The Caribbean Parfait


My friend Julie calls it the “Parfait” — in the sense of that old-fashioned dessert.  It’s that layering of island colors that defines the Caribbean beach: creamy white sand, azure sea, bluebird sky.  If you want a little excitement, you can throw in a little whipped-up surf.

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One “parfait” can be found at Culebra’s Playa Flamenco.

Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, the French word “parfait” means PERFECT.  And if you love beaches, few approach perfection quite as neatly as the one-two punch of Culebra’s Playa Flamenco and Culebrita’s Bahia Tortuga, each offering singular charms.  Both strands have been must-visit spots on all three of our Spanish Virgin Island sails.

One each of those sails, we’ve approached Flamenco by different routes.  The first time around, we did the most conventional: we took a taxi from the town of Dewey.   The next time, with the use of Google Earth, we discovered a hiking path which took us from our anchored boat at Carlos Rosario on Culebra, to Playa Flamenco.  Unfortunately, Google Earth didn’t tell us that this sign would greet us on a chain-link fence when we got to the beach:


Just a little reminder that the U.S. Navy used the islands of Culebra and Vieques for target practice not so long ago.

Last week was the first time we’d traveled to these islands in the off-season, which meant that the winds still had some south in them (as opposed to the more northerly winds and swells common in winter months).  This meant that we could reach north-facing Flamenco by boat, and dropped anchor off the beach.


Our unnamed Jeanneau 409 sloop anchored just off Playa Flamenco.

Flamenco is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever spent time on.  Powdery-soft sand, with nary a stone to mar the bottom.  Playful surf.  Palms and seagrapes under which to take shelter from the sun.  The kiosks just off the beach (mentioned in my prior post) for sustenance.  On a weekday, the beach’s expanse comfortably embraces visitors so no one feels crowded, yet there is a lively vibe.  And, lest we forget Culebra’s naval past, a few relics are scattered about.

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As our afternoon at Flamenco wore on, the wind kicked up a bit, and we observed our boat rolling in the swell.  As much as we may have wished to spend the night here, it would have been uncomfortable, so we made for Ensenada Honda (“deep bay”) and the town of Dewey for the night.

The next morning, after dropping off trash and picking up ice, we made the quick passage to the uninhabited island of Culebrita.  Again, the lingering summer wind patterns enabled us to anchor in north-oriented Bahia Tortuga — so named because of the turtles that hang out and nest there.

Wouldn’t you just know it — we traveled hundreds of miles to an uninhabited island only to run into Annapolis friends — Hi Joyce!  Hi Jeff!  — who’d stayed overnight the night before on Jeff’s catamaran Batubara. Joyce popped over on her stand-up paddleboard to visit for a few minutes while we lunched.  But, after that — in all honesty, and with absolutely no offense intended — my brain just kept saying: “OK, now leave.  When are you leaving?  Will you leave now?  When do you suppose they will leave?  Do you really think they’re going to spend a second night here?  Leave!”  I just wanted this place to MYSELF.  I’m greedy that way.

Bahia Tortuga is a perfect crescent of a bay.  One of its interesting features is a tumble of cliffs and rocks on its northeast end, where the Atlantic surf crashes in and through the resultant tidal pools.  The conglomeration of boulders is known locally as the Jacuzzis.  We took the dinghy over and climbed and splashed in the fizzy pools to our heart’s content.

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Playing in the pools felt like swimming in champagne.

But, of course, the piece de resistance of Bahia Tortuga is its stunning palm-fringed beach.

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Our boat, and Batubara, on moorings just off the beach.

The beach invited such active pursuits as bobbing around on foam noodles.  To his credit, our Jeff did swim to the boat to fetch the Medalla beers we enjoyed while bobbing around, so at least he got a little exercise.

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Eventually, we got so pruny that we had to retreat to the shore to dry out a little, and walk the beach’s half-mile length.

It was while drying out that I discovered one of the few flaws of the beach.  Two days before, I’d gotten several hundred no-see-um bites.  (Though I’m sometimes given to hyperbole, I’m not exaggerating here: I counted 20 bites in one representative 3-inch-square area of my shin.  I got my own bites, plus Rick’s and Jeff’s, since the little flying teeth ignored them completely.)  The bites itch like mad, and I wanted nothing more that to just roll around in the sand like a dog to scratch the itch.  But the sand was too fine to do any good.  Seriously?  Sand so perfectly soft and white and fine you can’t scratch your itch?

By mid-afternoon, I got my wish, and EVERYONE had left.  No one on the beach; no one in the anchorage.  Just our little boat.


The view from a port, showing the uninhabited beach and still water.

Just to put the icing on the cake of a perfect day, Bahia Tortuga offered up one more delight.  That evening, with uncommonly calm water and a mere sliver of moon, the bay turned on the fireworks: it was bioluminescent.  Not as vibrantly shimmery as the more famous Bio Bay of Vieques, but very active — like an underwater firefly storm.

Parfait indeed.

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