Culebra, Puerto Rico

Isla Culebra (Snake Island) is an island-municipality of Puerto Rico originally called Isla Pasaje and Isla de San Ildefonso. It is located approximately 17 miles east of the Puerto Rican mainland, 12 miles west of St. Thomas and 9 miles north of Vieques. Culebra is spread over 5 wards and Culebra (Dewey) Pueblo (The downtown area and the administrative center of the city). The island is also known as Isla Chiquita (Little Island) and Ultima Virgen (Last Virgin). Residents of the island are known as Culebrenses.


Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover the island in 1493. The island was populated by Taíno Indians prior to this and would be used by pirates as a refuge for more than 3 centuries.

In 1875, a black Englishman named Stevens was made the first governor of Culebra by the government of Vieques. He was given the task of protecting the island and the fishermen who used the nearby waters from pirates. He was assassinated later that same year. Culebra was then settled by Cayetano Escudero Sanz on October 27, 1880. This first settlement was called San Ildefonso, to honor the Bishop of Toledo, San Ildefonso de la Culebra. Two years later, on September 25, 1882 construction of the Culebrita Lighthouse began and it was completed on February 25, 1886. It was the oldest operating lighthouse in the Caribbean until 1975, when the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard finally closed the facility.

In 1902, Culebra was integrated as a part of Vieques. One year later, on June 26, President Theodore Roosevelt established the Culebra Naval Reservation. A bird refuge was established on February 27, 1909. In 1939, the U.S. Navy began to use the Culebra Archipelago as a gunnery and bombing practice site. This was done in preparation for the United States' involvement in World War II. In 1971 the people of Culebra began protests, known as the Navy-Culebra protests, for the removal of the U.S. Navy from Culebra. Four years later, in 1975, the use of Culebra as a gunnery range ceased and all operations were moved to Vieques.

Culebra was declared an independent island municipality in 1917. The first democratically elected government was put into place in 1960. Prior to this, the government of Puerto Rico appointed delegates to administer the island.


The Culebra flag consists of five vertical stripes, three alternate yellow and two green ones. The yellow central stripe has the map of Culebra in green.

Coat of Arms

This crown consists of sterns of two ships with their sails filled by the wind. The cross and the episcopal walking stick symbolize Bishop San Ildefonso, because originally the island was called San Ildefonso de la Culebra. The serpent (culebra means serpent) symbolizes its name. An armed arm from the Coat of Arms of the Escudero family, first settlers of the island. The laurel cross refers to the civic triumph reached when Culebra obtained the evacuation of the United States Navy from the island.


Barrios (Districts/Wards)


Culebra is an archipelago consisting of the main island and twenty-three smaller islands that lie off its coast. The largest of these cays are: Culebrita to the east, Cayo Norte to the northeast, and Cayo Luis Peña and Cayo Lobo to the west. The smaller islands include Cayo Ballena, Cayos Geniqui, Arrecife Culebrita, Las Hermanas, El Mono, Cayo Lobito, Cayo Botijuela, Alcarraza, Los Gemelos, and Piedra Steven. Islands in the archipelago are arid, meaning they have no rivers or streams. All of the fresh water is brought from Puerto Rico via Vieques.

Culebra is characterized by an irregular topography resulting in a long intricate shoreline. The island is approximately 7 by 5 miles (11 by 8 km). The coast is marked by cliffs, sandy coral beaches and mangrove forests. Inland, the tallest point on the island is Mount Resaca, with an elevation of 650 feet (198 m).

Ensenada Honda is the largest harbor on the island and is considered to be the most hurricane secure harbor in the Caribbean. The capital of the Culebra is Dewey, Puerto Rico.

