The island municipality of Culebra has a name worthy of a pirate’s tale: it translates to Snake Island. It measures roughly half the size of Manhattan and is located 17 miles off the coast of Puerto Rico. Culebra actually consists of an archipelago of small islands, of which only a handful (besides the main island) allow visitors. Travelers can only access the island by small plane or boat ferry. This is a crucial factor in the feeling of tranquility and remoteness experienced along its shores, peaks, and valleys.
Culebra has become become a modern-day hideaway for treasure; it seems to attract foreigners seeking to build fantastic, secluded mansions. However, charmingly modest residences and resorts are more the rule. Also, many of the island’s permanent residents make their home in Dewey, the capital, while the rest are spread out and often hidden within the lush vegetation.
This peaceful island oasis boasts white sand beaches with sparkling turquoise water. Ironically, the United States Navy utilized several locations in Culebra for exercises, until driven out by protests in 1975. It’s not unusual to run into military paraphernalia at a beach, such as the tank found along Flamenco Beach’s shore. The tank notwithstanding, Flamenco is consistently rated as one of the best beaches in the world by publications worldwide.
In 1909 President Theodore Roosevelt established one of the United States’s first bird sanctuaries in Culebra. About 50,000 seabirds make their way each year to the refuge, the most numerous species of which is the sooty tern. Endangered sea turtle species, such as Leatherbacks (the largest in the world) and hawksbills, populate the waters.
Cliffs and mangrove forests round out the landscape of what many describe as a lost paradise. And that pirate-worthy name? Before the Spanish government tightened its grip on Culebra towards the end of the 19th century, the archipelago served as a hideout for pirates. Some wonder if they ever really left.