Puerto Rico is a small island full of natural beauty and wonders, but it is not just one island. In fact, it is an archipelago of over 143 islands, islets, cays, and atolls – of which only three are inhabited: Puerto Rico, Vieques and Culebra.
With so many beautiful islands to visit, here I’m going to show you five of the ones that deserve your attention and time.
Mona is the third largest island of Puerto Rico’s archipelago, but surprisingly, it is one of the least visited. Mona is an uninhabited natural reserve that has been kept away from the tourist trails to preserve its delicate ecosystem. In fact, very few travelers manage to visit Mona.
Recently, though, the island has become more welcoming towards tourists, yet to this day it only allows up to 100 visitors at a time. Mona includes two satellite islands, named Desecheo and Monito. Due to the islands' unique topography, ecology, and location, they have been nicknamed "The Galapagos Islands of the Caribbean."
Nature lovers can enjoy the secluded beaches, marvel at the limestone cliffs, explore the magnificent coral reefs and caves, and photograph its unique flora and wildlife.
Beyond its exciting nature, Mona has an interesting history as well. During Prohibition, the island became a prime location for rumrunners to smuggle rum, bourbon, and other liquors. In 1942, at the height of World War II, a German submarine bombarded the southern coast of the island, which is one of the few incidents of that war in the Caribbean.
To reach Mona, you should head to the west coast of Puerto Rico and either test your luck with a local fisherman or go with an eco-tour.
Did you know that the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world is found in Vieques Island?
The bay, known as Puerto Mosquito (Mosquito Bay), is so distinctive that it was officially inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records in 2008 as the brightest bioluminescent bay ever recorded. The bay is shallow, and it has a small entry, which makes it the perfect environment for the dinoflagellates (the microscopic organism in the water that glow when disturbed) to stay trapped and protected.
But, other than the bio bay, Vieques also has dozens of virgin beaches. The US Navy occupied two-thirds of the island until 2004, which means those beaches were never visited or disturbed. Today, even after they opened to the public, they still retain their secluded charm and are often mostly empty.
This is one of the most curious uninhabited islands in Puerto Rico. Palominito is famous among locals and tourists alike due to its beautiful big patch of white sand and its small clump of palm trees on one side of the island. It has even been featured in movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and several commercials.
But the picturesque beauty of Palominito is due to a natural disaster. In 1998, Puerto Rico suffered the strike of Hurricane Georges. Its strong winds and tidal surge wiped out a large portion of the island, destroying everything except for the white sandy beach in one-half of the island, and the clump of foliage on the other side. One can say that disaster made paradise even prettier!
This island must be visited via private transport, but this is easy to coordinate from Fajardo.
Not far from Vieques is Culebra Island, famous for Flamenco Beach, which often ranks high as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Flamenco, beyond being a beautiful white sand beach with clear turquoise waters, has a very peculiar sight; a rusting WWII tank right at its shore. Back during WWII, Culebra served as a base for the military in their hopes of protecting the territory against the Nazis. No action was seen in Culebra, but you can still see the military remnants as a monument to their presence.
Icacos is a small island off of Fajardo, which only takes about 10 minutes to reach by speedboat. Even though it is easily accessible, this uninhabited island is mostly empty since there’s no public transportation, and only private or rented boats go there. There are no facilities, so once you reach it, you truly feel like your are on a beautiful deserted island with calm waters and a lovely strip of sand where you can relax for the day.
Snorkeling in Icacos is fine, but not great, so I’d spend more time exploring the island, relaxing on the beach, or enjoying its tropical blue waters.
Have you been to other islands in Puerto Rico you’d like to recommend?
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Norbert Figueroa is an architect who hit the pause button on his career in 2011 to do a round the world trip. He's been blogging for over three years at globotreks.com, where he shares his travel experiences, budget travel tips, and a good dose of world architecture. From hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to diving with great white sharks, he is always on the search of adrenaline and adventure. Norbert is originally from Puerto Rico and he is currently based in Milan, Italy... when not roaming around the world, that is. He has traveled to more than 80 countries in 5 continents and his goal is to travel to all 193 U.N. recognized countries. Follow Norbert on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus.
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