Culebra Island
Puerto Rico
This offshore island has plenty of wildlife.

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Culebra Island
Puerto Rico

Culebra Island
is located 18 miles east of Fajardo and 52 miles east of San Juan; and only 14 miles west of St. Thomas in the USVI.

Culebra Island, 7 miles long and 3.5 miles wide, covers an area of about 7,700 acres. It has some gorgeous white sand beaches. The population of about 2,000 took on the entire U.S. Navy to retain their island. For 40 years, the U.S. Navy used Culebra as a gunnery range day and night.

Getting sick and tired of the noise (and probably grouchy from lack of sleep) the Culebrans finally protested by holding picnics in the target areas and exploding a few fireworks of their own (petrol bombs). In 1975, when the Navy stopped making all its racket, Culebra again became a sleepy fishing village where not much happens. However, there is some excellent wildlife viewing here, both above and below the waterline.

Culebra's most popular spots are the beaches at Flamenco, Tamarindo, Resaca and Larga beaches. Culebra also has a phosphorescent bay, and coral gardens border much of its shoreline, ideal for snorkeling. Transportation (except on foot) is limited.

You'll find a tremendous variety of bird and marine life. The Culebra National Wildlife Refuge includes 4 land tracts on the island and 23 offshore islands.

Known for its large nesting seabird population that includes terns and boobies, the refuge was established in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Besides 4-foot-long iguanas, on Culebra you'll find about 372 plant varieties, 33 of which are rare and 3 which are endemic to this island.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Culebra is the sea turtle nesting. Four species come here, nesting on the beaches at night between April and July. Join the Culebra Leatherback Project from April to June; 703/450-0339). Or get a local guide. Finding a sea turtle laying eggs is a very hit-or-miss proposition; you may have to stay up all night. The proper procedure is to walk the beaches (best are Resaca and Brava) with a flashlight until you spy one of the creatures on the beach. You usually have to keep walking the same area, back and forth, several times before a turtle appears.

Until they actually begin laying their eggs, sea turtles may be very wary. You should not bother them with lights, noise or touch them, or they will retreat back to the water. However, once a turtle has dug out the sand with its back flippers and started depositing eggs, nothing can stop it. That is the time for photographing and stepping in close, but not before. This is a sight to be savored and planned for. Carry insect repellent.

You can camp at Flamenco Beach, with its own picnic and sanitary facilities. A portable refrigerator (this is tropical luxury!) is US$2. You need a camping permit from the Conservation and Development Authority of Culebra; phone 787/742-3880 or 742-0700. You can buy all your foodstuffs on the island. Or stay at Harbour View Villas (800/440-0700) or Club Seaborne (787/742-3169).

To reach Culebra: Regular ferry service from Fajardo for only about US$5 roundtrip. Air service from San Juan's Isla Grande Airport (not the international one) is available 5 times daily. Try Flamenco Airways; Vieques Air Link.

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