San Juan or Culebra in Puerto Rico? (reader needs advice)

There are a lot of questions in here from a reader who got conflicting advice. If you can answer only one, even that would help I’m sure.

I’m gonna go to Puerto Rico next week with my girlfriend for a short vacation. I’ve been to PR a bunch of times but never stayed in San Juan. For sake of convenience, it’d be nice to stay in San Juan, but as of now we’re gonna stay in Culebra. I heard that San Juan is ok, but Culebra is the place to be. Let me say what I heard and then ask for advice.

I’ve heard to stay at Flamenco Beach in Culebra because you get the beach to yourself, but is that true any time? Anyway, they say you won’t need to leave Culebra. If you do, you’ll take the ferry to Fajardo and then drive 60 minutes to San Juan. Would I really be better off not even visiting San Juan? Wouldn’t San Juan give easier access to El Yunque (the rainforest), the Cumuy caverns, and other attractions?

Cause one guy recommended San Juan and another guy Culebra. LOL. Old San Juan is supposed to be great. He stayed at Ocean Park (gated community). The beach is public and is known as “G-string beach” to the locals. Sounds good…heh, heh. The locals supposedly come to the beach in thongs but don’t want to get myself in trouble looking since my girlfriend will be there!

The guy telling me Culbra stayed at Numero Uno guesthouse. If you do go to San Juan, you must eat at Pamela’s, which is in the Numero Uno guesthouse. It’s expensive, but well worth it. He said to go to Flamenco Beach. Supposedly if I walk around enough I can find some old Sherman tanks abandoned there — anyone know about this?

I also need advice on islands around Culebra. Some are nature preserves. If you can get on a sail boat trip, or small boat trip you can visit several, snorkel and scuba, and hang on empty beaches. The two I have been on are Monkey Island-(used to be a govt preserve for apes, and you could only swim in the surf because of the animals) and Viequez (about 10 miles away fro Culebra) I believe there is a phosphorus beach on Viequez. There are countless others including Saint Thomas which is close too. So where do I go? LOL!

And he also said the beaches in San Juan are just OK, and a bit touristy because of the strip of hotels there. Lots of NYers on the beach. He also said watch out for the undertoe. Even near the shoreline it can pull you out but is it worse in San Juan or Culebra?

And what’s the deal — I don’t need a passport, right?

And isn’t it much harder to get to Culebra? My friend had to rent a car and drive to Fajardo. (60 min from San Juan). Take the Ferry to Culebra ($2.25 each for the ferry, $5.00 for parking) The ferry leaves at 9AM sharp. Ferry ride is about 70 minutes.

Once on Culebra, you’ll take a taxi/van ($2.00) to Flamenco Beach. (10 min drive) They do not sell beer at the beach, if you want some, bring it. They have food, drinks & nic-nacks all in kiosks. Then he said bring cash, only one of the kiosks takes a card, the others are simply grilling shark, chicken & plantain as well as rice and beans.

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  1. Cookie says:

    If you want quiet, nothing…..then stay in Culebra. and yes…Flamingo Beach will be to yourself most of the time. I’ve been there during the day and beach was not crowded at all. Yes, if you want to drink beer you have to take your own. You will see the locals doing that when you board the ferry. If you decide to go to San Juan instead, you can take a tour bus to where the ferry leaves for Culebra and come back and they will take you back to hotel. I normally stay in Isla Verde when I go to San Juan. I stay at InterContinental or El San Juan Hotel. The beaches at these hotels a pretty private….not to many locals. Yes you will find the Sherman Tanks in Culebra. We saw them. Vieques is beautiful and they have a beautiful resort there. It is more turisty but less then San Juan. Staying in San Juan will give you easy access to El Yunque, Camuy Caverns, etc but you will need a map and a car. Puerto Rico has many beaches. When we went, we found beaches such as Shack’s Beach, Crash Boat Beach and others I can’t remember. You would have to do searches on the internet. Another great place to stay would be in Guanica or Rincon. That is out in the island.

  2. Rhonda says:

    Well if you think you might like San Juan… some money and go to Chicago! That is basically what it is…..Chicago with palm trees.

    I was quite dissapointed with it, when we were there. I have a cousin that lives there, and we had to wait for her to meet us after work, so we wandered around by foot until then……and were very dissapointed. Definately not what you picture a tropical island to be!

