Author: Joel Maners (---.wan.networktel.net)
Date: 06-13-05 15:03
I prepared this trip report for TripAdvisor.com. It's not up yet but I thought you guys might like to read it.
Culebra Trip Report
June 6-9, 2005
Culebra Trip Report
June 6-9, 2005
We just got back from a brief three night trip to Culebra, Puerto Rico. We flew into San Juan on Monday June 6 via American Airlines from Orlando, then took a hopper flight on Air Flamenco to Culebra. Our accommodations were at Tamarindo Estates on the West end of the island. We left on Thursday June 9 taking the 11:30 Air Flamenco flight back to San Juan.
Culebra is a small collection of islands situated between Puerto Rico ad St Thomas and just north of Vieques. The main island of Culebra is surrounded by a collection of smaller cays including Culebrita and Cayo Norte to the east and Luis Pena to the west. The main town (always referred to as "Town" and not "Dewey" by the locals) is centrally located at the head of the main central bay called Ensenda Honda. Total population of Culebra is about 3,000 people. The population is a collection of both American expatriates and native Culebrenses.
Getting there and around....
Traveling to Culebra is not quite as difficult as it may seem. Most major air carriers fly into the Caribbean hub of San Juan (SJU). From there you can take one of a number of regional carriers to Culebra. Our flight on American arrived at 1:40PM so we had plenty of time to catch the 4:30 Air Flamenco flight out of Isla Grande airport. Several other regional carriers and charter companies use this airport instead of the larger Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (LMM). Most of the people we met either took Air Flamenco or Vieques Air Link (VAL). To get to Isla Grande Airport, we simply took a taxi. The airports are relatively close by so the trip took just 15 minutes. From there, we boarded our Air Flamenco flight and off we went to Culebra. The plane left on time and the staff was very helpful. We touched down 30 minutes later at the Culebra Airport.
Originally I wanted to take an earlier flight on Isla Nena but they will not fly unless a minimum number of people show up. Isla Nena's advantage is that they fly out of the LMM international airport and they have a 3:00PM flight. But Air Flamenco's schedule (4:30PM) was set from the beginning and I was assured that we would get there on the day we were scheduled to arrive. Not having a day to waste with such a short trip, I chose to book on Air Flamenco.
Please keep in mind that there are weight restrictions when flying a small plane. Keep your bags under 70 pounds and you'll be fine. Given the casual nature of the island, you won't need to pack much. I simply carried some shorts and casual shirts along with some sandals and I had plenty to wear. Use the extra space in your bag to carry snacks, breakfast foods and lunch. More on that later.
As far as getting around, definitely rent a car. We rented from Jerry's Jeeps and got the cheapest vehicle he had, a Suzuki Samurai with no A/C. You can rent newer jeeps at Carlos but you'll pay more. Ours ran just $40 per day and we really didn't need the AC. Jerry includes a great briefing of the island and gives you a detailed hand drawn map so you'll know where to go. But Jerry is more than just a businessman. He functions as a sort of un-official ambassador/welcoming committee for Culebra. He's a virtual walking memory bank, filled with all the info you could ever want to know about Culebra. His attentiveness and knowledge of the island make sure you get started on the right foot. All of the rental places are located within walking distance of the airport terminal so you won't need a shuttle.
The roads on Culebra are fairly straight forward. The only thing that's confusing is the triangle of one-way streets in the middle of town. The main roads are pretty easy to navigate and most are well paved. The only thing you'll need to watch out for are the dips in the road which function as drainages. There's also a huge pothole near the end of the road to Zoni beach that could overturn your vehicle if you're not careful. Other than that, the roads are surprisingly good.
