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Isla Culebra (Spanish pronunciation: [kuˈleβɾa], Snake Island) is an island-municipality of Puerto Rico and geographically part of the Virgin Islands. It 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 Pueblo (Dewey), the downtown area and the administrative center of the city. Residents of the island are known as Culebrenses. With a population of 1,818 as of the latest census, it is Puerto Rico's least populous municipality.


Municipio de Culebra
Culebra, Puerto Rico US postal office.JPG
Flag of Culebra
Coat of arms of Culebra
Coat of arms
"La Isla Chiquita" (The Little Island), "Última Virgen" (Last Virgin), "Cuna del Sol Borincano" (Cradle of the Puerto Rican Sun)
Anthem: "Culebra Isla preciosa"
Culebra Nautical chart.jpg
Location of Culebra in Puerto Rico
Coordinates: 18°19′01″N 65°17′24″W / 18.31694°N 65.29000°W / 18.31694; -65.29000Coordinates: 18°19′01″N 65°17′24″W / 18.31694°N 65.29000°W / 18.31694; -65.29000
Country United States
Territory Puerto Rico
FoundedOctober 27, 1880
 • MayorIván Solís (PPD)
 • Senatorial dist.8 - Carolina
 • Representative dist.36
 • Total30.1 km2 (11.6 sq mi)
 • Land28 km2 (11 sq mi)
 • Total1,818
 • Density60/km2 (160/sq mi)
 • Racial groups
(2000 Census)[1]
60.6% White
20.9% Black
1.0% American Indian/AN
1.1% Asian
0.1% Native Hawaiian/Pi
13.0% Some other race
3.4% Two or more races
Time zoneUTC−4 (AST)
Zip code
Major routesEllipse sign 250.svg Ellipse sign 251.svg Ellipse sign 252.svg Ellipse sign 253.svg

Originally called Isla Pasaje and Isla de San Ildefonso, Culebra is also known as Isla Chiquita (“Little Island”), Cuna del Sol Borincano (“Cradle of the Puerto Rican Sun”) and Última Virgen (“Last Virgin”, due to its position at the end of the Virgin Islands archipelago).



Some sources claim that Christopher Columbus was the first European to arrive at the island during his second voyage in 1493.[2][3][4] 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.[5]

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.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7]

When after the Treaty of Paris (1898), the U.S. conducted its first census of Puerto Rico, the population of Culebra was 704.[8]

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.[4][5] 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.


Culebra nautical chart

Culebra[9] 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, with an elevation of 650 ft (198.1 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.[10] 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. It is mostly used for livestock pasture, as well as some minor agriculture.[11]

Average Sea TemperatureEdit

Climate data for Average Sea Temperature
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Daily mean °F (°C) 75
[citation needed]
Culebra on the horizon as seen from Vieques

Nature ReservesEdit

Map of the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge

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.[12] The Culebra Island Giant Anole (Anolis roosevelti, Xiphosurus roosevelti (according to ITIS)) is an extremely rare or possibly extinct anole lizard. 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 (635 ha) of the archipelago's 7,000 acres (2,800 ha). 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 found on the eastern region of the island.[12]

National protected areaEdit

Culebra with barrios


Like all municipalities of Puerto Rico, Culebra is subdivided into barrios.[13][14][15][16]

Barrio Area
Population density Islands in barrio
Culebra barrio-pueblo 408,969 652 1,594.3 -
Flamenco 12,602,398 885 70.2 Cayo Pirata, Cayo Verde, Cayo Matojo, El Ancon, Piedra Stevens, Los Gemelos, Alcarraza, Roca Lavador (awash), Cayo Botijuela, Cayo de Luis Peña, Las Hermanas (Cayo del Agua, Cayo Ratón, Cayo Yerba), El Mono, Cayo Lobo, Roca Culumna (Part of Cayo Lobito), Cayo Lobito, Cayo Tuna
Fraile 8,211,978 51 6.2 Culebrita, Cayo Botella, Pelá, Pelaita
Playa Sardinas I 410,235 136 331.5 -
Playa Sardinas II 2,600,088 122 46.9 -
San Isidro 5,857,771 22 3.8 Roca Speck, Cayo Norte, Cayo Sombrerito, Cayos Geniquí, Cayo Tiburón, Cayo Ballena
Total 30,091,439 1.868 62,1 23 islands, cays and rocks


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), rated third best beach in the world for 2014 by tripadvisor. In November 2017 Forbes rated it #19 of the top 50 beaches around the world.[18] It can be reached by shuttle buses from the ferry. 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.

