Culebra and Vieques are extremely popular destinations, both with stunning beaches and magnificent waters for swimming, snorkeling, SCUBA, and all water activities. Well worth the effort.
Update Jan 17, 2017 – The large ferries are back in service. Now that high season is here, Expect long lines and many sold out ferries to both Culebra and Vieques. If you absolutely have to get there, flying is always a good option.
An economical (though not easy) way to get to the out-islands of Culebra and Vieques is by using the passenger ferry (La Lancha). These ferries, operated by the Integrated Transportation Authority of Puerto Rico (Autoridad de Transporte Integrado de Puerto Rico or ATI), carry about 200-600 passengers and run during the day hours, 365 days a year.
Depending on the particular ferry they’re using the day you go, you may be able to get a seat outside on the upper deck. But don’t count on it. There are fewer seats outside than inside. Depending on the wind, the diesel exhaust can make for a smelly ride if you’re outside. I normally try to get a seat outside, because it is a nice view, and the breeze is nice. Inside the main cabins, it is air conditioned to about 65 degrees! Bring a jacket or wrap up in a beach blanket, especially for the ride home when you may still be wet from swimming. Note: they do not always allow people to use the outside seating and only a few ferries even have outdoor seating.
The trip over can be a little rough. Sea sickness bags are available on-board. If you are prone to motion sickness, take sea sickness medicine at least one hour before boarding the ferry so that is ready to work when you need it. Sometimes the seas are flat, and sometimes they’re not. I find the trip back to Fajardo to be less rough than the trip to the islands.
There are only a limited number of tickets available for each ferry. It is recommended to get to the ticket office (across the street from the actual terminal) about 1-2 hours before the scheduled departure (at least 2 hrs early or more for the 9/9:30am ferry, as this one sells out the most). Residents of the municipal islands have priority over other travelers. There are sometimes long lines, and they do sell out (especially on weekends in the summer and holidays and usually the 9am ferry to Culebra almost everyday). There are separate windows for Vieques, Culebra and the cargo ferries, so make sure you get in the correct line. When you buy your tickets, buy the round trip, so you don’t have to wait on line to buy your return ticket. In the past, we have gone a day or two early before a desired trip and bought the tickets ahead of time, but this is not always allowed (see note above). Ticket windows only open for ticket sales about 1-1.5 hr before the ferry is set to leave and closes at 8pm weekdays and 7pm weekends. You will be standing (sometimes for 2-3 hrs) in one long line (in the sun) to buy your ticket, so bring a hat, sunscreen and water. After you get your ticket, you wait on another line (again in the sun) to get into the terminal, so if you have other people in your party, have them wait in separate lines. It may be difficult to figure out which line is for what, no one seems to know what is going on, or if they do, they aren’t telling anyone. Last time I used the ferry for a day trip to Culebra, it was all a nightmare.
They announce the ferry boarding in Spanish. If you are unsure if you are boarding the correct ferry, just ask the ticket takers or some locals.
You can bring coolers, beach chairs, beach umbrellas, snorkel gear, etc. with you. The coolers and large things will be stored away from the seating areas- usually outside and/or in the front or the back of the boat – the crew will tell you where to put the items, and you have to go pick it up on the way off the ferry. There is a charge if you have extra stuff, just a buck or two each – supposedly only “one bag” per person allowed. Tell them what you are bringing at the ticket counter, or you will have to run back and pay the additional fee before they allow you on the ferry. Animals are allowed on the ferry if they are in a crate or cage and you have paid the fee for them. Bikes are only allowed on the cargo ferry.
The ferries usually run "on-time", give or take a little. They may leave early if they have sold all the seats and are loaded early.
When you get off the ferry on either island, you’ll find a little town right there, where you can find something to eat or drink, and places to rent snorkel gear, etc. There will also be plenty of taxis available.
There is a cargo ferry that runs from Fajardo to the islands, but this is mainly for the locals and supplies. Anyone can ride as a passenger on this ferry, but for cargo and cars, it is a locals only thing. Most car rental companies do not permit their cars to leave the mainland. Reservations must be made in advance for the cargo ferry, and you may be bumped off even if you have a reservation if there is something that has to get to the island at the last minute. Taking a car on the cargo ferry is not something I would recommend anyone try to do on vacation. There are rental cars available on the islands – reserve a car. On Culebra, there will be a car rental representative available for you when you get off the passenger ferry. On Vieques, it is better to take a taxi to the car rental agency.