We spent 3 nights at Tamarindo Estates. The property is located on the west end of the island just a 3 minute drive from Flamenco Beach and a five minute drive from town. The road to Tamarindo is probably the best pavement on the island. The property is a collection of condos on a hillside. Each building houses 3 livings spaces. The structures are separated by trees and shrubs to insure privacy. We stayed in the middle section of the the condo on the far end of the property #302. Our quarters featured a small kitchen with stove-top, microwave, and refrigerator. The coffee maker was an Italian style coffeemaker which made excellent coffee once you figured out how it works. The bath and bedroom are air conditioned while the kitchen and living area are not. The west facing property does not get the breezes that the east facing properties do so the AC comes in handy. The bed was a double bed that seemed a bit cramped. The water heater was an in-line model that you had to flip on a few minutes before getting in the shower. It was effective though.
Tamarindo has it's own rocky beach which features some decent snorkeling if you're willing to swim out a bit. I saw a barracuda, a large stingray, and the largest puffer fish I've ever seen. There are also some beautiful sponges and a forest of sea fans nearby. Watch out for the sea urchins though. A stick would be painful. Just down the road is a narrow sandy beach where you can rent kayaks. They also have a beach side pool and a restaurant. While we were there, Chef Rikki had just left to take a job at another property so the restaurant was not up and going at the time. They plan on hiring 2 chefs in the near future.
What you lack in sea breezes is made up for in view. Directly in front is a gorgeous vista of Cayo Louis Pena. The sunset views are also spectacular and not to be missed. At night you can see the city lights of Fajardo to the west and Vieques to the south. We enjoyed sitting out at night and counting the stars. Make sure you bring your insect repellent though. The mosquitoes are voracious. The Off seems to keep them at bay though. Also sweep up any dropped crumbs. They attract ants rather quickly.
Tamarindo also has a great supply of books and over 150 videos which you'll make use of. There's not much to do on Culebra besides relax and read a book. The television coverage is poor so if you want entertainment you'll have to grab a book or video. The only television channel we could get was an all sports channel out of Fajardo. I was a bit surprised that they didn't have satellite TV but we are here to get away from it all right? Everything is located at the caretakers residence at the middle of the grounds. You can also exchange your towels for fresh ones if you like.
The staff at Tamarindo was also very helpful. While you don't get daily maid service, they are willing to help you with just about anything else you might need. You get a fresh supply of water in your refrigerator when you arrive. You can purchase more at the ample grocery store in town. We just boiled water at the end of each day and refilled the container. They don't recommend drinking the tap water. It tasted fine to me though. Nevertheless, we boiled our water just to be safe. People who stayed at other properties mentioned to us that they were prohibited from flushing toilet paper in the toilets. We were never told anything about this at Tamarindo. I'm not sure if this was a failure on the part of the staff or just a limitation at other properties.
Overall, Tamarindo was a great place to stay. It's a bit rustic but it has a charm that's all it's own. Don't come with expectations of a beach side resort and you'll be pleasantly surprised. It's definatly an upscale property by Culebra's standards.
This is perhaps the number one reason for visiting Culebra. Culebra has some of the best beaches in the world and some surprising hidden gems if you're willing to go the extra mile.
Flamenco is probably the most famous of Culebra's beaches and it's certainly a beautiful place. If you like a beach with services and food then this is the place for you. It's an excellent beach for campers, people watchers and families. However, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with Flamenco. My idea of a perfect beach is one where you can't see another soul around. Flamenco always seemed to be busy with people hustling back and forth between the guest houses in town and the beach. The camp sites are quite nice though and this would be a great choice for those traveling with a tight budget. We didn't spend much time at Flamenco. We opted to hike over to Carlos Rosario Beach instead.
Carlos Rosario is just a 20 minute hike over the ridge to the other side of the island. The beach is much narrower and shorter than Flamenco but quite lovely. Here you'll find the best snorkeling on the island. The coral is broken close to the shore but swim out to the markers and the reef really shines. Be careful while snorkeling though. The reef is very shallow at some points and you'll want to swim along the edges of the reef. Also watch out for the fire coral which could give you a nasty sting. Despite what you may have read about this being a deserted beach, it's visited quite often. We stayed about an hour and then a small boat arrived with out 15 people on it. When you have 15 to 20 people on Carlos Rosario it gets crowded. We left to find more peaceful shores.
