One of the last true adventure destinations in the Caribbean, the ISLA DE MONA is a blessedly isolated nature reserve 72km off the west coast of Puerto Rico, and just 61km from the Dominican Republic. Staying on the island requires advance planning, though it’s much easier to arrange day-trips to dive or snorkel off its deep, unbelievably clear waters and richly stocked barrier reef. It’s worth the effort: although it’s not quite the “Galapagos” made out in the tourist literature, it does offer the chance for a real wilderness, back-to-nature experience.
The island is roughly 11km long and 6.5km wide, and other than occasional groups of illegal immigrants from Cuba, completely uninhabited, though you can still see evidence of Taíno and early Spanish settlement. The island is essentially a raised plateau surrounded by 40m sea cliffs, with an extensive cave system and 8km of absolutely stunning pearly white beaches lining its southern shore. Other than enjoying the caves and these (usually) utterly deserted strips of sand, Mona’s chief attraction is its wildlife. The Galapagos comparison was spurred chiefly by the giant rock iguanas that lounge on the shore, and can grow up to 1.5m long. There are also wild pigs, goats and cattle, left by Spanish colonists, and pods of humpback whales offshore in winter. Between May and October turtles nest on the beaches and there are over 100 species of bird zipping around the island, including hawks, red-footed boobies and pelicans. The DRNA maintains a basic ranger station, toilets and showers at Playa Sardinera on the west side of Mona, but otherwise you’re on your own – you must bring a tent and all your food and drink.