Puerto Rico is not a popular diving destination like some of its Caribbean neighbors but I had never been there and it is always great to get the opportunity to explore a new destination.
Reading up on diving in Puerto Rico, I found out that by far the most exciting dives are made at Mona Island and Desecheo, off the East coast of the island, about 50 miles west of Mayaguez. This is considered a hard to get to, adventure dive location and only suitable for experienced divers. Hmm, sounds appealing, definitely one to put on the list for next time.
On this visit, we decided to visit the opposite side of the island. I was interested in seeing Palomino, Palominito, Icacos and Diablos Cay. But especially two islands I had been hearing and reading about in the latest travel magazines called Culebra and Vieques. They are a secret that just came out. Vieques has been called the new place of St. Barths defectors. I happen to love St. Barths so it was time to check out the rumors.
This side of Puerto Rico is called the Caribbean side with its aqua colored ocean and palm fringed islands. The group of Islands off the coast are known as the Spanish Virgin Islands. These islands are truly still a “hidden secret” with its unspoiled beaches and friendly people. Few people know that Vieques was until recently a bomb-testing zone for the US Navy and therefore off-limits to tourists. If that’s not enough. It also hosts one of the last remaining and the most spectacular Bio-Luminescent Bays in the World to tour and swim in.
We saved Vieques and Culebra for later and started off diving in the Fajardo area, which also harbors the largest marina in the Caribbean situated on the NE Coast of Puerto Rico.
Fajardo is the gateway to the “Enchanted Island”, including the extensive Cordillera Reef System. The Cordillera Reef System consists of a chain of small islands and cays called the Spanish Virgin Islands which extend out from the northeast coast of Puerto Rico, the vibrant marine life off Vieques and swim through reefs off Culebra.
Dive Sites in Puerto Rico
The island is located between Puerto Rico and St. Thomas (USVI), and is separated from the southeast coast of Puerto Rico by approximately 8 miles of sea, although if you are taking a ferry from Fajardo the distance will be 18 miles. Numerous other small cays (islets) lie offshore of Vieques.
Snorkeling here is excellent, especially at Blue Beach. The island is also the home of phosphorescent Mosquito Bay. This rare and remarkable phenomenon is caused by millions of luminescent dinoflagellates lighting up when disturbed by movement. The dinoflagellates, a tiny form of marine life, have characteristics of both plants and animals, their size range from about 5 to 2,000 micrometers (0.0002 to 0.08 inch). The waters surrounding Vieques offers lots of opportunities for snorkelers and divers to discover and explore many diverse marine ecosystems. With near shore and huge off shore reefs to vast grass flats, mangrove lagoons, small off shore islands and of course the Bio Bay, Vieques is rich with possibilities.
This smaller island is located 17 miles east of Puerto Rico and 12 miles west to Saint Thomas. It is smaller than Vieques and even less developed. Its total area including surrounding Cays is about 7,000 acres.
On February 27, 1909, a bird refuge was established, making it one of the oldest refuges in the system. Since then much of the island and the surrounding 23 islets including Culebrita are protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a nature preserve, making the islands one of only two nesting sites for giant sea turtles in the U.S. The Culebra National Wildlife Refuge, 600 ha, protects large colonies of sea birds (with approx. 85 species), particularly terns, red-billed tropic birds and boobies, and nesting sea turtles.
Culebra has 23 offshore islands and forms a miniature archipelago by itself. Coral reefs in this area are considered some of the most untouched of the entire Caribbean region. Culebra’s rugged countryside, gorgeous beaches and small-scale tourist industry make the 25-square-mile island a Caribbean treasure. Today, snorkelers and divers can wander through its coral kingdoms encountering an astounding variety of sea creatures.