“It’s invisible water!” exclaimed my 9 year-old son. I could see his point. Standing waist -deep in the crystal surf, the water below him looked more like it came out of a tap than the ocean.
That’s what Flamenco Beach on the northwest coast of Culebra is like. Hailed in tourist brochures as one of the most photographed and stunning beaches in the Caribbean, the two-mile horseshoe-shaped cove has the silkiest, whitest sand brushing up against the most pristine electric turquoise water to be found anywhere. Add a backdrop of lush green hills, and you have the recipe for jaw-dropping nirvana. Tranquil and rarely crowded during the week, the most popular beach on Culebra is a great place for a family to take a dip in the sea and dig their toes in the sand.
Tiny, rustic Culebra is the Caribbean’s best-kept secret. Officially part of Puerto Rico, it is located halfway between Puerto Rico and St. Thomas and is the smaller of the two inhabited Spanish Virgin Islands. Culebra is easily accessible by an hour-long ferry from the port of Fajardo on mainland Puerto Rico for around $4.50. Upon debarking in the charming downtown of Dewey, children and adults alike will be drawn in by the colorfully painted cottages, waterfront eateries, and gift shops.
A fun way for the family to explore the island is to rent bicycles from one of the shops in Dewey. The trip will take you along hilly terrain, offer spectacular views, rest-stop beaches, and very little traffic makes it safe. Bring snacks and bottles of water with you because there are few conveniences stores along the way, and although it’s a small island, the temperature can get hot, especially at mid-day.
For underwater activities, look for an opening in a gate at the end of Flamenco Beach parking lot and a short hike that leads to Carlos Rosario Beach. While not as spectacular as Flamenco, there are fewer crowds on weekends and it boasts the best snorkeling on Culebra. Because the island has no river run-off, the crystal clear quality of the water is significant and even the youngest snorkelers will want to participate. Shallow reefs circle the island, and the variety of corals and tropical fish make this one of the top spots for snorkeling and diving in and around Puerto Rico.
Day or night, the best place to eat is at Mamacitas in Dewey. The food is creative and tasty and on the back patio you can usually find a live band playing calypso music in the evenings. Mamacitas has a lively atmosphere that even the young pirate wannabes will like.
If more time on the island is desired, the choice of lodging will be limited to guest houses and small hotels, all reasonably priced. There are no 5-star hotels or ritzy resorts on Culebra; there are no casinos, no golf courses, no cruise ships, no bells and whistles.The happy, unblemished island has little to offer by way of raucous nightlife, but perhaps you can find a guitar playing from a small restaurant. Very little crime makes it possible for safe walks in the moonlight.
Culebra was an artillery practice facility for the United States until 1975, which is what prevented large-scale tourist development. You can still see a bit of evidence such as a remnant of an old tank on the beach which has been turned into a distinctive and artistic landmark by local painting and fun graffiti.
For some quality family chill time, unspoiled Culebra is one of the few remaining spots in the Caribbean reminiscent of days gone by.