    Once she got there, and picked us up and took us away from San Juan (Which they call the getto)it was beautiful……and more like a tropical island.

    So if your looking for a tropical island get away….steer clear of San Juan. If your looking for a major industrial city….go to Chicago.

  3. Laura says:

    You’re looking at 2 COMPLETELY different options here. How long is your vacation? If you only have a few days, stick with San Juan. There’s lots to do, it’s a great city, and the beaches are beautiful. There is great nightlife.

    If you have about a week, then spend a few days on Culebra. I wouldn’t recommend it for a day trip at all – the ferry schedules aren’t very regular, and the trip is an hour from Fajardo, which is an hour from San Juan (so 4 hours total r/t). Vieques and Culebra are both beautiful caribbean islands, but there isn’t much on either of them. Vieques has one major hotel, a few restaurants/bars, and guest houses. Culebra is even smaller.

    From your post you sound pretty young. If you’re looking for entertainment, nightlife, and lots of options, stay away from Vieques & Culebra. If I’m wrong and you’re looking for some quiet, relaxing time spent with your girlfriend on the beach, then the islands would work for you.

  4. Gary says:

    I agree with Laura. We have been to San Juan….it’s OK, but it’s a city. Beaches are only OK. We LOVED Vieques. Very laid back, some party life but mostly quiet. Have not been to Culebra, so can’t help there. If you are looking for R & R, go to the islands.

  5. gman says:

    Forget both San Juan and Culebra, been to both. If you want the best beaches, and I do mean private beaches, go to Vieques. low key, lots of adventure checking out the old navel base and airstrip. Cheap guesthouses in the souths Esperanza section, and plenty of cold brews. Ahhh, Puerto Rico is always a good choice, American dollar,English speaking, and friendly folks. By the way you can take the ferry from the same location or fly fairly cheep from SJU on a small plane in 10 minutes.

    Have fun….

  6. Peggy says:

    I have eaten at Pamela’s and toured the rooms at Numero Uno. The restaurant is lovely and the guest house is nice, newly renovated. There are some challenges with parking in Ocean Park (and actually all over the island in general) so you might ask about that if you are going to have a rental car. I usually stay in Condado. I’ve stayed at the Marriott 2x but the casino smoke can be bothersome there. Miro in Condado is a lovely seafood restaurant that I always enjoy.

    I go to San Juan on business and agree with pp that mention you are comparing 2 very different experiences. I haven’t made it out to Culebra but a coworker went and said it was nice. Didn’t sound like there would be enough to keep you occupied for a week unless you are really looking for a LOT of beach time. I believe you can fly from the airport in Old San Juan out there but I might be remembering wrong.

    No passport required for Puerto Rico. I usually carry a copy of my birth certificate but have never needed it yet.

    Have fun!

  7. Indycpl24 says:

    We just returned yesterday (3/6/08) from a week and a half Vieques and we are already making plans for a return trip in May. San Juan is ok and so is Culebra, but Vieques is all you need in our opinion.

    Unfortunately, since it is the height of the tourist season, you need to book the good lodging at least 3 weeks in advance as well as a vehicle once you get to the islands because the best beaches on Vieques requires a high clearance vehicle to get to them(and most rental cars agencies on the big island will not let you take their cars to the islands on the ferry). Also, you will want to take the bioluminescent bay trip one night, watch the lunar cycle as the bay trip is much brighter when the moon is new and not as good when the moon is full. Should cost around $25 per person for 1 1/2 hour trip.

    The cheapest and fastest way to get to Vieques or Culebra is by taking a 20 minute flight from Isla Grande airport (not the international airport) on Vieques Air Link (VAL airlines) for $49 per person one way.

    If your looking for a party atmosphere with large nightclubs and casinos stay in San Juan at the InterContinental or El San Juan Hotel both very nice hotels with nice atmosphere right on the beach with great pools and bars. If you’re looking to relax, relieve stress, and slow down and enjoy life the Vieques or Culebra is your destination.

    Oh yeah, Puerto Rico is a US territory, so no Passport needed as long as you’re a US citizen. If you want more info, try the Puerto Rico Tourism website or website.

    Either choice will be good and sure to bring fun and the dreams of return trips! Enjoy!

