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Mona Island is the Galápagos of the Caribbean — a gem awaiting ambitious explorers. Measuring only 7 miles by 4 miles, the island is tiny, but uniquely magnificent. Once home to the indigenous Taínos, today dinosaur-like iguanas, seabirds, sea turtles and other tropical animals are the island’s only inhabitants, making this protected paradise an intrepid explorer’s dream destination.

With breathtaking beaches and ancient caves, incredible diving experiences and unobstructed stargazing, Mona Island is a remarkable place. Accessing the island’s beauty requires some effort, as it is in the Mona Passage between western Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. But those who do make the trip will be confronted with a virtually uninhabited island that offers almost nothing in the way of facilities. A trip to this remote paradise is not a walk in the park, but the rewards of meeting this off-the-grid challenge are truly unparalleled.

A Day on the Islet
Because of environmental conservation and Puerto Rican government protection, a camping permit is required to visit Mona Island. Once you obtain a permit, it’s time to make your way across the Mona Passage. You'll most likely stay at the Playa Sardinera campground on the western side of Mona Island, where boats dock, because rangers are on-site and toilets and showers are available. If you're truly experienced in roughing it, you can set up instead on the eastern side, at Playa Pájaros. Camping is permitted, but there are no facilities there.

Set up your base at Playa Sardinera, then suit up for a challenging hike that includes beach time and cave exploration. Along the route, keep an eye out for the Mona iguana, an endangered species that is endemic to the island (Insider’s Tip: Look for their tunnel nests in the soil). This breed of iguana can grow more than 4 feet in length from its bulbous head to the tip of its spiny tail. Don’t worry though, they’re harmless!
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After trekking a couple of miles, you will reach Playa Pájaros, where you can stop for a dip in pristine turquoise waters. Red-footed boobies may swoop into the sea for a bite; if you don't see any of these seabirds feeding, look to nearby trees where they're likely perched.

Resume your trip along Camino del Faro heading northeast for a few more miles until you reach the Lirio Cave, one of the island's most spectacular sights — even its entrance is awe-inspiring, with an incredible Caribbean Sea vista from a limestone cliff. Underground tunnels, the spacious “Cathedral Room,” indoor gardens and impressive stalagmites contribute to what is undoubtedly an otherworldly experience.
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Your next stop is the island’s historic lighthouse. Standing at 52 feet tall, the construction of this towering iron structure, which has been abandoned since the 1970s, began in the early 1890s, and the lighthouse was finally opened in 1900. After exploring this unique site, it’s time to make your way back to Playa Sardinera, where you can recharge on the beach as the sun sets.
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When the sun rises the next day, it’ll most likely be time to head home. But if you're up early enough, you've got time to squeeze in an unforgettable spelunking excursion. From your campsite, head north along the coast. As it begins to bend east a few miles down, you'll reach the entry path to Cueva Espinal. This cave is not to be missed; its walls are a gallery of ancient Taíno pictographs depicting both humans and animals. Because this cave is a bit tucked away, it's recommended that you let rangers at Playa Sardinera know you're headed there.

Preparation and Transportation
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Once you’ve decided to book your trip, it’s time to organize a camping permit. Call the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources at 787-999-2200 or visit its San Juan office to apply. They can also help facilitate travel by connecting you with authorized tourism companies such as Acampa Nature Adventures and Adventures Tourmarine.

Before you go, gather a thorough kit that includes everything you'll need for 24 hours: potable water (there is no drinking water on the island), food, sunscreen, repellant, a poncho, flashlights and camping gear including a handheld GPS. Bring comfortable clothes and shoes for hiking, and trash bags to comply with “Leave No Trace” ethos.

Mona Island visitation is limited to 100 people at a time, so make sure to plan for both your arrival and departure from the island. Any company or individual charter will be able to discuss your options with you if you plan on going alone.

Yes, leaving Mona Island is bittersweet: You may be happy to return to the comforts of the modern world, but as wild and rugged as it may be, this exceptionally preserved natural paradise is truly special. You'll no doubt be reminiscing on the marvels you've seen here for the rest of your life.

If you’re looking for an adventure you will never forget, look no further than Mona Island.