Daytrip to Culebra: Snorkeling and Swimming Around a National Wildlife Refuge

My first full day in Puerto Rico and what better way to spend it than taking the boat to a deserted island? My first day also coincided with my actual birthday so I was doubly excited to have it spent on the water and around some gorgeous reefs. Since I always try to make a trip to the beach on my birthday, this excursion seemed like a perfect fit.

Flamenco Beach View
Flamenco Beach View

From San Juan, a bus took us to Fajardo, which is about 1 hour away from the capital. From here, we were divided into different groups (depending on with which tour company we had pre-booked with). After a short wait in line, I got on board of a boat that took us to different spots all over Culebra for the day. As I heard from others later-on, we were pretty lucky as we had no major vomit-experiences while navigating through the rough waves from Fajardo to the island (unlike a boat that left later).

Culebra is around 20 miles off the North East coast of Puerto Rico. It’s considered a National Wildlife Refuge and at various times has turtles breeding on its beaches. Yes, Puerto Rico has turtles, and quite large ones, as I’ve heard. Unfortunately, we were not so lucky in sighting them on that day but a friend had seen them a few weeks beforehand and told me how impressed he had been.


After getting to know our fun crew, we were prepared a nice buffet around noon, which consisted of salads, sandwiches, and pasta among fresh fruits and other snacks. Our first stop was close to the wildlife refuge part, which meant we were able to snorkel a bit away from the beach but not allowed to set foot on the sand since that could have disturbed wildlife.
Swimming right above a reef was an experience. This one was perhaps the smaller one of the two but I found that the water was crystal clear and there were amazingly colorful fish colonies that swam around with us. It was a few feet below the water surface so snorkeling did not bring us extra close to it but diving certainly did.

First stop
First stop

Our second stop was a much larger reef close to Flamenco Beach. I am actually not 100 percent certain if were allowed to get that close to it but me and another woman from the boat literally swam right above it. In the process of, I almost touched parts of it with my fin once but pulled away just in time. The reef was quite extensive and gorgeous to look at but the water was a bit murkier than the first time around (which didn’t really matter too much as it was quite beautiful). I had planned on spending an hour at the beach but instead we got caught up snorkeling around the reef and observing the underwater cultures instead.

Flamenco Beach
Flamenco Beach

So for a few short moments, we stopped by on the sand and made our way towards bungalow-looking houses, prompting us to wonder how much a vacation on this beautiful island would cost. Apparently, after getting some further info from an office nearby, it’s quite affordable to spend a week here. Perhaps this will be one of my next destinations when in PR. The view from the beach towards the ocean was quite breath-taking and peaceful. I wouldn’t have had a problem to be stranded here for a night or two.

Flamenco Beach
Flamenco Beach

I took some underwater photos with an exposable film camera but have yet to develop those, which I am quite excited to see how they turned out (my first underwater photo experience). Some people stuffed their smartphones in a waterproof case (which can be bought almost anywhere for $8) and got some snaps but when I tried it with my phone, it didn’t work as well (the phone wouldn’t react when touching the plastic cover).

After a few fun-packed hours in the water, we were shipped back to Fajardo while enjoying free drinks on our ride back. It wasn’t until later in the evening that I discovered a massive sunburn appearing on my entire backside so I’d highly recommend sunscreen higher than 30 SPF when in Caribbean waters.

How to get to Culebra:

There are several ways to get to Culebra. The cheapest is via public ferry. But beware that lines can be hours-long, even if you queue up at 6:30am. A fellow traveler told me he got to the ferry at 6:35am and was on it by 10:30am. That’s 4 full hours of waiting and hoping to get on.

I booked a tour via Viator. It was hosted by East Island Excursions – Day Trip by Catamaran. I was lucky to do a full round trip by boat with a full and drink buffet on board, too. We got to see two different reefs and swim around the beach on our second stop, so I consider it well worth it for a day excursion. Total cost from San Juan was a little over $100, but this includes pickup, boat, food, unlimited drinks, and snorkel gear.

Another way is by plane. I believe roundrip is $70 and it might also be the quickest way to travel.

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