Vieques and Culebra, Puerto Rico
By Candyce H. Stapen
As we kayaked in Mosquito Bay on a nearly moonless night, each of our strokes cut an electric blue ribbon in the water. Just ahead a flash of neon-like color betrayed a fish zig-zagging close to the surface. Amazed at how movements in this bay morphed into streaks of light, we jumped in, floated on our back, and waved our arms and legs to fashion foamy glowing "water" angels.
Vieques’ Mosquito Bay, nicknamed Bio Bay, is one of the Caribbean's best--some say one of the planet's best-- examples of bioluminescence. Disturb the mega-millions of dinoflagellates living in these waters and they light-up like fireflies, creating a mesmerizing display.
Vieques and Culebra, two of Puerto Rico’s out islands, deliver the Caribbean of long-ago: sun-swept seascapes devoid of high-rise hotels and heaving traffic—at least for now. Easily reached by flights from bustling San Juan, both offer the Caribbean of long ago—at least for now.
Despite some development, Vieques, population 11,000, and Culebra, population 2500, still reward visitors with eco-adventures and great beaches as well as open stretches of natural vegetation and “unimproved” sands, more and more of a rarity in the popular Caribbean.
Our second favorite Vieques’ adventure: biking the back roads through areas formerly off-limits as part of a U.S navy base. The huge bunkers we pedaled past once housed ammunition for practice bombing missions. Now we discovered bat colonies hanging from the ceilings of these shelters.
With the cessation of artillery drills, and the departure of the Navy came the establishment in 2001 of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, a service that works to clean up the former target areas. The organization has opened reserves and beaches to the public.
Of Vieques' many alluring beaches, the ones we like best are mile-long Sun Bay Beach, shaded by coconut palms and sea grape trees, and secluded Green Beach, our reward for our morning's biking work-out.
Culebra, much less-populated than Vieques, is even more laid-back. There are two main reasons to visit Culebra: swimming at Flamenco Beach and snorkeling off Carlos Rosario beach.
Named for the pink flamingos that once nested in the nearby lagoon, Flamenco Beach, part of a public park, reigns as a nearly mile-long horseshoe curve of wide sands. On weekends there are many locals and much of the time, the ocean swells with modest waves. There are modest waves and sporting modest waves.
Concessionaires sell soft drinks and rent chairs and the park offers overnight camping spots so close to the sea that you can fall asleep to the sound of breaking surf.
After walking from Flamenco Beach about 3/4 mile up a hill and down to the next cove, we came to Carlos Rosario Beach, a sliver of sand that serves as the departure point for one of the island's top snorkeling tours. In the water, we hovered over acres of watery gardens blooming with colorful orange brain, purple fan, and thick brown elkhorn and stag coral. There was not another snorkeling group in sight.
Vieques and Culebra don’t appeal to everyone. But if you want an off-the-beaten path getaway with great beaches and eco-adventures, then explore these islands before they see more development.