The area west of Flamenco Beach and the adjacent Flamenco Point were used for joint-United States Navy/Marine Corps military exercises until 1975. Many military relics, including tanks, remain in the area. Culebra and Vieques offered the U.S. military an experience of great value to the battles in the Pacific as a feasible training area for the Fleet Marine Force in amphibious exercises for beach landings and naval gunfire support testing. Culebra and Vieques were the two components of the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Range Inner Range. In recent years, only the shortened term "Inner Range" was used.

Coral Reef On Culebra

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

Landmarks and places of interestEdit

Early 20th Century warehouse, now converted into a museum.
  • Flamenco Beach Ranked # 2 in the top 10 most exotic beaches in the world.[20]
  • Brava Beach
  • Las Vacas Beach
  • Larga Beach
  • Pueblo Español
  • Punta Soldado Beach[21]
  • Resaca Beach
  • Tamarindo Beach
  • Tortuga Beach
  • Zoni Beach


  • Windsurfing Competition - February
  • Fishing Tournament - March
  • Patron Festivities - June
  • Craft Festivities - November


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.[22]

Nowadays, Culebra's main source of revenue comes from construction and tourism.[23]

Special Communities ProgramEdit

Spearheaded by then governor Sila María Calderón, Law 1-2001 was passed in 2001,[24] to identify Puerto Rico's marginalized communities.[25] In 2017, then governor Ricardo Rosselló created a new government agency to work with the Special Communities of Puerto Rico Program.[26][27] Of the 742 places on the list of Comunidades Especiales de Puerto Rico, the following barrios, communities, sectors, or neighborhoods were in Culebra: Clark neighborhood and Villa Muñeco.[28]


Census Pop.
U.S. Decennial Census[29]
1899 (shown as 1900)[30] 1910-1930[31]
1930-1950[32] 1960-2000[33] 2010[15]

According to the 2010 Census, the population of Culebra is 1,818. This makes it the municipality with the smallest population in Puerto Rico.[34][35]

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.[22]


Culebra's city hall.

Like all of Puerto Rico's municipalities, the island of Culebra is administered by a mayor, elected every four years in general elections. Initially, administrators were selected by the Spanish crown or by the United States government during the 19th and early 20th Century.

In 2004, Abraham Peña Nieves was elected mayor of Culebra with 50.1% of the votes.[36] He was reelected in 2008.[37]

In November 2011, Peña died of prostate cancer.[38] The next day, it was announced that his daughter, Lizaida Peña, might replace him until the 2012 general elections.[39] However, in 2011, Ricardo López Cepero was elected by delegates to succeed Peña. López Cepero was defeated by Iván Solís in the 2012 general election.

The city belongs to the Puerto Rico Senatorial district VIII, which is represented by two Senators. In 2012, Pedro A. Rodríguez and Luis Daniel Rivera were elected as District Senators.[40]

Government servicesEdit

Culebra Post Office

The United States Postal Service operates the Culebra Post Office.[41]



The Culebra flag consists of five vertical stripes, three alternate yellow and two green ones. The yellow central stripe has the map of Culebra in green.

Coat of armsEdit

The field is tierced in three, in the Spanish manner, vert, argent, or. The cross and the episcopal crozier symbolize Bishop San Ildefonso, because originally the island was called San Ildefonso de la Culebra. The crowned serpent (culebra means serpent) ondoyant in pale is the emblem of its name. The mailed arm refers to the coat of the Escudero family, first settlers of the island. The laurel cross refers to the civic triumph reached when Culebra obtained the evacuation of the United States Navy. The crest is a coronet bearing two masts, their sails filled by the wind.


