Caribbean Snap Shots: Playa Tortuga, Culebrita, Puerto Rico

Turtle Beach is one of Puerto Rico’s most hidden beaches


Time it right and you might have one of the most gorgeous beaches in the Caribbean all to yourself. The small, uninhabited island of Culebrita sits just off the northeast coast of the larger and sparsely populated island of Culebra, 15 miles east of the Puerto Rico mainland. Now designated as a National Wildlife Refuge, this mile-long dollop of coral rock features lowland tropical woodlands, wetlands and six pristine beaches.

The best of the bunch is Playa Tortuga, which is arched around a sheltering bay on the island’s leeward side. This positioning provides shelter from prevailing swells, and keeps the beach free of detritus pushed ashore by the easterly trade winds. Turtles prefer this beach for the same reasons as the few humans who visit: seclusion and shelter. Several species of turtle come ashore to nest, and can also be seen gliding about in the shallows, feasting on the sea grasses that grow in the bay.

If you can’t muster your own boat and crew, hire a water taxi to ferry you over from Culebra, itself reachable from the Fajardo area of Puerto Rico by ferry. You’ll need to bring all provisions, as the island is gloriously wild. Once there, sunning, swimming and snorkeling are the order of the day. Hiking trails crisscross the island and a favorite path leads to the ruins of historic Culebrita Lighthouse, built in 1886 and offering panoramic vistas of surrounding islands and the Caribbean.