Flamenco Beach is touted as “one of the world's top beaches”, so we couldn't leave Culebra without visiting it. Getting there wasn't as easy as we had imagined. We were up and off the boat around 0800 on an overcast morning, having packed our snorkel gear, towels, apples, water, etc. We parked the dinghy and were about 10 minutes into the walk when David asked if I'd brought the map. No, I'd forgotten it. Another 10 minutes and we saw a lady putting out her trash can for pick-up and remembered we'd also forgotten to bring our smelly trash in for disposal, too. Darn! The clincher was about 10 minutes later when David discovered he'd also forgotten his wallet. Then it started to rain. These must all be signs … this was obviously not the day to visit the beach (or perhaps our memories aren't what they used to be?). Instead, we returned to Cups, did a few more chores on the list and called it a day. Beach day tomorrow. We read in a guide book that Flamenco Beach was a short walk (about a mile) from town. Often, when people write “short walk … about a mile”, they've never walked it, only driven it. We were right … it's more like 2-1/2 miles one way, but we were game for a good morning walk. Having double-checked that we had everything including the wallet, map and the trash, we were off the boat by 0730 on a gorgeous, sunny morning.
Walking has many advantages over driving. First, it's good exercise. Second, we see more because we're not whizzing by everything. And third, well, since we don't have a car, driving isn't really an option. There are only two main marked routes on this 5x7 mile island and Route 251 is the one that leads to and ends at Flamenco Beach at the northwest end of the island.
There was lots to see along the route … schools and playgrounds, lots of little local restaurants that looked appealing, colorful houses with anoles climbing up their walls, an abundance of hibiscus and other gorgeous flowers in full bloom, and Culebra's Lilliputian-sized airport. We could hear the constant cooing of pigeons and morning doves. Frigate birds soared silently overhead.
There's an abundance of golf carts and small jeeps on the island, used primarily by tourists who visit. They all seemed to be driving to the beach. We saw no other walkers. We had the grassy side of the road to ourselves. The narrow, paved road wends its way to the northwest past the Flamenco Lagoon. We caught sight of the lagoon and beach from the crest of the route's biggest, steepest hill (which I was dreading on the return trip). We hoped to see flamingos in the lagoon (flamenco = flamingo in Spanish), but all we saw was a couple of laughing gulls.
We finally spied signs for the beach in the distance.
The entrance to the beach was very inviting as we made our way through the parking lot, past several food stands which weren't open yet and onto the beach. There are campsites and lovely picnic tables under the canopy of spreading shade trees.
We chose one of the little paths that cut through the beach flora and a long expanse of white sand beach lay before us.
A palm tree provided enough shade for our towels and gear. We just sat for a few minutes, chatting and taking it all in. The beach is clean and, at this time of day, uncrowded. The water is dazzling … bright turquoise with coral reefs a ways out, just rising above the surface. There was sufficient surf for some beach-goers to ride the waves. We were content just watching, walking along the shore and taking a quick dip to cool off. We retreated to our towels and lay in the shade of our little palm tree, enjoying the day. Seems odd to say since we live on the sea, but I can't remember the last time we lay on a beach.
According to Wiki, Teddy Roosevelt established the Culebra Naval Reservation in 1903 and in 1939, the US Navy began using the Culebra Archipelago as a gunnery and bombing practice site in preparation for the US involvement in World War II. In 1971 the people of Culebra began protests to remove the Navy from Culebra. Four years later, in 1975, the use of Culebra as a gunnery range ceased. Remnants of the military occupation are still evident including this tank on Flamenco Beach and unexploded ordinance which shows up from time to time.
By 11am, multiple vans and tourist buses had unloaded herds of vacationers at the beach for the day and blanket space on the beach was at a premium. The once “uncrowded” beach we'd enjoyed just an hour previously had filled up and was now swarming with people. That was our cue to head out. I think we're becoming curmudgeons.
No matter, we trudged back to town, the return always seeming shorter than the trip out (despite the dreaded hill) and we were back in town with nary a whimper from the first mate (really). David found an unusually well-stocked ferreteria (hardware store) along the way, at which he bought caulking to repair the diesel tank gasket leak. We also found a small supermercado that had frozen ground turkey (hallelujah) which supplied the main ingredient for the evening's taco dinner.
We're not sure Flamenco Beach is one of the top 10 beaches in the world. That's a mighty broad statement without any criteria provided for comparison and we're probably not the best judge of beaches anyway … but it certainly is a beautiful beach. It was well worth the walk.