Culebra Island, Puerto Rico
Best All-Around Beach: Flamenco Beach
Travelers from across the globe have dubbed Flamenco one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Maybe it’s the combination of powdery white sand and azure skies meeting cerulean blue sea with an unobstructed view to Puerto Rico’s main island. It also has history mixed with a bit of quirk. A rusty, painted tank resting on the shore is a beautified marker of Culebra’s time as a US Navy gunnery and bombing practice range until 1975. You’ll find it hard to leave this beach, with food stands serving Puerto Rican street food such as pinchos, chicken or pork kebabs and alcapurrias (fried dough of plantain stuffed with crab or ground beef). You might even be inclined to pitch a tent on the cool, tree-covered campgrounds right on the beach.
Best Beach for Snorkeling: Tamarindo Beach
You are almost guaranteed to swim alongside a sea turtle just off the rocky end of Tamarindo Beach. And not just 1; they are often spotted in the waters headed toward Vieques, Culebra’s sister island, in the distance. That’s because much of Culebra was declared a protected wildlife refuge by Theodore Roosevelt in 1909, and it is an important nesting site for 3 species of sea turtles. Kayaking Puerto Rico guides groups of gob-smacked snorkelers and kayakers here and at nearby Luis Peña Channel Marine Reserve. Or you can go solo, rent a paddleboard and stare down at the graceful creatures swimming with colorful fish in aquarium-like waters below.
Best Day Trip: Culebrita Island
This tiny, idyllic island is a short water taxi and adventurous kayak ride to the north of Culebra. Hike through thick underbrush to get to the ruins of one of the oldest lighthouses in the Caribbean. If you dare, carefully climb — the stairs are terribly rusty and there are no facilities — to the top of the beautifully dilapidated structure for stunning, 360-degree views of the island-dotted sea below. Culebra Bluewater Charters will take you there and to the best snorkeling just off the shores of the lighthouse. Around a sandy bend of Culebrita lies Tortuga Beach, a slim, pristine stretch of sand leading to rocky tide pools filled with tiny fish, perfect for exploring.
Best Boutique Hotel: Club Seabourne
The little blue bungalows that climb the hillside opposite Culebra’s Fulladoza Bay offer comfortable 4-poster beds, private balconies and cable TV, should you choose to turn it on. The Club Seabourne staff may keep you busy with a day of activities. Large families will find the 2-bedroom villa cozy and outfitted with twin beds. Breakfast is provided each morning, while the restaurant and bar are open only for dinner Thursday-Sunday evenings. Expect world-class dining at Gio, which showcases the best of Puerto Rico’s traditional and sea fare reimagined, along with tasty and inventive caipirinha cocktails, such as a super fruit caipirinha packed with acai and blueberries.
Best Guest House: Casa Robinson
With few hotels on the island, most accommodations are low-key rentals and guesthouses. Wind your way along a residential road to find Casa Robinson sitting on a hill with some of the best views of Culebra and beyond — as far as the US Virgin Islands, in fact. Affable owner Elias Robinson provides warm hospitality along with 8 simply appointed guest rooms that feature baths, small kitchens and those verandas boasting panoramic Caribbean gazing. There is also free Wi-Fi and DirectTV, but a book in a hammock may be the best use of this setting.
Best Restaurant and Bar: Zaco’s Tacos
Expect a bit of a wait during the dinner hour at this popular Mexican eatery in Dewey, Culebra’s only town. Everyone seems to want to eat at Zaco’s Tacos, and why not? There are crispy tortilla chips for dipping in freshly made salsa or topping with pork and cheese. There are hefty burritos and burrito bowls for meat or veggie lovers. But most importantly, there are tacos, such as the delightfully fatty pork belly and the deliciously fried beer-battered fish tacos. Wash it down with a Medalla, the local brew, or a spicy margarita with cucumber and jalapeño.
Best Waterfront Hangout: Dinghy Dock
Whether you are a local or a visitor, Dinghy Dock is the best place to hang by the water in Culebra. Venture down the stairs and grab a table right on the dock along a channel leading into Ensenada Honda. Little boats covet this spot, too. Order a Partly Cloudy cocktail, the bar’s take on a Dark and Stormy, made with Puerto Rico’s golden rum and fresh ginger juice. If you’re hungry, order the catch of the day. After feeding your face, feed the tarpon lurking in the waters under the dock.
Best Local Shopping: Arte Fango
If you want to take home something that represents your stay in Culebra, then a stop at Arte Fango, above the Dinghy Dock, is a must. Local artist and island activist Jorge Acevedo creates gorgeous silk-screened T-shirts adorned with symbols of the island, such as the dancing fish that he painted on the hulking Sherman tank on Flamenco Beach. On another shirt, the fish transforms into a Calypso dancer when turned upright. Jorge also sells original paintings and prints, showcasing the natural wonders and proud people of Culebra.