Travelers who have spent time on the main island of Puerto Rico may have a "eureka!" moment upon arriving on the fantasy islands of Vieques or Culebra. The brightly colored cottages, tranquility and timeless feel of the so-called Spanish Virgin Islands immediately set them apart from the overpopulated borinquen (Puerto Rican) mainland, and the friendly local vibe is contagious. After just a day or two on either island, you'll find yourself exchanging smiles and waves with each passerby as though you'd spent your whole life here. And why not? Once you step on shore, the exact details of your life before arrival begin to seem fuzzy and indistinct. Geologically, Vieques and Culebra are part of the island chain that includes the Virgin Islands, not the landmass of Puerto Rico proper. It's more than a symbolic difference. Both islands are refreshingly free of the strip malls, franchise outlets and concrete that characterize what locals refer to (with a vague wave of the hand westward) as Puerto Rico. Neither island has even a single stoplight. Keep an eye out for hybrid characters we call boricua Rastafarians, who speak Spanish slowly and wear dreadlocks tucked beneath oversize knitted caps. Things are definitely more laid-back here. At the exact spot where the Greater and Lesser Antilles meet, steel drums and reggae music are heard nearly as often as salsa and merengue. Vieques and Culebra are still quiet getaways meant for those seeking natural splendor and a desolate beach, not busy nightlife or the pampering of a luxury resort. Kayaking or boating to more than two dozen uninhabited cays, exploring mangroves and subtropical dry forests, snorkeling and diving through unearthly submarine gardens and relaxing in the sun keep most people "busy." If a romantic stroll along miles of deserted, sugary sand is your fantasy, get here fast! The virginity of Vieques and Culebra won't last forever. This guide is taken from our complete guide to Puerto Rico. It also includes an extensive introduction to Puerto Rico as a whole, with detailed information on the history, culture, how to get there and how to get around, music & dance, festivals, and much more.
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