Isla Culebra (Spanish pronunciation: [kuˈleβɾa], “Snake Island”) is an island-municipality of Puerto Rico originally called Isla Pasaje and Isla de San Ildefonso. Culebra is a pristine little landmass, and is located approximately 17 miles (27 km) east of the Puerto Rican mainland, 12 miles (19 km) west of St. Thomas and 9 miles (14 km) 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 Última Virgen (“Last Virgin”, reflecting its position at the end of the Virgin islands archipelago).
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, elevation of 650 ft. (198 m), followed by Balcón Hill, with an elevation of 541 ft. (164.9 m). Ensenada Honda is the largest harbor on the island and is considered to be the most hurricane secure harbor in the Caribbean. There are also several lagoons on the island, like Corcho, Flamenco, and Zoní. Culebrita Island also has a lagoon called Molino. Almost 80% of the island’s area is volcanic rock from the Cretaceous period.
Wildlife Refuge Areas
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. The Culebra Island Giant Anole (Anolis roosevelti, Xiphosurus roosevelti [according to ITIS]) is an extremely rare or possibly extinct lizard of the Anolis genus. It is native to Culebra Island and was named in honor of Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., who was the governor of Puerto Rico at that time. 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 1,568 acres (6.35 km2) of the archipelago’s 7,000 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 [ Images from Wikipedia.com the free encyclopedia ] found on the eastern region of the island.
Most beaches are only accessible by hiking or boat. 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.
Top Beach Listing of Culebra
Ranked # 2 in the top 10 most exotic beaches in the world
Playa Carlos Rosario [ Beach ]……………………….Playa de Cascajo [ Beach ]
Playa Brava [ Beach ]……………………………………..Playa Las Vacas [ Beach ]
Playa Larga [ Beach ]……………………………………..Playa Pueblo Español
Playa Punta Soldado [ Beach ]………………………..Playa Resaca [ Beach ]
Playa Tamarindo [ Beach ]……………………………..Playa Tortuga [ Beach ]
Playa Zoni [ Beach ]………………………………………..Playa Melones [ Beach ]
Some sources claim that Christopher Columbus was the first European to arrive at the island during his second voyage in 1493. It is believed that the island was populated by Carib Indians during the colonization, After Agüeybaná and Agüeybaná II led the Taíno rebellion of 1511, Taíno Indians from the main island sought refuge on Culebra and allied with Caribs to launch random attacks at the island estates.
After that, the island was left abandoned for centuries. During the era of Spanish commerce through the Americas, it was used as a refuge for pirates, as well as local fishermen and sailors. Some sources mention an Englishman named Stevens, who was put in charge of Culebra in 1875 by the Spanish crown to protect the island from foreigners.
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. It was completed on February 25, 1886 which made it 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.
In past centuries, agriculture was the main source of economy in Culebra. At some point, the following products were produced and exported from the island: wood, turtle oil, shells, fish, tobacco, livestock, pigs, goats, cheese, plantains, pumpkins, beans, yams, garlic, corn, tomatoes, oranges, coconut, cotton, melons, mangrove bark, coal, and turkey. Nowadays, Culebra’s main source of revenue comes from construction, and tourism.
Culebra was the last bit of Puerto Rico to change hands from pirates to colonists, Flamenco Beach has soft white sand and clear water; it’s nearly deserted, yet it does offer basic amenities. Culebra has been a bird refuge since 1909 and is protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The must-see attraction is the National Wildlife Refuge, which covers most of the island plus 23 surrounding ones. Together they encompass subtropical dry forest, mangroves, brush and grasslands. Endangered sea turtles nest here, and the endangered Culebra giant anole, a lizard, originated here. It is estimated that 60,000 sooty terns nest on the Peninsula Flamenco. The island is also a popular spot for snorkeling and fishing.
The Spanish Crown determined that the land of Culebra was public property except for the areas reserved for use of the central government. When the Hispanoamerican war was resolved in 1898 and peace was made between Spain and the United States the land was turned over to the United States government with the promise that property titles given by the Spanish government would be honored. Titled land would not be confiscated by the Military Government established in Puerto Rico. These agreements were reached in the Paris treaty and by general order number 1 of the United States of Puerto Rico’s Military Government.
In 1901 the US Military arrived in Culebra to establish an area for the military to use as a firing range and to hold marine exercises. At that time they took over the town of San Ildefonso and re-established the persons living in San Ildefonso to other areas of the island. This was in violation of the Paris agreements.
In 1894, written reports indicated that there were 519 residents living in five communities: San Ildefonso, Flamenco, San Isidero, Playa Sardinas I y II, and Frayle. There were 84 houses built, 24 of them in the San Ildefonso community.
The majority of persons settled in the Playa Sardinas I and II area. Don Pedro Marques renamed this area Dewey after the famous Admiral Dewey, a naval war hero in the Philippine Islands. In 1902 Admiral Dewey commanded the first troops in the Caribbean.
The governing body of Puerto Rico assigned delegates for Culebra from 1880 through 1929. In 1930 these appointees were given the title of Mayor. These appointments were for a period of two years. The delegates as well as the Mayors also had other official functions such as, Post Office Administrator, Customs, Internal Revenue, Justice of the Peace, School Director and other functions as the administration seemed necessary. In 1960 it became law to elect the Mayor and Municipal Legislature of Culebra. These positions were for a four year term of office. The Municipal Legislature consists of five
members, four from the majority party, and one from the minority party.
According to the 2010 Census, the population of Culebra is 1,818. This makes the island the municipality with the smallest population in Puerto Rico.