the trip, and both are world-class destinations in their own right.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Culebra’s most visited beach is Flamenco. Constantly ranked among the top beaches in the world, this Blue Flag destination will leave you in awe. Its placid waves magnify the different shades of blue you can observe throughout the day, ranging from crystal clear to soft turquoise, and – at times – even emerald green. The soft, white sand you’ll feel beneath your feet contrasts with the green-rolling hills that make up Flamenco’s backdrop. It’s at this beach that you’ll find the iconic rusty military tank. At the beach, watch catamaran boats coming in and out, go swimming, snorkeling, catch up on reading, or take stunning pictures to show off back home.
A part of Culebra’s National Wildlife Refuge, this uninhabited smaller island is only a water taxi ride away from Culebra. The place has six small beaches, including Playa Tortuga, the most famous and visited one. An old lighthouse is the only man-made structure on the island.
Accessible through Flamenco beach, these spots are often overlooked but offer amazing water. They share the Luis Peña Natural Reserve and feel a bit farther removed from civilization. These spots offer a great deal of sun and shade, small and gentle currents, and bountiful marine life. Be ready to see remoras, bluetail fishes, angelfish, and others. Head to the extreme right or left of the beach for the easiest access to the colorful underwater life. Bring your snorkel gear for an unforgettable experience.
If you’re feeling like you need a break from the sun, make your way downtown to a former Naval munition warehouse, a place that now holds an exhibit about the story of the island. Learn about the culture, ecology, and formation of Culebra, as well as the endangered ecosystems and creatures that are being taken care of on this small island. Some sections of the Museo Histórico de Culebra are dedicated to the presence of the military and their control over Culebra. The presence of the Taínos on the island is also documented with ancient artifacts as evidence of their stay hundreds of years prior to the arrival of the Spaniards.
Witness a surreal experience when you visit the bioluminescent bay, recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the brightest in the world due to the high concentration of microorganisms called dinoflagellates. These microscopic organisms react by flashing a blue-green light when agitated and the waters of Mosquito Bay have about 1,000,000 to 2,100,000 of those organisms per gallon of water. The lack of light pollution in the area means that a ride in a clear kayak during a new moon night is an unforgettable natural spectacle.
The Vieques National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) occupies more than 60% of Vieques’ total landmass and encompasses several beaches, bays, mangroves, and trails to explore. You can spend a whole day hiking, beach hopping, snorkeling, birdwatching, kayaking, paddleboarding, and horseback riding. Keep in mind that Vieques is popular for its abundance of wild horses, so inside the refuge you’re likely to spot a few.
This is a small fort — the last one built by the Spaniards in America — sitting on a hill with a beautiful view towards the town of Isabel Segunda. In the place, you will find an art and history museum with Caribbean artifacts, information about the sugarcane industry, historical records, and more. There is also an important exhibition about the people of Vieques’ fight against the United States Navy, which had control over the island for decades. Admission to the museum is free of charge, but a kind donation is always welcome. Fortín Conde de Mirasol opens from Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. at 4:00 p.m.