• close family • small boat • big world •


March 10, 2015

by Paula
At anchor, Culebrita, Puerto Rico

The tiny island of Culebrita might just be one of the best places on earth. Wait... no... let me rephrase that. Culebrita is terrible, just terrible. No one should visit there. No one else but us, that is...

Culebra, Culebrita, Vieques, and numerous off-lying small cays comprise the group of Puerto Rican islands known as the Spanish Virgins. More like the Virgin Islands in flavor and mindset, these islands off the east coast of the mainland are pretty wonderful. Both Culebra and Vieques were used by the US Navy as major training bases for amphibious operations. After the Navy left (1970s in Culebra and early 2000s in Vieques) development was slow. Unfortunately, it has picked up in recent years and crime has become a problem in parts of Vieques. Culebrita is a nature preserve inhabited only by lizards, seabirds, and hermit crabs.

A tiny spot less than one square mile, Culebrita offers a variety of activities. We anchored on the west side to avoid the swell in the northern anchorage, and it was an easy walk to all parts of the island. We had the northern beach, with its powdered-sugar white sand, to ourselves the first day we visited. Day two brought a few other swimmers and a day-trip catamaran whose passengers did yoga on the beach.

A walk to the northeast tip of the island lead us to "the Jacuzzis" - shallow pools whose sea-fed water warms during low tide. Unfortunately, our visit was not timed well, and the higher water was still a bit cool. But we enjoyed the swim anyway, after scrambling over boulder fields and a climb up a cliff-face (by Cash).

We hiked the adjacent cactus-strewn hill with friends from s/v Pelita and s/v Two Tickets to picnic on a spot overlooking the sea, with St. Thomas rising in the distance.

Our walk along the interior island path brought us to an culinary orgy of hermit-crabs. An open coconut was swarming with them as they climbed on for some good eatin’. Hermit crabs are not the most nimble of creatures, and it was hilarious to watch them fall from the stack as others nudged their way in.

Greg has a particular fascination with ruins, and Culebrita’s old lighthouse in the middle of the island did not disappoint. We remembered the derelict Spanish structure from our first cruise in the late 1990s, and we were eager to see it again.

Much had been cleaned up since our initial visit when we had to sneak through an open window to find piles of cracked tiles, wooden planks, and crumbled plaster and bricks filling the floors. This time we did need to slip past a new chain-link fence, but the structure itself was fully open with cleared doorways and cleaned-out rooms.

This was a serious structure, built with thick plaster and brick walls meant to withstand the possibility of harsh weather. Years with no roof let wind and rain deteriorate much of the brickwork and rust away portions of the interior circular staircase. Still, the building is solid and impressive. We ventured to the top, taking care to step on solid footings and not propel ourselves over the open window ledges. The view was breathtaking -- a cliché, I know, but it truly was.


Soft sand beaches, craggy shores, warm natural pools, fun hikes, and fascinating ruins - and almost always to ourselves or with just a few others. Culebrita was so hard to leave behind.