I had heard many great things about Zoni beach and it was even better than I imagined. The beach is absolutely beautiful and stretches for over a mile. The only thing you have to watch out for are the turtle nests which are roped off this time of year and the coral heads in the water. The sandy bottom is interspersed with rock and coral so you have to be careful where you put a foot down. Because of that, this may not be the best place for kids. We saw one child who had put a foot down in the wrong place and she was in a bit of pain while being carried to the car by her dad. We walked on down to the far left side and enjoyed a peaceful spot all to ourselves. Jerry had told us when we arrived the day before about a small beach just around the rocks called Tortuga beach. We rock hopped around the shore and found the most perfect beach on Culebra. The beach here is small but if you are searching for romance, this is the perfect place. We stayed for about and hour before returning to Zoni.
By far the best beach we visited the entire trip was Tortuga Beach on Culebrita. We called Mamacitas and reserved a space on Luis Grundler's water taxi. We then hiked over to the other side of the island and found the most perfect beach I have ever seen. We found a deserted place on the left end of the beach and plopped down under a coconut tree. As soon as I got in the water I spied a hawksbill turtle swimming on the surface. The beach is a perfect place for turtles with acres of turtlegrass just off shore. After a few hours of enjoying the water, we hiked down to the other end of the beach where we saw a small stingray in the sand. On the way back to the water taxi we visited Trash Beach which had much rougher surf. It was beautiful too but there was no shelter from the sun at this beach. The trip took about 20 minutes each way.
Places to Eat
As I stated before, Culebra is the place to come if you are looking for a beach to relax on. It's not necessarily the place to come to look for the best in fine dining. That doesn't mean that you can't find good food on Culebra. Keep your mind open and try something new and you'll be pleasantly surprised. We ate breakfast at our room and fixed sandwiches for lunch. You can find a well stocked grocery in town. We took the savings and splurged on a desert or appetizer at dinner. If you go, don't look for an early bird special. Most places won't be open before 6:30. Take in the sunset at 7:00, then start thinking of dinner. We never had to wait for a table.
The first night we are a Mamacitas. The tostones were a tasty appetizer. I had the salmon while my wife ate the dorado (mahi mahi). Both were very good but I'd have to give the nod to the dorado. The rice and beans were a spicy side for the fish. Service was prompt and friendly. I'd go back in a minute. Did I mention that the iguanas will join you for breakfast and lunch?
Our second night we wanted to eat at Barbara Rosas but she was closed. We ended up at Dinghy Dock. They have a salad bar which is a novelty on Culebra. It's not anything to write home about but it's a salad bar nonetheless. We ate the steaks which were good. The home-made sauce was very good. Service was slow but the view of the bay makes you want to linger after the meal. There's no need to rush either. It's not like you have anything else to do after dinner.
On our third night we finally got to eat at Barbara Rosas. We ate the crab cakes for an appetizer. I wish I had ordered them for an entre. Fantastic!. My wife ate the fish and chips while I ate the Dorado. Both were excellent. Best of all we got to visit with Jim Peterson, the new publisher of the Culebra Calendar. Jim is a lot of fun to chat with and he can tell you anything you want to know about Culebra while he surfs the Internet on his new Mac Powerbook. The Calendar should be online soon. Jim recently purchased culebracalendaronline.com. Look for him to have it up and going in a few months. Until then you can purchase a subscription for just $25 per year.
Overall, Culebra is a great place to visit if you are into a more rustic, less pampered vacation. I would recommend it for more mature couples and some honeymooners. It's not the place for children with its dearth of activities. Culebra is at once beautiful, gritty, natural, relaxed, and most of all, real. If you really love beaches, relaxation, and snorkeling, then this is the place for you. If you are looking for an artificial heaven-on-earth all-inclusive, you won't find it in Culebra. Culebra is too independent a place for that . It's people won't compromise their independence to bow to the tourist's every whim. But that's what makes the place all the more beautiful. The island and it's people are real. It's a special place that it inhabitants want to stay natural, wild, and natural.