Author: Cleveland Carl (---.neo.res.rr.com)
Date: 03-13-18 15:00
My wife and I just returned from our first trip to Culebra and I wanted to thank the creator and participants of this blog for providing useful information to prepare us and to pass on how the island seems to be fairing post Maria.
Let me begin by saying that for the past 20 years our Caribbean trips have centered around snorkeling and uncrowded beach time in the British Virgin Islands, specifically Virgin Gorda. As most of you may be aware that island took a tremendous hit from Irma, the eye went right over it and although they are recovering it doesn't look like they'll really be ready for awhile. We'd not been to the island for several years, when we were last there the walk out snorkeling reefs all seemed to be in good shape but I don't know what their most recent condition was prior to Irma nor post.
Bumping around on the internet led to several sites that enlightened me about the allure of Culebra, it seemed to have what we like, several walk out snorkeling sites, beaches barren of people, laid back vibe, friendly folks.
In my research getting to SJU was not difficult but I wanted a flight that went directly from from the international airport to Culebra, for awhile I seemed to have a a hard time getting a bead on that part of the trip. I was confused who was Seaborne, were they flying, were they part of Vieques Air Links, Air Flemenco or out of business.
Ended up with Seaborne who are in the process of being purchased by I think Silver Airways in the meanwhile they are code sharing with Vieques Air Links. With a bit of trepidation I booked a flight through the Seaborne on line site and had no problems with booking or the flights. So it is possible to fly from SJU to CPX.
We were there the week of March 3-11, shared a house with a brother in law for the first 5 nights and finished up at Club Seabourne for a few nights. For the house portion we bought groceries at Milka (always fun picking up items with no idea how much they cost until they are scanned at the checkout!) They had most of what we needed from brew to food and credit cards were working and accepted.
Mostly we ate out and got to sample most of the restaurants when they were open. Enjoyed El Eden (one night the credit card machine was down, one night working). Caracoles (next to the gas station and Milka) also had a good menu, seemed open most evenings, and also excepted cards. Zaco Taco's were excellent the one afternoon we found them open but never saw them open the rest of the week. Susie's was open Fri and Sat, had a great menu and atmosphere. Tiki grill had great Grouper sandwiches. We never had a bad meal on the island, just had to check around to find out who was open on any give evening. (Well the food truck for lunch across from Milka's was just ok) My question of credit card vs cash was answered yes you can mostly credit card your way through but bring adequate cash for food trucks and the unexpected.
The legendary Dinghy Dock I was hoping to try them but alas they are still rebuilding, I was told they are taking this opportunity to make some physical changes to the dock and improvements to the building that they had thought about doing prior to the hurricane. Every time we went by they were active with saws and hammer. My sense is maybe April?
Mamacita's seems to be the evening "hot spot" never tried dinner there but enjoyed drinks and people watching at the bar. Staff locals, and fellow tourists all very friendly, no language issue.
The entire island seems to be busy finishing hurricane cleanup. There were trucks, backhoes and heavy equipment moving material from staging areas to the island open refuse area. None of the homes or buildings we saw seemed to be seriously damaged. Almost every day we saw locals touching up their homes painting fences etc. I was impressed at how little litter I saw around the island especially having recently been to San Pedro Belize which has trash everywhere.
For those who have been asking Flemenco Beach camping is closed. You cannot get directly to the area where the kiosks and parking are, there is a guard and barricades. I'm told that prior to Maria there had been plans to temporarily close the area and look for lost ordinance from the Navy days. Maria sealed the deal because they figure the storm may have exposed ordinance. This past Saturday there was a sign up sheet at Milka looking for volunteers to help clean up the parking lots, kiosks, restrooms, and small buildings from storm debris. No one I talked to knew when they would reopen however you can access Flamenco beach from the Flemenco Beach Villa area that's to the right up the dirt drive but we never checked it out.
The end result of Flemenco being closed is folks are fanning out to the other beaches, particularly Zoni. On the weekends the parking lot was filled and up the road. During the week we found plenty of solitude that made your clothes fall off.
We had great weather with exception of the remnants of the first "bomb" North Easter that struck all the way up in New England. The first Sun and Mon we were there, strong NE winds had high surf and flood warnings up for the island. We walked Zoni beach and the waves were up to the sea grapes, palms and beyond.
While it eventually calmed down it also affected all the snorkeling areas. The waters were stirred up and cloudy with sediment. We checked out Tamarindo and Soldado early in the week and it just wasn't going to happen. The picnic table at Tamarindo beach was there on Sunday and the remnants were 20 yards down south on Tuesday.
Finally got in the snorkeling waters Fri and Sat. Tamarindo still cloudy, huge holes in the turtle grass which look like they used to have Sea Fan corals, I was told by folks that was all Maria damage. The grass itself has a lot of sediment covering it (not burying it) not sure if that was from the early week storm surge or Maria. We managed to kick up 3 Green Turtles while we were there, but coral and such were damaged that it was not worth trying.
Soldado also had a lot storm surge sediment clouding the water. Despite that we saw a nice variety of fish, found an Octopus, and a Lobster. The coral was hurting and looked like it must have been stunning to see talking to locals and frequent visitors they told me it was all hurricane damage.
Melones was the best we went twice first time cloudy, several days later it had somewhat cleared up. It had the healthiest looking coral nice Sea Fans and Stag Horn, nice fish selection and I saw my first ever Hawks Bill turtle but again some damage.
I spoke with a snorkeler who said he's been visiting regularly for 20 years and that the reefs had seen a little decline but Maria really set it back. He also told me the week before we arrived all the water was crystal clear but the North Easter we saw had stirred the sediment up.
I'm jealous of you folks who found this island a few years back we really enjoyed it and despite the aquatic set backs my wife and I were actively planning a return trip even prior to this one being over! Next time I bring the guitar and no North Easters.