Spanish Virgin Islands, Caribbean
La Isla del Encanto, the Enchanted Island. When you fly into San Juan, make sure you are sitting by the window, all the better to catch a glimpse of the rich variety of the island as you approach. You will see the ancient Spanish fortress of El Morro, jutting out into the Atlantic, still guarding Old San Juan, and serving as a symbol of the island’s rich history. You will also see the magnificent coastline, with its white sand beaches and the smaller islands, glittering in the turquoise sea, the modern hotels that rise along the coast, the gleaming glass towers of the Hato Rey banking district and the cool green of the mountains further inland. All of this, and you haven’t even landed yet!
Old San Juan, with its narrow streets paved with bricks that were once used as ballast on sailing ships from Spain, is on the “must do” list. Dozens of shops line its criss-crossing avenues, also home to several art galleries, and small museums for the history buffs to poke around in.
Christopher Columbus landed in 1493 on the Western side of Puerto Rico. With its strategic location, Spain installed a colony on the island, and for the next 400 years it was under the control of the Spanish Colonial Government. The system of fortifications that were built in the late 16th century, designed to protect the Bay of San Juan still stand as a proud display of military architecture. Included are two large forts and a system of fortified city wall. La Fortaleza was constructed between 1533 and 1540 to control access from the harbor. It now serves as the Puerto Rico Governor’s mansion. The second fort was El Moro, built to control San Juan Bay. A marvel to explore with its thick stone walls and many steps, you will find yourself trying to imagine it in the late 18th century when it bristled with more than 400 cannons. It is now maintained by the U.S. National Parks Services.
Leaving the city behind, it is time to head for the hills. Following the coastal road that leads from San Juan to Fajardo, you soon arrive at the Caribbean Nation Forest. El Yunque, as it is more commonly known, is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Parks system. Waterfalls fed by more than 100 billion gallons of annual rainfall lace the forest and giant ferns shade the winding road into the preserve. Hiking trails from casual to steep are waiting to challenge you, or simply climb the observation tower for a stunning view of the forest and the nearby beaches. Continuing on to Fajardo, make sure you stop at the kioskos. Looking rather ramshackle from the road, once into the crowded parking area, you will be caught up in the fun and excitement. Tiny establishments, each boasting that they serve the best food, vie for your attention and appetite. If you don’t speak Spanish, no problem, the point and eat method works very well here! Not to be missed…the piononos, tostones, empanadas. Wash them all down with a cold drink. Ahhh. You are now ready to proceed onto Fajarado and your charter yacht!
The east coast of Puerto Rico, with its proximity to the islands of Culebra, Vieques and the many tiny islets scattered close by, all combine to create a perfect area for charter yachts to cruise in sheltered waters, but allowing the guests to experience a wide variety of experiences. The most common jumping off point is Fajardo, home to several beautiful marinas, or Puerto del Rey, located further south.
Culebra is an unpretentious little paradise. Featuring gently rolling hills and many harbors and surroundings islands and cays, you might just be tempted to spend your entire holiday in its protected anchorages. There is plenty to do and see, whether you choose to explore by foot or by tender. It is said that every road on Culebra ends in a beach, with plenty of opportunity for amateur field biologists to observe rare species of wildlife under the domain of the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge. Just as interesting, is to pull up a seat in one of the local watering holes and observe the local population. The island attitude of low-key, live-and-let-live is conducive to the lifestyle of the harmless eccentrics who gravitate there, some of them disciples of the sixties and some of them delightfully unidentifiable in their heritage.
A quick tender ride in most any direction from most any anchorage will take you to a new and secluded beach, perfect with its sugar white sand fringed with palm trees. The shallow waters and close by reefs are perfect for the snorkeler. Local knowledge for dive sites is the best way to view the many underwater splendors at deeper depths, and the concession, Coral Head Divers, can help you take the plunge.
Located to the South of Culebra is Vieques. The name “Vieques” is derived from the original Indian name for the island: Beiques, or “small land”. The fact that Vieques has been under the control of the Navy for many years has permitted the island to remain largely undeveloped and pristine. In fact, the Eastern end is still used as a Navy range. The town of Esperanza, located on the southern side of the island, is a pretty little town with lots of restaurants. There is even a museum to explore with several archeological and natural history exhibits. With plenty of beautiful beaches, secluded coves and private anchorages to explore, Vieques seems much larger than it is. One of your favorites anchorages is sure to be Mosquito Bay. At night, the star-studded sky is sure to hold your attention, but look down into the dark of the water. See it sparkle? The phosphorescence in the water is so intense here, that at times that you can actually see the trail of the fish as they swim by.
All too soon, it is time to return to the Puerto Rico and then on to home. Relaxed and rejuvenated, you will be repeating the words the Spanish words that you have learned that fit the occasion: “regresare, regresare, regresare”…”I will return, I will return, I will return”.
ITINERARY – Spanish Virgin Islands Yacht Charter
Day 1: Arriving into the San Juan airport, you will be greeted by a crew member from your Spanish Virgin Islands yacht charter. Depending on your arrival time, you might want to explore Old San Juan for a couple of hours, or head directly to the boat, berthed in Fajardo. Once on board, the dock lines will be thrown off and your adventure begins as you head for Green Beach on the west end of Vieques.
Day Two: Depending on prevailing winds, Bahia Icacos or Salinas will be the destination of the day. Both of these beautiful and unspoiled beaches are within the US Navy Weapons Range, but are ours to explore and enjoy after receiving permission from range control.
Day Three: You will leave Vieques for a quick run across Vieques Sound to the island of Culebra. Spending the night in the quiet anchorage of Bahia Almodovar, you can watch the lights of St. Thomas come up as the sun goes down behind Culebra.
Day Four: Hard to make the decision today to visit the small island of Culebrita for a beach lunch and snorkeling, or lunch al fresco on the beautiful Malean Beach at Dakity Harbor. Decisions like this are what dreams are made of! After lunch, you will head back over to Ensanda Honda and anchor near the town of Dewey. Dewey has a menagerie of restaurants, bars and boutiques waiting for you to explore.
Day Five: A day trip to Flamenco Beach on the Northwest corner of Culebra is planned for today. Reputed to be the most beautiful beach in the Virgins, the is the perfect site for your picnic lunch! Later on, you will move on to Cayo Luis Pens, and uninhabited wildlife refuge to anchor for the night.
Day Six: Spend most of the day exploring the many trail on Cayo Pena. After a leisurely lunch, leave for Isla Palominos where the yacht will be anchored for the night. The sunset over El Yunque is not to be missed.
Day Seven: Return to Fajardo. Depending on time and schedules, hike the rainforest of El Yunque or stop at the casinos at the famous Conquistador Hotel on your return to the airport. Whatever you choose, you know that a charter vacation in the Spanish Virgin Islands was the perfect choice!