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Planning a day trip to Culebra takes a bit of preparation but it’s definitely do-able from San Juan. You’ll need to get up early in order to catch a flight or take the ferry, but you’ll have plenty of time to catch up on sleep once you’re laying on the beach.
Lying 20 miles off the east coast of Puerto Rico, Culebra is a beautiful, low-key island surrounded by over 20 cays. The island is a haven for beach lovers, boasting beautiful white mangrove forests, sandy beaches, turquoise blue waters and lush scenery.
From around 1901 until 1976 Culebra was occupied by the U.S Navy and the Flamenco Peninsula was used for gunnery and bombing practice. The #1 attraction in Culebra is Flamenco Beach, where you can see tanks left there by the navy.
Today Culebra is extremely popular for day trips and snorkeling tours and is considered one of the best places to visit in Puerto Rico. If you have more than 3 days in Puerto Rico, make sure you add it to your itinerary.
How to Get to Culebra from San Juan
The Culebra ferry departs from Ceiba ferry terminal, which is on the east coast of the island near Fajardo. The best way to get there is to rent a car from San Juan – I recommend checking prices using Priceline, Rentalcars.com or Discover Cars.
Aim to pick up your car the night before, since you’ll need to depart quite early in the morning for your day trip to Culebra. The first ferry departs at around 3.30am and then there are ferries throughout the morning around 6am, 6.30, 7.30 and 9am. The earlier the better, since you’ll have more time on the island. Make sure you check the ferry schedules for up-to-date times, as they vary according to the seasons.
Tickets for the ferry cost $2.25 each way, which is a steal! The journey takes around 45 minutes for the passenger ferry and around 1.5 hours for the passenger + cargo ferry, so aim to take the passenger ferry if you can.
Make sure you purchase your tickets online here a couple of weeks in advance, as they sell out quickly. The website will say there’s tickets available at the box office, but preference for these is given to residents and they tend to sell out. It would be unfortunate if you went all the way to the ferry terminal only to find the tickets are sold out!
Check out my Culebra ferry guide for detailed information on booking tickets, parking and what to expect.
There’s parking available at the ferry terminal, which costs $11 per day. Make sure you bring cash! Rental cars aren’t allowed on the cargo ferry, so you’ll have to leave your car in Ceiba and pick it up when you get back.
If you don’t want to drive to the ferry terminal, there are private car services that will take you to Ceiba. They’re expensive though, so it’s generally cheaper to rent a car from San Juan airport or Isla Verde.
The drive from San Juan to Ceiba can take anywhere from 1 hour to 1 hour 45 minutes depending on traffic, time of day and which road you take. The toll road is the quickest, but you can’t pay tolls in cash so your rental car company will give you the option to pay a daily rate for tolls. You can refuse the toll option, but if you do drive on a toll road, you’ll pay a penalty fee for each toll violation when you return the car.
If you don’t want to pay for tolls, avoid PR-66 and travel only on PR-3.
The quickest way to get to Culebra is by taking a small plane. It’s possible to fly direct from San Juan to Culebra with Cape Air, or from Ceiba to Culebra with Air Flamenco. Due to the short runway in Culebra, the planes are small propeller aircraft, so if you’re worried about the safety of small aircraft, you may prefer to take the ferry. That being said, there have been no plane crashes on the Culebra route with either airline.
Expect to pay around $200 round-trip from San Juan, or around $90-$120 round-trip from Ceiba.
If you’re flying from Ceiba, you’ll need to rent a car and drive or book a car service from San Juan. The airport is called José Aponte Hernández Airport and is situated close to the Ceiba ferry terminal.
When you land in Culebra you’ll arrive at Benjamín Rivera Noriega Airport, where you’ll find taxis waiting outside the terminal.
Getting Around Culebra
Once you arrive in Culebra you’ll find taxis waiting at the ferry terminal and at the airport that take visitors to Flamenco Beach.
From the ferry to Flamenco Beach, the taxi costs $20 and seats 4 people. The taxis can be shared, so my friend and I were paired up with two other girls and whisked to Flamenco Beach for $5 per person. If you can’t see a taxi waiting, call one of the following companies:
If you plan on spending just a day in Culebra, then it’s easiest to just get around by taxi. However, you can also drive yourself around by booking a golf cart or Jeep rental. The companies usually offer free pickups from the ferry terminal and airport. Check out these websites for rentals:
Beaches & Things to Do in Culebra
OK, so now you’ve made it to Culebra! Most visitors head straight to Flamenco Beach, which is voted one of the best beaches in the world. We spent our entire day here just soaking up the sun, drinking pina coladas and eating beach snacks. However, there are also some other great beaches on the island that you may want to check out.
