Culebra in the News

Caribbean Travel and Leisure article about Vieques and Culebra

Click for Vieques, Puerto Rico Forecast

Back roads with island color

Ginger Adams Otis, Lonely Planet
12:00 AM PST, November 06, 2005

You can't help but fall in love with an island that keeps surprising you, especially when it's small enough to drive across in half a day. Puerto Rico, 100 miles by 35 at its widest point, has all the sun, sand and surf you could want in a Caribbean destination. But just beyond the north coast's popular tourist beaches, there's an entirely different island waiting to be explored.

So long, city life

To fully experience all that Puerto Rico has to offer, pry yourself from the seductive arms of Viejo San Juan � the colonial section of the capital that beguiles visitors with narrow cobblestone streets and intimate courtyards � and hit the road. Head down Highway 3 to Fajardo (about 90 minutes, depending on traffic), where you can park in a secure lot by the dock and hop a ferry to Culebra, the less celebrated but ultimately more entrancing sister island to Vieques.

A beach, a beer

Rent a jeep, scooter or bike, or use the services of Willy, Culebra's genial taxi driver, to get to the more remote playas � Flamenco, Zoni, Brava, Soldado and Resaca. Dewey, the one and only town, takes five minutes to cross on foot and holds a handful of ex-pat-run B&Bs that are short on high-end amenities but long on Jimmy Buffet-style partying. Hard-core scuba divers throng to the surrounding cays to swim with the fishes, but you'll see plenty of underwater life just paddling around.

Jungle meets desert

When you've had your fill sunning with the turtles, return to the "mainland" and follow the highway to Ponce, once known as "The Pearl of the South." You can soak up more of Ponce's colorful past by visiting Hacienda Buena Vista, a beautifully restored coffee plantation and the Centro Ceremonial Ind�gena de Tibes (Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center), showcasing native life 1,000 years before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. The one sight not to be missed, however, is the Gu�nica Dry Forest Reserve, 20 minutes away, where Puerto Rico's steamy interior rain forest gives way to arid desert.

A hiker's dream

Lizards drape themselves over dusty rocks, and tinder-dry bushes sprout from the sunburned earth. Cross any number of trails of all skill levels in the 9,500-acre dry forest, and you'll always end up at the edge of the ocean, where soaring seabirds hang out to catch overdrafts. There are some rough paths leading down to the water, but it's also possible to drive along coastal Route 333, which traces the outskirts of the park. You can pull over for a dip.

The fast lane home

Puerto Rico could keep surprising you for days � even weeks � if you continue on to the cheery fishing village of La Parguera or into the Central Mountains for a stay at the 200-year-old Hacienda Gripi�as. But if your vacation's at an end and you need one more fix of Viejo San Juan before you go, jump on the newly finished San Juan-Ponce autopista (Highway 52), and you'll be sipping a mojito in the old town in less than two hours.

Places to stay

Hotel Meli�, in Ponce, is a century-old hotel, with a restaurant that puts a new twist on the classic mofongo (mashed plantains). Doubles from $100; 2 Calle Cristina, (800) 448-8355, http://www.hotelmeliapr.com . Hacienda Gripi�as, located in Jayuya, in the middle of the island, is a 200-year-old hacienda with alpine surroundings. Doubles from $125; Highway 527, Jayuya; (787) 828-1717, http://www.haciendagripinas.com . To rent a house or villa, call Michael McCarty at Culebra Vacation Planners. Rooms from $40 a night; four-bedroom houses from $500 per night; (787) 742-3112, http://www.culebravacationplanners.com .

Dining tips

The Dinghy Dock, which gets first dibs on the locals' daily catch, is well known in Culebra for its fresh fish. Breakfasts from $3, lunch from $5, dinner from $13; Punta del Soldado Road, (787) 742-0581. Pako's, great for lunch or dinner, is part art gallery and part award-winning restaurant. Meals from $17; 70 Calle Luna, Ponce; (787) 290-4602.

Getting there

American, Continental, Delta and US Airways offer connecting service (change of planes) from LAX to San Juan. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $359. Local charters such as Air Flamenco fly from San Juan to Culebra. Round trip $90; (787) 742-1040.

When to go

The peak tourist season is December to April. Best time to avoid crowds? The low season between May and November. But beware, that's also the hurricane season. For more information on when to go and what to do, see welcome.topuertorico.org. The broad-ranging site lists local recipes. Coconut spice ice cream, anyone?

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