An aerial view of Esperanza Beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico.

The turquoise waters of Esperanza Beach in Vieques.

Exploring the Islands Surrounding Puerto Rico

When most people think of Puerto Rico, they think of a singular tropical island. In fact, though, Puerto Rico is an archipelago, or group of islands, with its main island eponymously named Puerto Rico.

Surrounding this main island are more than 100 small islands and cays (also known as islets, which are very small sand islands that build up atop a reef). You can travel to some of these unique places by boat, plane, ferry, or in a kayak and explore a whole new side of island life that many tourists tend to miss.

Stunning Beaches in Culebra and Vieques

To reach Culebra or Vieques, you’ll need to board a plane or a ferry. The ferry from Ceiba is inexpensive but make sure you look at the schedule in advance. Alternatively, flights depart from the SJU airport or the Isla Grande airport on a more regular basis. 

Culebra has some of the most laid-back and serene beaches in the Caribbean, including Flamenco beach, which is the most popular. Tortuga Beach on Culebrita, a small cay off the east side of Culebra, offers a space of serenity, so rent a kayak and paddle out to watch the sea turtles. If you want to get up close and personal with them, book a tour near Cayo Luis Peña off Culebra’s west side. For great snorkeling, visit Melones on the main island or try swimming with sea turtles with Culebra Island Adventures. Or, why not explore the waters of scenic Tamarindo Beach by kayak with Kayaking Puerto Rico? There’s no shortage of aquatic adventures to be had on Culebra.

Like Culebra, Vieques is another example of tranquil tropical island life. Don’t miss a night tour of the bioluminescent bay. Located on the southern shores of the island, Mosquito Bay was officially declared the brightest bioluminescent bay by Guinness World Records. The viewing varies depending on the phase of the moon and amount of moonlight, so contact the team at Black Beard Sports to find out the best nights to see the bio bay sparkle.

View of Caja de Muertos island in Ponce.

View of Caja de Muertos island in Ponce.

A Day Away on Caja de Muertos

Don’t be deterred by the name: This island is coffin-like only in shape. This nature reserve off the coast of Ponce hosts unique flora and fauna and is often visited by leatherback, hawksbill, and green sea turtles. It’s a popular summer destination for sanjuaneros, who trade the crowded city for beaches during the hottest summer months. 

To get across to the island, travelers will need to take a private boat from Ponce. Once you’re there, enjoy stunning beaches and a pleasant hike up to an old lighthouse. Avid bird-watchers will also be in heaven, as Caja de Muertos is a protected birdnesting area. If you’re spending the whole day there, note that there are restroom facilities on the island, but you should pack a picnic lunch or reserve a tour that includes food, as there are no restaurants or snack-bars. 

While in Ponce, be sure to visit Isla Cardona as well. This tiny island offers a wealth of snorkeling opportunities, and all a short 15-minute boat ride from the Paseo Tablado La Guancha. Venture out with Waterland Adventures to experience the island’s many trails, stunning reefs, and its historic lighthouse, which was built in 1889.

View of the mangrove island known as Gilligan's Island in Guánica.

The clear waters of Cayo Aurora (AKA Gilligan's Island) make this biosphere reserve a top choice for snorkelers.

Perfect Relaxation at Gilligan’s Island

Local families know Cayo Aurora — or Gilligan’s Island — as a favorite spot to relax on the weekend. They’ll pack up a cooler of drinks and food, grab a few beach chairs, and spend the day floating among the roots of the mangrove trees. As of recent, you can only reach Cayo Aurora by kayak. 

The water’s typically clear and the bottom sandy, so Gilligan’s Island is a good snorkeling spot. There is a picnic area with bathrooms on the north side and plenty of shallow water areas for floating, which means you can bring the kids for a splash while you

Water Adventures at La Parguera

La Parguera is the perfect island-experience to enjoy exciting water sports. About 30 individual cays are part of this unique area, which is a nature reserve near Lajas. You can go kayaking, take kitesurfing lessons, or do some wakeboarding with Parguera Water Sports

Since the waters at La Parguera are clear and full of sea life, this is a fantastic spot to go snorkeling or to learn to scuba dive. Additionally, La Parguera boasts the only bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico that allows swimming or snorkeling in the glowing waters, so travelers looking for an experience out of the ordinary should make this island a priority. Explore this natural wonder with Papayo Divers, or join them on a diving excursion at La Pared

Your visit to Puerto Rico is more than one island adventure: It’s a full range of experiences on las islas, from relaxed to exciting. If you can’t choose just one (and who could?), plan your vacation to be an island-hopping adventure. 

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