If you drive to the Fajardo ferry terminal, there is a public parking lot that is available 24 hours/day. Cost $5 per day plus tax. Your car should be fine parked in this lot. Note- take your ticket with you, you have to pay before getting back to your car. Also, there are locals that have parking available in small lots in the area around the ferry terminal.
A one-way ticket to Culebra costs $2.25 per person. A one-way ticket to Vieques costs $2.00 per person. Kids 3-11 years old and seniors 60-74 years old cost $1.00 per person, seniors 75 years and older are free. Parking in the public lot costs $5.00 per day plus tax.
Here is the passenger ferry schedule, from DTOP:
- Fajardo to Culebra (7 days/week & holidays)
9:00am • 3:00pm • 7:00pm
- Culebra to Fajardo (Mon- Fri)
6am, 1pm, 5pm. Sat/Sun: 1pm, 5pm
- Fajardo to Vieques (Mon- Fri): 4am, 9:00am, 1pm, 4:45pm, 8:15pm. Sat, Sun and holidays- 9am, 1pm, 4:45pm, 8:15pm
- Vieques to Fajardo (Mon-Fri) 6:00am, 11am, 3pm , 6:30pm. Sat/Sun and Holidays- 6:30am, 11am, 3pm, 6:30pm
Note- passengers can also get onto the cargo ferry, these ships run frequently, but may (or may not) take longer. See our article for times of the the cargo ferry out of Fajardo.
If you are very patient and very lucky, you can try to call or email to buy your tickets with a credit card ahead of time. Note – this is not a reservation, it is more of a "hold". It is very difficult to get through to someone on the phone in the ticket office. They only sell 50 tickets for any future date. If you are able to purchase tickets ahead of time, on the day of your ferry trip, you can go to a separate window to pick up your tickets (it is to the far right). But be aware, your passage on the assigned ferry is not guaranteed- you don’t have a reservation. Until you have a ticket in hand, you do not have a seat on the ferry. The ticket office will be selling tickets that day also. So if you’re late, they will fill the ferry with passengers that were waiting in line ahead of you, selling your ticket. So still get there early. You can try this, it sometimes works, but not often. I have had better luck sending a message to the DTOP Facebook page Note- I hear you can call 311 (while in PR) at least 5 days beforehand. You can leave a message, but you need to make sure you talk to someone to take your information. They will call you back with confirmation and to get payment.
As of Nov. 2008, there is no ferry service between the islands of Vieques and Culebra. Also, there is no high-speed ferry service to either island from the San Juan area.
Depending on wind and sea conditions, the trip between Fajardo and either island takes about 1 to 1½ hours each way. If the seas are too rough, or there is mechanical failure, they may cancel the trip. It does occasionally happen.
For info (and for hardy souls that want to try to pre-purchase of tickets) you can try: 787-494-0934 extensions 2736, 2728, 2729, or 2727 (only Mon- Fri from about 7:20-9am, and 10am -3pm) or email them : Reservaciones@atm.pr.gov and provide your contact info and they will call or email you back. If you are In PR, I hear you can call 311 at least 5 days beforehand. You can leave a message, but you need to make sure you talk to someone to take your information. They will call you back with confirmation and to get payment. Good Luck!
You can visit the Puerto Rico Port Authority web site for more info.
Take Route 3 to Fajardo, and turn onto Route 194. There’s a traffic light and a Shell station at this intersection. It’s right near where Route 3 and Route 53 (the toll road) come together. Stay on Route 194 (it’s a winding road) until you get to Route 195. There’s a traffic light at this intersection, and a Burger King just through the light on the left. There’s also a sign for the ferry terminal on the corner. Turn right onto Route 195. Continue on Route 195 (it goes through a little town) until it ends. Pass through the arch at the end of the street (this will make sense when you see it), and the parking lot is on the right. The ferry terminal and ticket office is to the left. Just walk along the water after you park your car.
The ferry terminal in Fajardo is about a 45-minute drive from Rio Grande.