Due to its size and small population, there are only three schools on Culebra, one for each level. They are the San Ildefonso Elementary School, the Antonio R. Barceló High School, and the Luis Muñoz Rivera school. Education is administered by the Puerto Rico Department of Education.

Health careEdit

There is a small hospital in the island called Hospital de Culebra. It also offers pharmacy services to residents and visitors. For emergencies, patients are transported by plane to Fajardo on the main island.[42]


The island of Culebra can be reached by private boat, ferry, or airplane. Ferry service is available from Fajardo. Ferries make several trips a day to the main island for an approximate fare of $4.50 (round trip).[43][44]

Culebra also has a small airport, Benjamín Rivera Noriega Airport, with domestic service to the mainland and Vieques. The airport is served by small airlines:

There is public transportation available in the island, through public cars and taxis.

There is 1 bridge in Culebra.[45]

Navy Culebra protestsEdit

The Navy–Culebra protests is the name given by American media to a series of protests starting in 1971 on the island of Culebra, Puerto Rico against the United States Navy use of the island.[46] The protests led to the U.S. Navy abandoning of its facilities on Culebra.

The historical backdrop was that in 1902, three years after the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico, Culebra was integrated as a part of Vieques. But on June 26, 1903, US President Theodore Roosevelt established the Culebra Naval Reservation in Culebra, and in 1939, the U.S. Navy began to use the Culebra Archipelago as a gunnery and bombing practice site.

In 1971 the people of Culebra began the protests for the removal of the U.S. Navy from Culebra. The protests were led by Ruben Berrios, President of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), a well-regarded attorney in international rights, President-Honorary of the Socialist International, and Law professor at the University of Puerto Rico. Berrios and other protesters squatted in Culebra for a few days. Some of them, including Berrios, were arrested and imprisoned for civil disobedience. The official charge was trespassing on U.S. military territory. The protests led to the U.S. Navy discontinuing the use of Culebra as a gunnery range in 1975 and all of its operations were moved to Vieques. The case against the Navy was led by Washington lawyer Richard Copaken as retained pro-bono by the people of Culebra island.

The cleaning process of the island has been slow. At the end of 2016, the United States Army Corps of Engineers sent letters to the residents of Culebra citing active removal of undetonated explosive material still present on the island.[47]

