Puerto Rico is a US commonwealth, meaning that anybody with a US passport can visit it in the same manner as any other US state;
there is no customs and immigration and the currency is the US dollar. More of its population lives in New York City than in Puerto Rico itself.
Aside from those facts it is remarkably different from any other US state both in terms of scenery, culture and attractions.
There is excellent diving both off of the mainland and around a series of small islands that lie a short to medium distance offshore.
On this trip, I explored two of those islands: Vieques and Culebra, to the east of Puerto Rico towards the Virgin Islands. These islands are both sparsely populated,
so the choice of dive outfits and tourism is limited. However as we went in the off-season, there were only me and my buddy diving on all of the dives,
making for a wonderful private tour of some stunning dive sites.
All of the dive sites on both islands are relatively shallow, being in the 20 to 50 foot range. Deep-diving fanatics might be disappointed
(and may want to go to the South Shore of the main island where they can dive the wall that plunges several thousand feet). However,
the shallow dives gave us plenty of bottom time; in a couple of cases well over an hour underwater.
One disadvantage of going off season is that weather can play a factor. On the island of Vieques, the weather restricted us to doing a shore dive
off of an artificial spit of land that extended out from the northern part of the island. However, the dive, at a location called Mosquito Pier
was excellent in spite of the visibility (40ft - 10 m) being half of normal. The pier's supports attracted plenty of wildlife,
from huge puffer fish to turtles, lionfish and lobsters. In terms of topography I thought of it as Puerto Rican Kelp; it reminded me of diving kelp in my home state of California.
Check out this video to see more.
Mosquito Pier, Vieques Island
The island of Culebra was even more laid-back than Vieques, but was incredibly scenic with beautiful beaches and is surrounded by even smaller islands.
There is only one town, Dewey, and dive operator options are limited to small boats, making it a good idea to book up in advance.
The dive sites we went to were excellent and again it was me and my buddy diving alone the dive master, so we ended up getting a personal tour of his favorite sites,
The Arch and Tamarindo Reef. Both sites were fairly shallow and in both cases our underwater times were over 1 hour on 80 cuft tanks.
Compared to California that gave us essentially 3 dives for the price of 2. Check out these videos to see what the dives were like.
The Arch, Culebra Island
Tamarindo Reef, Culebra Island
I don't usually cover snorkeling, but when the water is this shallow and the coral this healthy, it is well worth snorkeling and free diving off of some of the beaches,
especially if you're on a budget (diving is not cheap on these islands: a 2 tanker will run you about $120 based on 2011 prices).
You don't have to go very far offshore to find stunning topography, coral and sealife comparable to what we saw diving.
The short video below is from Flamenco Beach, which incidentally is rated as one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet.
Snorkel/ Freediving Flamenco Beach
I highly recommend Puerto Rico; great dives, friendly people and stunning scenery and beaches, many of which you'll have to yourself if you pick the timing.
Hollywood at Home!
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