Some people “complain” that the isla de Culebra, east of Puerto Rico, is too small. I guess that makes Culebrita, or “little Culebra” not much more than a rock in the ocean. True, it’s small and no one lives there, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit.
It was a short six-mile sail from Culebra and I intended to anchor on the south side of Culebrita. Fate intervening as usual, I arrived at the anchorage to find a snorkel boat anchored with snorkeler buoys strung out through the entire anchorage. Why the buoys were over the sandy anchorage and not over the reef still puzzles me. This left me with only one other potential anchorage on the northern side of the island at “Playa Tortuga”, or Turtle Beach. I don’t know why this wasn’t my original destination but I’m thankful I was forced there.
I arrived in the small bay to a Caribbean postcard beach, with water all shades from blue to green leading up to the white beach lined with palm trees. Day-use moorings took up the area close to the shore and I anchored behind them in the middle of the bay. As soon as my anchor was set I noticed sea turtles popping up for air in every direction, some within a boat’s length away.
Culebra National Wildlife Refuge was one of the first areas designated as a wildlife reserve, via an Executive Order from President Teddy Roosevelt in 1909. “Wildlife Refuge” took on a loose translation to include “Navy bombing range” for over 70 years but that has since ceased. Culebrita is a part of this reserve, which totals over 1,500 acres throughout the archipelago. Four different species of sea turtles nest here which is what makes it especially unique and important. Turtle Beach is only open to visitors during the day, and at night boats are asked to keep the lights and noise to a minimum so that the turtles won’t be discouraged from nesting on this beach, where they have been nesting before we were walking on two feet.
Both sides of the harbor have excellent snorkeling reefs. I’ve been diving so much lately that I kept thinking I was 50 feet below the surface of the ocean with the variety of fish and coral that were at these reefs. Going ashore, I hiked to “the jacuzzis”, or tide pools that look like they’re man-made jacuzzi tubs. The water isn’t as hot, but you still get the bubbles from the waves that spill over the top of the tide pool walls.
There is also a path from the beach leading to the other side of the island with another trail leading up to the 19th-century Culebrita Lighthouse. During the first part of the trail you’d think that the ground is moving, and it is. Hermit crabs and lizards are everywhere. The lizards get out of your way as you approach, but the hermit crabs hide in their shells and pray that you won’t step on them. I was surprised at first that I didn’t see any broken shells along the trail, but then it occured to me that the trail probably sees little use.
The lighthouse, a National Historic Monument, is crumbling and off-limits for safety concerns. It has taken a few direct hits from hurricanes since the Navy stopped using it as an observation post for the bombing range, and restoration appears to be futile. As remote as it is, this is no surprise. But if a remote feel is what you’re going for, this is a great destination lying between Puerto Rico and St. Thomas.
For me, St. Croix tomorrow!
Gallery (click image to open in a new window)