  8. Raquel says:

    I am Puerto Rican and I love my island and there is a lot to see in every city and section El Yunnque, the Bacardi Company, La Parguera etc. And I went to Vieques years ago pretty little place but not much to do unless you want to relax. I have not been to Culebra but have heard it is very nice. I have also stayed in Isla Verde where you can get access to the hotels on the strip and the beaches. So I agree with most people you want fun stay in Isla verde you want to relax try out Vieques or Culebra.

  9. Lenora says:

    I went to Puerto Rico last August and stayed at the Westin Rio Mar Resort which was previously a Wyndham property. I had a great time. I would say it is in the suburbs of San Juan you would need a car if you stayed there. I toured the Bacardi Factory, San Cristabel Fort and Old San Juan City. It was great to me. If you like the night life you would probably want to stay closer to San Juan, if not try the Westin. I plan to go back one day. The best thing is it is a U.S. territory and you don’t need a passport and yes they all speak English. Go and enjoy yourself!

  10. Rick says:

    I lived in Sabana Seca for 3 yrs will in Military.I found all of the of the islands to be very very nice.You have to have a open mind about the Island when you go a completely differant atmosphere but one you will remember for life.Relax and enjoy but always as be careful stay out of the ghetto areas and you will be find

  11. Christine says:

    Asking if you should go to Culebra or San Juan is a very difficult question to answer – they are really two different worlds. I’ve stayed in San Juan several times, and love the nightlife and the convenience of it. You could use San Juan as your “home base” and take day trips to El Yunque, Camuy Caves, Bacardi Factory, area towns and beaches, etc. Culebra, on the other hand, is much more remote and quite Spartan. It is GORGEOUS, but don’t expect to be pampered at their inns or hotels. It is the perfect place, though, to live the hectic grind of your daily life behind and really tune out. Since we love both San Juan and Culebra very much, just in different ways, this is what we do:

    Fly into San Juan’s airport (Luis Munoz Marin). From there, it is a short cab right to the other airport (Isla Grande) where we take a plane (very small plane) to Culebra. This is about a 20 minute ride and is well worth it. The ferry is nice but I am not big on crowds and stuff, plus it is a long car ride to Fajardo to catch the Ferry. We arrive in Culebra’s only airport, then rent a jeep from Jerry’s Jeeps right across the street. We’ve stayed at Fulladoza Inn as well as other places which have been fine (like I said, don’t go with the expectation of luxury). We stay in Culebra for between 3-5 days, then fly back to San Juan and stay there for the remainder of our vacation at the El San Juan Hotel and Casino. I find it is a nice way to end the vacation, get a taste of the nightlife and a little bit of pamering before heading back to reality.

    I hope this helps!

  12. Janice says:

    I’m from Vieques and I can tell you that in Vieques you have not only one, but at least 15 beaches to your self any day of the week.You do need to rent a Jeep or something similar because the best beaches are in the eastern side of the island where the US Navy used to control. You can’t leave Vieques without going to the Biolumnecent Bay where you will glow as soon as you hit the water. I do recomend to bring a jacket and OFF because of the mosquitos. And a towel of coure.

    If you want to learn about our history you can go to the last Fort build by the Spanish in America wich is named Fortin Conde de MIrasol.

    There are a lot of guest houses on the island, and restaurants that serve all kinds of food, from sushi, tapas,american,steak house, seafood, ect… the big Resort that every body has mentioned is closed right now because is under renovations, but if you want to stay ON the beach in an apartment that has EVERYTHING you want including ac,Dish network,bbq,fridge,stove,queen size bed, hot water,gazebo and kayak…. this is where you have to log on… The place name is Ababor Suites ( my sister is the owner).

    Culebra on the other hand don’t have as many places to stay as Vieques and the food is more expensive. You have to understand that both Vieques and Culebra don’t have all the nightlife that San Juan has, there are no taffic lights and you may encounter horses on the side of the street, so you have to be very careful.

    I do recomend to take a flight to Vieques or Culebra from Fajardo or San Juan because it is faster and you wont get sea sick. And if you go to Vieques and need some souvenirs, visit Carolyn’s in downtown next to the bank and say hello to my mom. Hope you enjoy your visit to the Isla Nena!!!!

  13. IRAIDA says:


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