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“Snorkeling in Culebra Island, Puerto Rico”
Review of Culebra

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Los Angeles, CA
Level 1 Contributor
3 reviews
49 helpful votes
“Snorkeling in Culebra Island, Puerto Rico”
Reviewed January 23, 2006

I recently took a trip to Culebra Island and stayed 10 nights. There I found beauty, peace and contentment in its raw, rugged
and primitive environment. The snorkeling was awesome.

Accomodations: Druso at Harbor View Villas was very good at keeping in contact with me via the internet from my initial phone inquiry to my final payment, and even provided me transport from/to the airport once I was there. I stayed solo in one of the free-standing suites at $125 per night (including all taxes and fees). I felt like I was staying in a cabin in the woods, but in this case, the jungle. Like the island itself, the suite was rustic and earthy, with very grey boundaries between inside and out. The wooden cabin is built on the side of a hill so immediately upon entering the front doors you must climb up a flight of stairs landing on the main level. Although you enter those doors, you're still outside as you ascend the staircase; upon entering the main level you're "inside" but there's nothing keeping the outside out! As a result I had frequent visits from geckos, lizards and cats! But I didn't mind -- the cats were rowdy but friendly and affectionate, and kept me company for hours at night as I was studying for my upcoming state boards. (When the first cat made its first appearance though, I was so startled and surprised and scared that I just about jumped out of my skin because I truly wasn't expecting to find animals inside). The cats kept down the amount of critters coming in although I did have to dispose of a gecko they hunted down in the bathroom, and put up with a couple of pretty rough catfights between one another (one of which almost knocked me down). And although I welcomed the cats, I'm sure that you could just shoo them away if you're not into them and they wouldn't come around. Druso mentioned that a huge iguana includes the balcony of one of the suites in his territory, but I never got a glimpse of it.

The main level of the cabin had a large dining table in the middle (actually built on top of the staircase) along with a full kitchen and some couches. (I cooked every meal and never ate out.) There was a large balcony overlooking the ocean with a perfect view of the outstanding sunsets -- fantastic colors in the sky.

On the same floor was an extra bedroom with a couple of twin beds and its own tiny balcony with jungle growth overlapping inward -- I felt like I was inside the jungle just being out there. There was also a bathroom on that floor that was far from luxurious, but modern enough with a shower and toilet. As mentioned by other reports, you do have to hit a water heater switch to warm the shower water prior to utilizing it; however, there were times that it wasn't necessary because a cold shower in that climate often felt better.

Upstairs was the main bedroom loft-style. It overlooked the main floor but also had windows above with ocean views. There was a closet and a double bed with a mosquito net that was definitely necessary. The balcony upstairs was medium-sized and overlooked the growth of the jungle as well as the town harbor to the side. Despite the overdone light pollution from the harbor at night, I felt like I had a front row seat to the stars. Every night I sat out for long periods of time looking up and out at the beautiful sky and was rewarded with shooting stars. Huge bats come out at night and fly by really closely!

The lighting in the cabin is very indirect. There is no television / radio / telephone. Just you and nature.

Snorkeling: On my first morning I simply walked the 5 minutes down the road that ended at Playa Melones. The snorkeling was very good -- pop in at the end of the road and work your way north. I saw my first ray in the wild -- a spotted eagle ray that darted by. The next morning I moved further north and this time another ray and its baby circled around me. I came to realize that the further north you move, the better the snorkeling gets. Tons of underwater life so beautiful including a huge lobster and a hidden eel. The 3rd morning I hiked even further north up the coast but was out of the water within my first 10 minutes -- I spotted 2 nurse sharks really close by and it freaked me out. I didn't realize at the time that they're harmless and, like all good snorkelers, calmly removed myself from the water when I spotted them. Nonetheless, I just went back south to Playa Melones. Playa Melones (and especially north of it) was the best snorkeling that I found in Culebra. This surprised me because it's either ignored or downplayed in all the travel guides.

