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When two close friends announced that they were moving to Culebra to manage a guest house, it took a raised eyebrow, magnifying glass and map of the world to comprehend the news. Culebra Island, population 1800, is a fleck on a map of the Caribbean Sea somewhere between Puerto Rico and St. Thomas. Needless to say, my interest was piqued and what I learned during a recent visit to the island is that if you’re looking for an alternative Caribbean vacation, look no further.
With a mix of locals and escaping mainlanders, you won’t find a brand hotel or expansive, all-inclusive resort on the island. But what you will find is an authentic island lifestyle, void of throngs of tourists and packed with some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. Lucky for me I stayed at the guest house closest to Flamenco Beach, named by the Discovery Channel as the second most beautiful beach in the world with its perfect white sand, crystal-clear cobalt water, lush palm trees and two colorfully-painted military tanks, antiquities left over from the U.S. Navy’s presence on the island.
Getting to and around the 11-mile island can be a challenge worth overcoming, taking a ‘puddle jumper’ plane from Puerto Rico or neighboring island or a ferry from Fajardo, Puerto Rico. Note, however, you can’t take cars onto the island, so you’ll have to plan to rent a car, golf cart or bicycle once you arrive. The adventure seeker in me loved the half-hour plane ride from San Juan, sitting up front with the pilot and the control panel, while my white-knuckled travel mates may have a different take on the experience.
While very few hotels do exist on the island it’s primarily known for its guest houses, rental houses and camping. Folks looking for the Four Seasons need not apply as you’ll find extremely friendly, clean, comfortable and air-conditioned accommodations but a more authentic versus luxury experience. And in all honesty, once you’re there, you’re never in your room anyway with activities abound.
The main town on the island is Dewey, void of sky scrapers or a McDonalds. Rather shops, restaurants and dive bars dot the streets, where locals can be found for some bongo jam sessions or tall-tale storytelling. Whether it be just lounging seaside or snorkeling, parasailing, boating and biking, there’s something for everyone to create your own adventure. My highlight – crossing snorkeling with the sea turtles off my bucket list.
If you’re looking for a true escape from mainland living, where cell phones are Medalla beer coasters and time is determined by the position of the sun, consider taking an alternative Caribbean getaway to Culebra. And if you visit, be sure to stop by my friends at Rosa’s Place Guesthouse and tell them I sent you.
Find flights to San Juan on Fly.com.