Nestled on the north coast of the island, Flamenco Beach is voted one of the world’s best beaches and is famous for its painted tank.
Here you’ll find an expansive stretch of white sand with turquoise blue water, backed by lush greenery. If you walk west along the beach you’ll come across the tank – a rusty relic left over by the U.S military. The tank is rotting in the ocean, but it is regularly painted in bright graffiti and is one of the most popular photo spots in Puerto Rico.
When you arrive at the beach you’ll come across a car park and an amenities area with food kiosks, toilets and showers. There are also umbrellas and chairs available for hire, costing $20 for an umbrella and $10 per chair.
Tamarindo and Carlos Rosario
Tamarindo Beach and Carlos Rosario Beach are part of the Luis Peña Nature Reserve and are home to a wide variety of underwater life, including remoras, bluetail fishes, stingrays, angelfish and manta rays. They’re both excellent places to pop your snorkel on and see what you can find.
Tamarindo attracts fewer tourists than Flamenco Beach, so it feels quieter and a lot more secluded. There are no facilities at this beach, so you’ll need to make sure you bring your own food, drinks and beach chairs.
If you want to spot sea turtles, head to Melones Beach, which is located on the west of the island overlooking the Luis Peña Natural Reserve. The beach is rocky but is excellent for snorkeling and attracts plenty of turtles due to its abundance of seagrass.
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
The island’s coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove forests are teeming with wildlife, making it the perfect place for snorkeling or diving. If you want to rent snorkeling equipment, learn to dive or take a guided tour, check out some of these tour companies:
Museo Histórico de Culebra
Culebra is really all about laying on the sand, but if you want a break from the beach, check out the Museo Histórico de Culebra, which traces the history of the island. Housed in a former Naval munition warehouse, the museum provides information about the island’s ecosystem, as well as the military’s presence in Culebra.
Where to Eat in Culebra
When you arrive in Culebra it will be breakfast time! Check out the following places:
Blac Flamingo Coffee – This adorable coffee shop has a bright pink exterior and cute outdoor seating – it’s the perfect place to grab breakfast before you head to the beach. On the menu you’ll find coffees, french toast, avocado toast, bagels, sandwiches and smoothies.
Culebra Coffee – Located near the ferry terminal on the main strip, Culebra Coffee is open early at 7am and serves things like breakfast wraps, sandwiches, bagels and avocado toast. There’s also a gift shop attached, where you can buy beach towels, sarongs and clothing.
For lunch and dinner, these are some other good options:
Restaurant Caracoles – Situated close to the ferry terminal by the water, Restaurant Caracoles specializes in seafood, offering things like mahi-mahi, octopus, shrimp, grouper and snapper. You can also order a variety of steaks, including churrasco, T-bone and filet mignon.
Dinghy Dock – Instantly recognizable by its bright blue facade and blue interior, this indoor/outdoor restaurant serves fresh seafood and Puerto Rican cuisine with beautiful views of the water. On the menu you’ll find plenty of fresh fish, along with a variety of daily specials.
Zaco’s Tacos – If you fancy a quick bite before you head to the ferry, try Zaco’s Tacos, a colorful, quirky restaurant serving nachos, tacos and refreshing margaritas!
Is A Day Trip to Culebra Worth It?
While Flamenco Beach is beautiful, there’s really not that much happening on the island. It’s very quiet, and the choice of accommodation and restaurants is limited. So I’d say one day in Culebra is sufficient. If you love snorkeling and diving, and you want to explore more of the island’s beaches, then maybe you’d want to hire a vehicle and stay one night on Culebra so that you can have a full two days there.
Accommodation on Culebra consists of small guesthouses and apartments, so don’t expect luxury resorts or chain hotels if you do plan to stay overnight.
I’ll be honest, my Culebra day trip was pretty exhausting. My friend and I had to get up in the middle of the night to drive to Ceiba and we didn’t get back to San Juan until about 9pm. If you have the cash and you don’t mind small planes, then I’d consider flying there over taking the ferry.
However, the ferry is much, much cheaper and if you can snag the ferry times you want, then the journey shouldn’t be too bad. Just make sure you try to sit on deck so you don’t get too sea sick.
A Final Word…
So that completes your day trip to Culebra, one of Puerto Rico’s most famous islands! Your day will involve an early start and a late finish, but it’s totally possible to see Culebra in one day. Make sure you take out some cash before you get to the island, as you’ll need it for things like parking at the ferry terminal, taxis on Culebra and snacks at the beach. If you do forget, there’s an ATM right by the ferry terminal, so make sure you bring a debit card.