In popular cultureEdit


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Demographics/Ethnic U.S 2000 census" (PDF). Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  2. ^ Culebra, Puerto Rico on AreciboWeb
  3. ^ Costa Bonita Villas: Historia Archived 2012-04-25 at the Wayback Machine on
  4. ^ a b Isla de Culebra Archived 2011-11-28 at the Wayback Machine on PRFrogui
  5. ^ a b c Historia de Culebra Archived 2012-04-25 at the Wayback Machine on PorMiPueblo
  6. ^ Historia - Culebra on
  7. ^ Culebra, Isla Chiquita Archived 2011-11-19 at the Wayback Machine on
  8. ^ Joseph Prentiss Sanger; Henry Gannett; Walter Francis Willcox (1900). Informe sobre el censo de Puerto Rico, 1899, United States. War Dept. Porto Rico Census Office (in Spanish). Imprenta del gobierno. p. 164.
  9. ^ "Culebra Municipality - Municipalities - EnciclopediaPR". Fundación Puertorriqueña de las Humanidades (FPH).
  10. ^ "Comprehensive Conservation Plan Culebra National Wildlife Refuge, Culebra, Puerto Rico" (PDF). Proposal. U.S. Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service. September 2012. Retrieved February 9, 2016.
  11. ^ Isla de Culebra Archived November 28, 2011, at the Wayback Machine on
  12. ^ a b "Flora and Fauna of Culebra, Puerto Rico". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  13. ^ Picó, Rafael; Buitrago de Santiago, Zayda; Berrios, Hector H. Nueva geografía de Puerto Rico: física, económica, y social, por Rafael Picó. Con la colaboración de Zayda Buitrago de Santiago y Héctor H. Berrios. San Juan Editorial Universitaria, Universidad de Puerto Rico,1969.
  14. ^ Gwillim Law (20 May 2015). Administrative Subdivisions of Countries: A Comprehensive World Reference, 1900 through 1998. McFarland. p. 300. ISBN 978-1-4766-0447-3. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  15. ^ a b Puerto Rico:2010:population and housing unit counts.pdf (PDF). U.S. Dept. of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration U.S. Census Bureau. 2010.
  16. ^ "Map of Culebra at the Wayback Machine" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  17. ^ "Detailed Tables - American FactFinder". Retrieved June 10, 2010.
  18. ^ Bloom, Laura Begley (November 27, 2017). "The World's 50 Best Beaches, Ranked, Plus 6 Getaways Millennials Will Love". Forbes.
  19. ^ "Coming Soon". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  20. ^ "The Top Ten Most Exotic Beaches in the World Part 1. Most Exotic and Beautiful Beaches". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  21. ^ United States Coast Pilot: West Indies, Porto Rico and Virgin Islands 1949 "Point Soldado, the southern point of Culebra Island, is wooded and terminates in a rocky bluff about 35 feet high. It is prominent when seen from the eastward or westward, from which directions it appears as a ridge."
  22. ^ a b Historia - Culebra on IslaCulebra
  23. ^ Culebra, Puerto Rico - Gobierno/Economía on IslaCulebra
  24. ^ "Leyes del 2001". Lex Juris Puerto Rico (in Spanish). Retrieved 24 June 2019.
  25. ^ "Comunidades Especiales de Puerto Rico" (in Spanish). 8 August 2011. Retrieved 24 June 2019.
  26. ^ "Evoluciona el proyecto de Comunidades Especiales". El Nuevo Dia (in Spanish). 24 February 2017. Retrieved 24 June 2019.
  27. ^ "Ya es ley Oficina para el Desarrollo Socioeconómico y Comunitario". El Vocero de Puerto Rico (in Spanish). Retrieved 24 June 2019.
  28. ^ Rivera Quintero, Marcia (2014), El vuelo de la esperanza:Proyecto de las Comunidades Especiales Puerto Rico, 1997-2004 (Primera edición ed.), San Juan, Puerto Rico Fundación Sila M. Calderón, p. 273, ISBN 978-0-9820806-1-0
  29. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on April 26, 2015. Retrieved September 21, 2017. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  30. ^ "Report of the Census of Porto Rico 1899". War Department Office Director Census of Porto Rico. Retrieved September 21, 2017.
  31. ^ "Table 3-Population of Municipalities: 1930 1920 and 1910" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved September 21, 2017.
  32. ^ "Table 4-Area and Population of Municipalities Urban and Rural: 1930 to 1950" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved September 21, 2014.
  33. ^ "Table 2 Population and Housing Units: 1960 to 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved September 21, 2017.
  34. ^ Población de Puerto Rico on
  35. ^ Shane, Scott (November 6, 2014). "Culebra, a Quiet Corner of the Caribbean". New York Times. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  36. ^ Culebra Archived 2011-11-19 at the Wayback Machine on
  37. ^ Comisión Estatal de Elecciones de Puerto Rico: Escrutinio General de 2008 Archived November 20, 2011, at the Wayback Machine on
  38. ^ Muere el alcalde de Culebra on El Nuevo Día (November 17, 2011)
  39. ^ Hija del alcalde de Culebra esta dispuesta a sustituirlo on El Nuevo Día; Caquías, Sandra (November 18, 2011)
  40. ^ Elecciones Generales 2012: Escrutinio General Archived February 2, 2013, at the Wayback Machine on CEEPUR
  41. ^ "Post Office Location - CULEBRA Archived 2010-06-28 at the Wayback Machine." United States Postal Service. Retrieved on May 18, 2010.
  42. ^ Culebra Overview Archived 2012-06-18 at the Wayback Machine on Let's Go
  43. ^ Culebra Ferry Schedule on IslaCulebra
  44. ^ Culebra Ferry Schedule on
  45. ^ "Culebra Bridges". National Bridge Inventory Data. US Dept. of Transportation. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  46. ^ "Puerto Ricans expel United States Navy from Culebra Island, 1970-1974". Swarthmore College. Retrieved February 9, 2013. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  47. ^ (Spanish)

External linksEdit