Vans run continuously throughout the day from the harbor (which is in walking distance of Harbor View Villas) to Playa Flamenco for $2 each way. So I headed out on my 4th day so that I could go to Playa Carlos Rosario, known as the premiere snorkeling spot on the island. The 30-minute hike up and over the hill and through the thick jungle was cool -- be sure to wear shoes that grip well and cover your feet, sweatpants, and a shirt with at least short sleeves because the plants encroach on the path a lot. I parked myself under a tree and swam way out to the floating bouy where the reef is located. The sea was a bit rough way out there. The underwater viewing was pretty but nothing that was extra-ordinary. The reef is so far out that you have to swim past a very deep section of the ocean to reach it which could be somewhat intimidating -- someone I met there was unable to get herself to do it due to being scared. Speaking of meeting people, it was nice to see other people since I was the only one in the water or on the beach all previous 3 days at Melones.

The following day I decided to try out Playa Flamenco itself. This is known as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and, simply put, it is. It's really, really long with beautiful sand in a crescent shape. According to all the literature, snorkeling is done at the 2 far extreme ends of the beach. I chose to go all the way to the left and settled at the very end. The sea was rough and I did a recognisance dive first just to see if it was worth it to put on all my gear. Visibility was low so I decided to take a beach day instead of snorkeling. I purposely went on a weekday so as to avoid crowds that come in for the day or weekend from Puerto Rico's main island -- not many people were there and the beach is so huge that we were all spread out. I really enjoyed observing the fishermen doing their thing from shore either with a net or with a fishing pole. Behind me I noticed a freshwater pond and upon further exploration I found that it was full of turtles -- cool! There were also some deer in the adjacent jungle. I met someone who showed me the next beach over and around the bend called Playa Blanca -- a very short hike over the rocky outcropping along the shore. It is the most beautiful beach I have ever encountered and it is completely isolated -- be sure to go there as it is totally romantic.

My next adventure was to go to Culebrita, a small cay not far away. I started out late that morning so all boats had already gone out. But the clerk at La Boheme found someone who took me out on a tiny motorboat for just $90 for the whole afternoon. He took me to 3 different spots around the island where he'd anchor us out in the middle of the ocean and I'd just jump in to snorkel while he waited. What a nice guy -- very pleasant and helpful, spoke good English, and expressed such care and concern for the reefs. I even enjoyed the pit stop on the way out -- he had his cousin meet us at a dock for gas because the line at the gas station would've taken too long. The snorkeling was great -- from very, very deep water to shallow. Tons of reefs.

The next day I tried finding a taxi to Punta Soldado but couldn't. So, I walked! It was a long (and hot) hike, but the reward was well worth it. I started on the left side at the end of the road which is a bay and is very shallow -- nice fish and lots of brain coral. Then I headed to the other side where the water is deep and the snorkeling, like all other locales on the island, was fantastic. Go in at Playa Soldado and swim south towards the point.

The only other time I went snorkeling in Culebra I returned to Melones -- my favorite. I would definitely go back -- there's so much more to explore including Playa Zoni and Playa Resaca as well as the Baths at Culebrita and Cayo Luis Pena. I bought a book with all the local sealife and was able to identify a surprisingly large amount as having been seen.

Miscellaneous: There are 2 grocery stores within walking distance that have everything with familiar brands and products. I did my own laundry in the kitchen sink and the hot afternoon sun dried them off. Internet hours are limited at a stationery store. Be sure to psychologically prepare yourself for the 30-minute flight in from San Juan if, like me, you've never flown in a twin-engine the size of a car -- I felt like I was in a VW Beetle with wings. I sat right behind the pilot both ways which was exciting -- I never realized how quickly you descend right before landing. That airstrip comes at you pretty quickly when you're looking out the windshield.

I would like to return. The water temperature was pleasant, the weather was hot and moist with some rain storms, and there were really very few people around the island.

My vacation was a 10. I was very relaxed and got a lot of studying done.

Helpful?
31 Thank V-Boy
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
New Jersey
Level 1 Contributor
2 reviews
49 helpful votes
“You Don't Have To Suffer in Culebra- there is hope!”
Reviewed July 12, 2005

I don't understand why so many people are writing "Culebra is beautiful and undeveloped, so as such, you must be willing to tough it out".

