Culebra, Puerto Rico

From Academic Kids

Isla Culebra (Snake Island) is an island-municipality of Puerto Rico originally called Isla Pasaje and Isla de San Idelfonso. It is located approximately seventeen miles east of the Puerto Rican mainland, twelve miles west of St. Thomas and nine miles north of Vieques. The island is also known as Isla Chiquita (Little Island) and Ultima Virgen (Last Virgin). Culebra was first settled in 1880 by Cayetano Escudero Sanz. Residents of the island are known as Culebrenses.

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Coat of Arms

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Map of Puerto Rico, Culebra and Vieques

Founded 1880
Population 1,868 (2000 census)
Area 26 km2
Latitude 18.33° North
Longitude 65.33° West


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:

The smaller islands include Cayo Ballena, Cayos Geniqui, Arrecife Culebrita, Las Hermanas, El Mono, Cayo Lobo, Cayo Lobito, Cayo Botijuela, Alcarraza, Los Gemelos, and Piedra Steven.

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 beachs and mangrove forests. Inland, the tallest point on the island is Mount Resaca, with an elevation of 650 feet (198 m).

All of the 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.

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. 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 beachs 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 sancturaries 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 a small airport with domestic service to the mainland and to Vieques. Culebra's airport is served by Air Culebra from San Juan's Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, and by Vieques Air Link from San Juan, Fajardo and Vieques. There is also inexpensive ferry service linking Culebra with Fajardo and Vieques.


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. Flamenco Beach was named one of the Best Beaches in America ( and the Best Escape Beach ( by the Travel Channel. 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.

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Flamenco Beach

The area west of Flamenco Beach was used for naval military exercises until 1975. Many military relics, including tanks, remain in the area.

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 taxi's 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.

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


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 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.

Construction of the Culebrita Lighthouse began on September 25, 1882 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 is integrated as a part of Vieques.

President Theodore Roosevelt established the Culebra Naval Reservation on June 26, 1903.

A bird refuge was established on February 27, 1909.

Culebra is declared an independent island municipality in 1917.

In 1939, the U.S. Navy began to use the Culebra Archipelago as a gunnery and bombing practice site. This was done in response to and preparation for the United States' involvement in World War II.

The first democratically elected government was put into place in 1960. Prior to this the governmening body of Puerto Rico appointed delegates to administer the island.

The Navy-Culebra protests began in 1971.

Use of Culebra as a gunnery range ceased in 1975 and all operations were moved to Vieques.

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