found an island with 1,800 residents, 250 guest rooms, five roads,
one ATM, a bakery, two gas stations, no drugstores, bookstores,
mo-vie theaters or high-speed Internet access, hundreds of
protected sea turtles and amazing beaches.
Its capital is
Dewey, which takes 10 minutes to walk around, after a stop at
Mamacita's for chicken wings and Medalla beer on tap.
It's a freshly
painted, newly paved, perky little outpost that serves as the ferry
landing spot for the boats coming from Fajardo, on Puerto Rico's
mainland 17 miles west.
Although it's not
for everyone, Culebra's my kind of place. Developers haven't yet
found it -- although the $22 million, 165-room Costa Benita resort,
which opens this summer, may signal the beginning of a building
more than 68,000 air arrivals last year, up 4.7% over the previous year.
Columbus, who sighted Culebra on his
second voyage of discovery in 1493,
didn't bother to lower his sails and come ashore.
disputed over by the Tainos and Carib Indians, used by pirates as a
safe haven for their ships during hurricanes, eventually colonized
by Spain and later claimed by the U.S. Navy from the early 1900s to
1975 for use in military maneuvers and as a naval firing range
(much like Vieques, a larger island south of Culebra).
That's history now,
but what outlasted the Navy and put Culebra on the ecotourism map
was a 1909 law signed by then-President Theodore Roosevelt
establishing Culebra as a wild- life refuge.
Its beaches are
nesting grounds for endangered sea turtles; large coastal mangrove
forests are breeding grounds for small fish; barrier reefs create
rich feeding areas for other sea life; and birds are
Add to that some of
the widest, whitest, cleanest, least crowded beaches around. It won
Playa Flamenco, about two miles
north of Dewey, is Culebra's best-known beach -- a
horseshoe-shaped, palm-lined crescent, with clear waters, calm surf
and snorkeling reefs on either end.
The beach offers
little in the way of shade, so sunscreen and water are necessities,
although signs warn visitors not to bring glass bottles on the
My guides on
Culebra, which is all of seven miles long, four miles wide and
shaped like a crab claw, were the husband-and-wife team of Cecilia
Rodriguez and Jose Marti, owners of the 14-unit Club Seabourne,
Culebra's largest hotel.
They met me at the
Benjamin Rivera Noriega Airport, a surprisingly modern terminal
served by eight-passenger Air Flamenco planes on the 17-minute
flights from Fajardo and Isla Grande airports on the
brightly painted, multicolored van -- a moving advertisement for
the resort -- meets and greets all guests, some of whom opt for the
90-minute, $2 ferry from Fajardo that pulls up to Dewey.
Rodriguez and Marti
bought the 12-year-old Club Seabourne (see Room key at end of
second page) in the spring of 2001 (the hotel's name refers to
creatures, especially turtles, who are born "of the sea," according
to Rodriguez), closed for a four-month renovation and reopened for
Thanksgiving, when most of the Caribbean was reeling from the
events of 9/11.
"It's been an
uphill climb since we opened, but it is paying off now," Rodriguez
said. "We had lots of ideas, and we've turned them into
These ideas -- many
of which the Culebrenses (people of Culebra) had never before seen
-- included on-site weddings (nine in the past year), staff
training programs, salary increases and incentives for employees
and executive charter programs for small corporate