Culebra,Puerto Rico

Culebra is an island municipality located to the east of Puerto Rico and separated from the main island by the Vieques Passage. The municipal territory measures 26.49 square kilometers (10.23 square miles). It was earlier known as San Ildefonso and as “the Passage Island.” The island is referred to as “where the sun rises on Puerto Rico,” “the little island,” “the last of the Virgins,” and “the island town.” According to the 2000 census, there are 1,868 culebrenses, living in: Culebra Pueblo, Flamenco, Fraile, Playa Sardinas I, Playa Sardinas II, and San Isidro wards. The island has a “capital” settlement known as Dewey. The patron is Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whose festival is held on July 16. Other important events include tournaments, sports events, and crafts festivals in August, September, and November. There is a small airport on the island and there are several flights and ferry trips by sea every day.

Culebra has some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, some of which have coral reefs. Points of interest include a bioluminescent bay, La Pelada; a lighthouse on the smaller island of Culebrita; and the Spanish town. The Punta Molinos sector was designated as a national bird sanctuary by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909. Income is derived from a scientific instrument factory and tourism, especially ecotourism. There is also some dairy farming and fishing. There is very little agriculture since the land is very dry.


Culebra is located 22.5 nautical miles to the east of the port of Fajardo and is bathed by the Atlantic Ocean.Geniquí, Ballena, Tiburón, Sombrero, Matojo, Norte, Alcarraza, Los Gemelos, Colorado, and Piedra Stevens keys are located to the north of the main island; Culebrita Island and Botella, La Pelá, and La Pelaíta keys are located to the east; Luis Peña, Del Agua, Yerba, Ratón, Lobo, Lobito, and El Mono keys are located to the west; and Pirata and Verde keys are located in the central inlet of the island. The land is volcanic with very arid soil There are some elevations, such as Mount Resaca at 623 feet (190 meters), Mount Balcón at 541 feet (165 meters), and Mount Luis Peña at 443 feet (135 meters) above sea level.

One of the few dry subtropical forests remaining in Puerto Rico is located on the island on Mount Resaca, part of the Culebra Wild Life Refuge. There are also areas of thorny woodland, stands of cupey (wild mamee) and jaguey (India laurel) trees, palms, and brush-cactus associations that are the habitat for several species of birds and reptiles.

There are also mangroves that are a unique and essential habitat for coastal wildlife, in particular for the brown pelican, an endangered species. The mangroves cover an area of about 64 acres, largely comprised of red, black and white mangroves, in both coastal and inland systems. The largest is Puerto del Manglar, which surrounds and protects the bioluminescent bay, filtering the sediment in the water that washes down from the surrounding terrain. In addition, there are lagoons of varying degrees of salinity: Cornelio, Flamenco, and Zoni (or Soní) lagoons in Flamenco and San Isidro wards. Molino Lagoon is located on the smaller island of Culebrita.

There are two versions regarding the origin of the name of this municipality. Some say that it is due to the snake, Alsophis portoricensis, that abounds on the island. Others affirm that the island was named in honor of a Spanish bishop, San Ildefonso de la Culebra. As time went by, the name became simply Culebra. This would seem to be the most reliable version. The island was found by Christopher Columbus in 1493. During the Conquest, it was a place of refuge for many Tainos who were fleeing from the larger island of Puerto Rico, and who joined in with the Caribs to attack the plantations and settlements of the colonizers. Eventually, Culebra was abandoned, except for a few sailors and pirates who used it as a hideaway.

In 1875, the Spanish Crown made attempts to settle Culebra, but it was not until June 3, 1880 that a royal decree was published to that effect. At the time, the island was a ward of the municipality of Vieques. Seven years later, the land was platted and the lots were distributed among the settlers who agreed to live their permanently and cultivate the land. In 1889, construction was finished on the wood and zinc structure of the Catholic church.

After the change of sovereignty, in 1901 President Theodore Roosevelt transferred the island of Culebra to the Department of the Navy for target and shelling practice. The decision was ratified in 1903. Three years later, the island was declared a special municipal district, while finally in 1917 it was designated a municipality.