Nature reserves

These small islands are all classified as nature reserves and several nature reserves also exist on the main island. One of the oldest bird sanctuaries in United States territory was established in Culebra on February 27, 1909 by President Teddy Roosevelt. There are bird sanctuaries on many of the islands as well as turtle nesting sites on Culebra. Leatherback, green sea and hawksbill sea turtles use the beaches for nesting. The archipelagos bird sanctuaries are home to brown boobies, laughing gulls, sooty terns, bridled terns and noddy terns. An estimated 50,000 sea birds find their way back to the sanctuaries every year. These nature reserves comprise 1568 acres (6 km²) of the archipelago's 7000 acres (28 km²). These nature reserves are protected by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Culebra has no natural large mammals. However, a population of White-tailed deer introduced in 1966 can be found on the eastern region of the island.

National protected area


By Edgardo Romero

Culebra Isla preciosa, lugar donde nací,
con tus playas de arenas blancas que el Mar Caribe baña.

Al este de Borinquen, al norte de la Isla Nena,
se encuentra el terruño donde mi alma sueña.

Culebrenses con amor, pues por primera vez
en esta tierra tan bella,la luz del sol yo ví.

El sol que nos alumbra,a todos los borincanos
y pintar de dorado nuestros montes y llanos.

Mi isla es pequeñita,y su gente muy sencilla y todo el que la visite, así lo comprobará.

También recibirá calurosa bienvenida de todos los culebrenses porque así se identifican.

Aunque vaya a tierras lejanas, nunca olvidaré a mi islita caribeña donde mi vida forjé.

Presente en todo momento aquí en mi pensamiento Culebra islita querida, Isla de mis ensueños.


Culebra is a popular weekend tourist destination for Mainland Puerto Ricans, Americans and residents of Vieques. Because of the "arid" nature of the island there is no run-off from rivers or streams resulting in very clear waters around the archipelago.

Culebra has many beautiful beaches including Flamenco Beach (Playa Flamenco), which can be reached by shuttle buses from the ferry. The beach extends for a mile of white coral sand and is framed beautifully by arid tree-covered hills. The beach is also protected by the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources as a Marine Wildlife Reserve.

The area west of Flamenco Beach and the adjacent Flamenco Point were used for joint-United States Navy/Marine Corps military exercises until 1975. Many military relics, including tanks, remain in the area. Culebra and Vieques offered the U.S. military an experience of great value to the battles in the Pacific as a feasible training area for the Fleet Marine Force in amphibious exercises for beach landings and naval gunfire support testing. Culebra and Vieques were the two components of the Atlantic Weapons’ Range Inner Range. In recent years, the term “Inner Range” was applied only.

Other beaches are only accessible by private car or boats. Of the smaller islands, only Culebrita and Luis Peña permit visitors and can be accessible via water taxis from Culebra. Hiking and nature photography are encouraged on the small islands. However, activities which would disturb the nature reserves are prohibited, e.g. Camping, Littering and Motor Vehicles.Camping, however, is allowed on Playa Flamenco throughout the year. Reservations are recommended.

Culebra is also a popular destination for scuba divers because of the many reefs throughout the archipelago and the crystal clear waters.

Landmarks and places of interest

  • Flamenco Beach Ranked # 2 in the world.
  • Bioluminescent Bay
  • Brava Beach
  • Las Vacas Beach
  • Larga Beach
  • Pueblo Español
  • Punta Soldado Beach
  • Resaca Beach
  • Tamarindo Beach
  • Tortuga Beach

Festivals and events

  • Windsurfing Competition - February
  • Fishing Tournament - March
  • Patron Festivities - June
  • Craft Festivities - November


Culebra has a small airport with domestic service to the mainland and Vieques. Culebra's airport is served by Air Culebra from San Juan's Luis Muñoz Marín and Isla Grande Airports. Vieques Air Link provides service to Culebra from San Juan and Fajardo. Two ferry services are available: an inexpensive service linked from Fajardo and Vieques, and a "fast ferry" service from San Juan. The latter's availability may vary by season.

Notable "Culebrenses"


As an interesting fact, that Sergeant Alexander Joseph Foley (U.S.M.C.), born in Hackersville, Pa. in 1866 and recipient of the Medal of Honor during the Boxer Rebellion is buried in Culebra.

Popular Culture

The island was the main setting for the 2005 film Cayo.


See also


External links

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