There are no marinas on
Puerto Rico’s offshore island of Culebra. Nor is there overnight anchoring
allowed in several bays due to their protected wildlife refuge status. There
also aren’t any big chandleries, boat yards, or supermarkets. Yet, it is the
unspoiled beauty, easy access via a short voyage from either Puerto Rico or the
U.S. Virgin Islands, and just enough creature comforts to keep boaters happy
that makes Culebra an ideal cruising destination.
Colonization on Culebra
didn’t start until 1880. The first settlement, at San Ildefonso, was located
across the bay from where the main town of Dewey is today.
Two overnight anchorages
The first, Bahia de
Sardinas, fronts the open waters of the Caribbean Sea and is to the west of
town. This is where the ferry and other small commercial vessels port. Private
yachts can anchor to the northwest of the dock where there’s a good sandy
bottom and usually not much sea swell. You can dinghy up to the waterfront here
and tie off temporarily here to visit one of the restaurants.
Ensenada Honda is likely the
best anchorage on the island. It’s located east around the point from Bahia de
Sardinas and also provides direct access to Dewey. The entrance to the bay is
straightforward, deep and well marked. However, many long treacherous reefs rim
Culebra, so an up-to-date nautical chart is indispensable. You can anchor
virtually anyway, and on either side of the bay.
The Dinghy Dock Bar-B-Q
Restaurant is the place for cruisers to congregate. Owner Neil Romero
serves three meals a day, seven days a week. There’s everything from French
Toast with Rum and Coconut to Certified Angus Beef and good old hamburgers.
Kids, and adults, get a real kick out of watching the five-foot-plus long
tarpon swim up to the restaurant’s bulkhead.
Romero recalls how the
eatery got its start: “Out of some 370 boats in the bay, only five were left
floating in the wake of Hurricane Hugo back in 1989. The funny thing was that
the only place in the entire bay that wasn’t strewn with wrecked boats was
right here where my grandparents lived. A lot of the sailors would dinghy over
here to get to town. So, I set up a grill and starting selling hamburgers and
hot dogs. Business was so good that I kept expanding.”
Down the street from the
Dinghy Dock is Mamacita’s Bar & Grill, an island institution. Colmado Milka
is a small grocery store where you can buy essentials such as milk, bread,
eggs, fruits, vegetables and meats. El Eden offers gourmet, liquors and a
public access computer terminal for Internet access. There is also a cable to
plug in laptops. If you have wireless in your laptop, then the entire
building is a hotspot.
The best of Culebra is the
picturesque, tranquil and relatively undeveloped island outside of Dewey. The
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has protected much of the island, and its
twenty-three islets, as a nature preserve. The Culebra National Wildlife
Refuge, protects large colonies of some 85 species of sea birds, particularly
terns, red-billed tropicbirds and boobies, and nesting Leatherback and
Hawksbill sea turtles. In fact, northshore beaches such as Zoni, Brava and
Reseca are closed from 6 pm to 6 am from March to November due to turtle
Flamenco Beach is recognized
as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Last year, it received ‘blue
flag’ status. This means that the Blue Flag International Jury has
given its thumbs up to this beach for its water quality, environmental
management, and safety and services. There are lifeguards here, as well as
changing facilities and a few food and drink stands that blends in well with
the natural ambiance. However, what Culebra lacks in commercialization it more
than makes up for in natural beauty and in serving up a slice of Caribbean life
the way it used to be.