During the Second World War Culebra was the principal target and shelling practice site for the Navy. In 1975, after a strong campaign to demand the return of the land occupied by the Navy, the land was returned to the government of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, under Public Law No. 66 (Culebra Conservation and Development Authority Act).


The flag  of Culebra bears five vertical stripes, three of which are yellow and two of which are green. The middle stripe bears a green silhouette map of the island. The yellow color represents the flags of the Culebra Delegation and the Committee to Rescue Culebra. The green color is a reference to the coat of arms of Puerto Rico and is a reminder that Culebra is Puerto Rican soil.

Coat of Arms
The Culebra coat of arms  is divided into four parts. The left side has a green background, bearing a cross and a crosier or bishop’s staff, both of which are golden, and are shown with the cross superimposed diagonally on the crosier. These represent Saint Ildefonso, Bishop of Toledo, and are reminiscent of the original Spanish name of the island (San Ildefonso de la Culebra). The color green is the principal heraldic color in the coat of arms of Puerto Rico and symbolizes that Culebra is a part of Puerto Rico. The right side has a gold field and bears a green undulating serpent. The gold color represents the predominant color of the flag of the Culebra Defense Committee. The serpent representing the name of Culebra bears a crown to indicate municipal status. At the center there is a small red escutcheon with a sliver-colored arm holding a sword to represent the determination of the Culebrenses to defend their rights, with the support of the Puerto Rican people. On the lower center there is a silver colored triangle with a laurel crown to symbolize the reconquest of the land. The crown over the coat of arms has a naval motif to indicate the insular nature of the municipality.

Places of Interest

• La Pelá Bioluminescent Bay
• Honda Inlet
• Culebrita Lighthouse – construction was completed in 1886. Until 1975, it was the oldest lighthouse in operation in the Caribbean. In that year, the United States Navy and the Coast Guard decided to discontinue using it.
• Culebrita Island and Luis Peña Key – parct of the Culebra archipelago. In spite of their size, they include beaches, forests, lagoons, and cliffs.
• Beaches: Brava, Carlos Rosario, Dakity, Larga, Melones, Melones Grandes, Mosquitos, Punta Molinos, Punta del Soldado, Resaca, Tamarindo Chico, Tamarindo Grande, Tampico, Tortolos, Tortuga, Las Vacas, Zoni, and Flamenco – The latter is considered one of the best beaches in the Americas and a best escape beach by the private television channel Travel Channel.
• Flamenco Peninsula – an important site for dark seagulls.
• El Polvorín (Historic powderhouse) – located in San Isidro Ward, the building has a stone roof and is used was used as a warehouse for all kinds of explosives by the United States Armed Forces.
• Spanish Town – located in San Isidro Ward.
• Draw bridge
• Manglar Port
• Luis Peña Natural Reserve
• Culebra Underwater Reserve – a nature sanctuary in Luis Peña Channel it is used for studying and protecting underwater species, coral reefs, turtles, and fish. In March of 2006, the Reserve was granted the presidential distinction “Coastal America Spirit Award” for outstanding efforts in the protection, conservation, and restoration of coastal natural resources.”
• War tanks – Flamenco beach

Illustrious Citizens

Luis M. Collazo – engineer and physician on this island town

Ramón Feliciano Encarnación – mayor (1960 – 1980). A leading defender of the rights of the residents of the municipality and progress for the island.

Claro C. Feliciano Padrón – historian and mayor of Culebra.

Angel Luis Morales – teacher of Hispanic-American literature at the University of Puerto Rico and writer.

Pedro Morales Rivera – world wrestling champion

Engracia Mulero – mayor (1946 – 49)

Aracelis Ortiz – Dentist and forensic physician.

Erasmo Quiñonez –artisan and teacher of artisans, creating ships and canes from shark bones.

John K. Vincent – American minister, an able sea captain, school principal, and public servant.


• Three Kings day – January
• Mothers day – May
• Fathers day – June
• Patron Saint’s festival – July
• Veterans day – November
• Lighting of the Christmas tree – December
• New Year’s Eve – December


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