All About Culebra|
by Paradise News
Above is the view looking back towards Playa Fajardo, the ferry terminal, and the two large condo buildings shadowing Playa Sardinera. As you leave the Playa Fajardo harbor, you see the island condos of Isleta Marina. Palominos cay is a favorite sailing destination. In the background is the EL Conquistador Hotel sitting high on a cliff.
As you approach Culebra from the northwest you will fly over one of its best, readily accessible, coral-snorkling areas at Playa Carlos Rosario. The light blue triangular area in the left photo ends at the coral reef head. On the right you can see the dark coral heads just off the northwest side of Flamenco beach. Noting these areas from the air makes them easier to find from the ground.
The Culebra airport sits at the bottom of Mt. Resaca next to the small town of Dewey. You will swing over Flamenco Beach and then drop down into the pass between the mountains as you come in for a landing. The highway below you is the route to the beach. As you can see from the airphoto of the area, it is a short 10 min. walk into town.
A cool drink at the Happy Landing Cafe bordering the east edge of the airport will prepare you for the rest of the day. During hurricane Luis, a small plane was blown partly thru the cafe wall. Your baggage, keep it light, will be unloaded with you-no wait. Use the phone in the airport to call a "publico" which will pick you up in front of the new terminal.
While a "publico" is the easiest way to the beach, or town, if you are carring baggage for an overnite, I have walked into town and rented a bike to see the island. As you follow the road to town, you will see houses built on the hill side. To the east you will see large sailboats in the protected harbor. The land in the distance is the island of Vieques.
Many of the room-and-board places are along the harbor road. Most of the other shops and cafes are on the water near the ferry terminal. Ask at the airport about car, jeep, and bike rental as things can come and go. There are also a number of artists galleries in and around the town and a draw bridge leading to Soldier's Point to the south.
You can get to Flamenco beach by bicycle from Dewey by peddling up and over the pass and then coasting down to the beach or by treking. It takes 10 mins. by car, 30 mins. by bike, and a long, hot hour by foot. Take plenty of water and food in any case as none is available along the way nor at the beach. The knapsack has my drink and camera and the blue bag my snorkel gear.
The first sights of Flamenco Beach will leave you awestruck by its pristine beauty and great expanse. I have never seen more than 50 people, usually fewer, on this mile long, world-class, white sand beach. Just north of the parking lot is a campground with tree cover, sandy, sites. When the waves come from the north, large breakers crash on the center of the beach making for great body surfing.
Walking the beach towards the northwest corner, you will see several old tanks hidden in the scrub that were used by the military for target practice. This practice continued till the early 70's. Much of the Military land is now part of Culebra's National Wildlife Refuge. Check out this brown pelican, an endangered spices, diving for lunch.
For maximun flexibility, bring your own snorkel equipment. You can nearly walk to the coral heads from the west side of the beach but remember they extend into deep water on the far side. Many fish feed in the shallows between the beach and the coral. If you swim slowly or stand still, they will eat strips of bread crusts from your hand.
The coral head is only 5 or 6 ft. high beachside, but drops to 20 ft. oceanside. I like to carry frozen corn (keep it in the bag) and sprinkle some near the top of the reef. The yellow kernels of attract the reef fish which seem to like them. As you swim around the heads, you will notice changes. Little fish may inhabit the shallows, but big ones cruise the far side.
One of the best, large reefs I have found that is easily accessible from a beach is a short 20 min. walk over the west hill from the Flamenco Beach parking lot. The path starts near a fence that goes up the hill. It looks like an old four-wheel drive road and some locals still drive it. The photo looks back at Flamenco Beach. Check out the lizard guarding the trail.
While 250 inches of rain fall 30 mile away on EL Yunque each year, Culebra averages only 35 inches a year. The arid climate supports the type of plants you expect to see near a desert. The view of mainland from the top of the is inspiring. Cay de Luis Penaaccessible by boat, looms to the left in the photo, across from the north section of Playa Tamarindo.
Cactus, some very large, grow on the rocky hills along side scrub bushes. The variations of blue in the photos indicate the shallow areas (light blue) and the coral reefs and/or deep water (dark blue). Good snorkeling is often found at their intersection. Large shells wash into the shallows.
At the bottom of the hill you can turn left 20ft. to the protected waters of Playa Tamarindo or go right to the coral reef area. I have seen swimmers bring up many large shells from the protected shallows. Playa Carlos Rosario is 100 ft. to the right. This beautiful beach is shaded by mangrove trees. Expect to find couples under them avoiding the midday sun.
As you stand on the beach in the center of a light blue triangle and look 50 ft. out. The white bouy marks the entrance to a large coral reef. I like to go to a triangle edge and swim the shoal edge out to the reef. Stay clear of the shallow water just above the reef where even small waves can push you against sharp coral edges causing painful welts.
The reef streches north as far as you can swim and the underwater visibility is amazing if there hasn't been a recent storm. Large coral formations are punctuated by brightly colored fish of all types. The smaller fish often school near large sea fans or coral formations. Large trigger fish and other coral eaters move in and out of the cracks.
Jacks and baracuda glide past, often in large schools, but move quickly away if you reach for them. Sea cucumbers, star fish, and other bottom dwellers can be seen creeping along the reef. All my underwater pictures were taken with a $13 disposable camera. Remember to use a buddy system in these waters. Do what you can to protect this treasure.
When the Happy Landing rooster crows its time to go. Its a good idea to have prearranged a "pick-up" plan when you are dropped off at some remote spot. Give yourself enough time to smell the flowers as well as catch your flight or ferry so you can continue your Puerto Rico Journey. Hope you enjoyed this vicarious leg of your trip.