The trip to Culebra was a great success with the family! We spent the beginning of the week on the small Spanish Virgin Island, and came back on Wednesday afternoon.
Public transport does not exist in Puerto Rico, except in the metropolitan area of San Juan. In the rest of the island, you need to have a car or use the públicos, mini-vans that serve as buses between the cities and towns. However, they do not run according to a strict schedule, and therefore they might not be the most efficient way (but definitely the cheapest) to travel around the island. We decided to take a taxi from San Juan to Fajardo, the harbour from where the boat departs to Culebra. It costs $80 one-way, which was not too expensive considering that we were 5 and it is almost 60 km.
We were prepared for a choppy boat ride to Culebra and had taken sea-sick pills, but some of us still felt a little nauseous during the crossing, which takes 1,5h*. Once we docked in Dewey, the only town in Culebra, we were greeted by taxi (really público) drivers and hotel keepers who wanted to take care of us. However, I had already booked our hotel (named Kokomo – remember the Beach Boys’ song featured in the film Cocktail??), which is situated just across the street from the harbour. Our two-bedroom apartment was at the top, with a huge terrace – it was a basic place but very clean, new & very big bath towels and enough beds for 6 persons. We changed into swim wear and Willy, the público driver (mentioned in the Lonely Planet) took us on a short guided tour of Dewey, while picking up some other passengers, and brought us all to Playa Flamenco.
The whole day was spent on the beach, with a pause for lunch – deep-fried Swordfish and chicken, and rice & beans. The food is sold in simple stands up by the parking lot of the beach, you have to put on some bug repellent as the place is full of mosquitoes. The beach has toilets, changing rooms and tables for pic-nics, as well as a life guard who walks around with a whistle and makes sure that people don’t venture out too far (currents are strong).
In the evening we walked through tiny Dewey to Mamacitas, a guesthouse and restaurant housed in a pastel-coloured building by the water. We had yummy Mojitos and Piña Coladas (rum-based drinks of course when you are in the Caribbean) while waiting for our dinner – which arrived very quickly as we were the first diners for the evening (the restaurant filled up while we were eating): coconut-dipped shrimp as a starter, dorado (mahi-mahi or dolphin-fish in English) with mashed potatoes, and vegetables for the main course and a shared slice of cheesecake to finish off one of the best dinners I have had in Puerto Rico.
Early on Tuesday morning we were woken up by some noise – it turned out to be Christmas music blaring from some large loud-speakers mounted on a truck that was driven around town at 05.30… We all went back to bed, a little confused.
The day started late, to compensate for the early morning on Monday, and we had a relaxed breakfast in the Pandeli bakery in Dewey, cheese-filled empanadas and muffins – not too healthy but hey, we are on vacation 🙂 Willy took us to the beach together with the new arrivals from the ferry. Another perfect day on the beach, with fresh coco-nuts (prepared and sold on the beach), reading and lots of playing in the waves.
Dinner was eaten at Dinghy Dock, another place by the water in Dewey – boats can even dock right by the restaurant. Hamburgers, home-made fries (papas fritas), cheesecake (again!) and some more cocktails… Life seemed to be easy in Culebra!
Wednesday morning started like Tuesday, with loud Christmas music early in the morning – was this some kind of local tradition? We asked in a shop when we went to explore the town after breakfast, and were told that in the old days there used to be a local steel band that played Christmas music early in the mornings coming up to the holidays. However, the steel band doesn’t exist anymore, but one man feels that the tradition should live on and has taken sole responsibility for serenading the inhabitants early in the morning… The shop keeper didn’t seem very fond of the early wake up calls! Nevertheless, Dewey is a cute little town with pastel-coloured houses, old people sitting on their porches watching the world pass by, small shops with handmade crafts and lots of churches – at the moment all decorated for Christmas.
Returning to the “mainland” (I do know that Puerto Rico is an island as well) in the afternoon, our taxi driver Pablo picked us up and drove us back to San Juan (he gave us his phone number so we called ahead for him to pick us up). It was a wonderful trip and Culebra is definitely a place you should visit, when you are in Puerto Rico if you have the chance.
*) You can also chose to fly to Culebra, either from Fajardo for ~$40 or $130 (prices from the 2005 Lonely Planet) from San Juan – however, the planes are very small, so if you have a fear of flying, you might prefer the boat.