Before everyone attacks me and accuses me of being too snobby and upscale, let me preface my review by saying I have been to third world countries and stayed in similar, if not worse, conditions and was fine with it. The difference? I wasn't paying $160 a night for those conditions!

We took a week vacation to Puerto Rico... stayed 2 nights in Rio Grande, then 2 nights in Vieques, 2 nights in Culebra, and 1 night in San Juan. This review will focus on Culebra. (I've posted separate reviews for Vieques and Rio Grande's Westin Rio Mar)

Anyhow... as I was saying- you don't have to suffer in Culebra.

BEACHES:
Culebra has BEAUTIFUL beaches- and we found Flamenco Beach to be well-deserving of its Travel Channel appointment of #2 in the world. Bring cash to rent a chair and umbrella... well worth it. White sugary sand, and not crowded at all. Zoni was nice and secluded- but definitely not as pure white sugary sand as Flamenco.

HOTELS:
We pre-paid the minimum 2 night reservation at Tamarindo Estates. Luis, the manager there, was so kind and helpful. He works hard and keeps up the grounds well. But this where the compliments end. You walk in the unit, only to find that it's hotter inside than outside. Oh right- that's because there;s only an AC in the tiny BEDROOM- not the kitchen and sitting area. Right. (And they expect you cook in this furnace?) It wouldn't be so bad if we were planning on being OUT the whole time- but in Culebra, aside from the beach, there isnt much to do- so you're going to spend a significant amount of time in your hotel. (And you'll be attacked my mosquitos out on the balcony- so that's not good either) Hotel selection is so critical. (Did I mention they don't have room service so you're stuck with the same towels?)

Okay- I get past the heat- I don't mind cramming into a tiny bedroom and staring at walls all evening to stay cool. No problem- I can deal. But then- we showered. No warm water- either hot or cold. There is a switch (careful not to get electricuted with your wet hands!) that let's you choose cold OR hot... so my daughter stayed in the room with me while I shouted "COLD!.... HOT!.... COLD!... HOT!". Still- I decided I'd tought it out. Finally- at bedtime, my husband and I encountered our last straw- the beds were TERRIBLE. Felt like soda cans were underneath us. Hours after tossing and turning, the next morning we drove a few miles to Costa Bonita Resort to see if they had availability. (Someone on this forum mentioned it and I made a mental note). It's the only resort on Culebra, but it's not a typical upscale resort, but simply, a hotel that has WARM water, AC, excellent service and magnificent views. We didnt get our money back from Tamarindo as we committed to 2 days- but it was worth the move for us.

Costa Bonita (----) was about $50 more but WELL worth it. It is right off of Zoni beach.. be sure to ask for the FIRST row... since there are 3 rows of housing, and the latter 2 face the back of Row 1. First row faces the water. If I had paid $50 a night at Tamarindo, I wouldnt have been disappointed. But to pay the same amount that I just paid at a Wyndham and a Westin Resort, to get not even half of the standards, was simply unacceptable.

JEEP:
Rented from Jerry's Jeep. Very nice guy, very reliable. But his cars, admittedly, are seemingly the oldest fleet on the island. Carlos Jeep Rental and Thrifty seemed to have a much newer fleet. My jeep stalled a couple of times, but when I brought it back Jerry taught me a trick with the AC switch. Nonetheless- he was exceptionally friendly and helpful- so perhaps it makes up for the car condition.

RESTAURANTS:
Bring MOSQUITO REPELLANT to dinner every night. Dinghy Dock, Mamacita's- all decent restaurants. But to enjoy your meal, bring spray.

SNORKLING/SCUBA:
Culebra Divers was awesome. Walter, the tour operator, is very knowledgable underwater. My husband scuba-dived with him (while I snorkled above with my daughter) and shared how Walter would approach sea life first and then give the thumbs up when it was safe... and would put weird sea creatures on my husband's bare hand to hold and feel. A life-long experience.

Overall, we had a wonderful time at Culebra (minus the hotel shock) and think the beach acclaims were all well waranted.

Helpful?
36 Thank SheilaRSB
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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