Explore or Relax on Beautiful Isla Caja de Muertos
I had heard that Isla Caja de Muertos (or Coffin Island) was lovely, but I think it has been kept a secret just how fantastic it is! Visiting the island has been on my "to do" list for 6 years, but we never really made the effort to go.
We finally made it out there, and I can kick myself for waiting so long. It is a beautiful island and it is too nice to be missed, especially since it is an easy day trip.
Isla Caja de Muertos is an island located 8 miles off the coast, south of Ponce (which in turn is located on the south coast of Puerto Rico). It is a small island, just about 1½ miles long and about ½ mile wide at its widest point.
It is a nature reserve, with beautiful beaches, hiking trails, a light house and a cave.
In fact, one of the beaches on the island, Pelican Beach, has been designated as a Blue Flag Beach, which means that the ocean water quality is monitored, there are facilities (composting toilets) and paramedics/guards watching the beach.
The island also boasts hiking trails that lead to an old lighthouse, a cave, and a longer trail that goes to the other end of the island. There are some reefs off the north-eastern side of the island, but you need a boat to get to them. There are other beaches on the east side of the island, but they are roped off during turtle-nesting season. Besides, it looks like it may be too rough to swim on the east side due to sea conditions.
Getting There by Ferry/Boat
Being an island, the only way to get there is via boat. Island Ventures operates a ferry boat that runs between Ponce and the island on weekends and holidays. They make 1 trip per day — departing from La Guancha Marina at 8:30am and departing from the island at 3:30pm. The boat trip takes 35-45 minutes.
The ferry holds maybe 125 people, but that would seem crowded to me. The ferry has 2 decks, a covered lower deck and an open-air upper deck. They sell drinks and water on the ferry, and it has restrooms.
There is an extra charge for your "stuff", but you either need to bring everything that you might need to be comfortable for the day — chairs, umbrella (there’s not a lot of shade on the island), hammock, and of course your food & drinks, or rent/buy from them. You also need to be prepared to "pack out" the trash you make during the day, so bring a big plastic garbage bag, too.
We took the Island Ventures ferry on a windy Sunday in February and, though the seas were pretty high, the ride over was relatively smooth. Once we got close enough to see the color of the water, we knew that it would be a great day.
There were only about 40 people on the island that day, so there was plenty of room everywhere. We claimed a covered picnic pavilion (there are about 12 of them) and then went exploring.
There is a great map of the island, and some informational signs placed throughout the park explaining the island, its history, and some of the flora that you will see.
We checked out Pelican Beach and then went for a walk on the trails. It is a dry island, so it has some trees, bushes, and lots of cactus. If you head out for a walk, bring at least a bottle of water per person — it is a hot walk.
The trail from the picnic pavilions to the lighthouse is just less than 1 mile, with an uphill hike to the lighthouse. The trails are packed dirt with limestone rocks sticking up everywhere, so make sure you wear sturdy shoes.
On the trail up to the lighthouse, you pass a small path, off to the left, that leads to a platform at the top of Almeida Cave. Legend has it the pirate Almeida hid his treasure in this cave. I didn’t see any treasure. ☹
The lighthouse, built in 1887, is still in use today. You can’t go inside the lighthouse, but there is a observation platform on the south side of the lighthouse that has fantastic views toward Pelican Beach.
After the lighthouse, we decided to continue on the trail to the north end of the island. That part of the trail was, also, just less than 1 mile. The trail just kinda ends — there’s no pay off or no big thing to see. But you do pass Carrucho Point, which is a grave yard for conch shells.
Once we got back to Pelican Beach, we ate our lunch at a picnic table and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing. The water was calm and cool. Ray took about 200 pictures throughout the day — it was so beautiful.
We went in February, and it was not crowded. I am sure that it is a different story in the summertime — like in July, when I would expect crowds. This island is very popular with locals and the boating crowd.
There is no fresh water available on the island. That means no showers, no sinks to wash your hands, and no potable drinking water. You MUST bring EVERYTHING you need for the day — including food/snacks/drinks (though now the ferry people have food/drinks available for purchase). And, you need to be prepared to pack out any trash you generate throughout the day.
If you plan to hike, wear shoes with sturdy soles to avoid the thorns and rocks. Water shoes may be helpful at the beach because there is a row of rocks at the shore that you have to walk on to enter the water.
You can visit Isla Caja de Muertos on your own via ferry (like we did) or you can hook up with a tour operator for a more organized trip that would include snorkeling on the reef to the north of the island. If your goal is to hike, explore or enjoy the beach, the ferry will be sufficient. If your goal is to snorkel, then choose one of the tour operators so you can get to the best snorkeling spots.
Island Ventures Ferry
As of 8/14- The cost of the ferry is $25/per adult including tax, kids 11 years old or less are $20 including tax, for round trip boat transportation. You need to bring everything you want/need. They also have a “deluxe” trip which includes the boat plus 12 food/drink tickets for $53.50 adults/$38 children. The food is Hot Dogs or Pinchos, drinks are water, soda and beer, at their stand on the island. Kids under 3 are $6. Any coolers you bring have an extra cost, but beach chairs, umbrellas etc are free to bring on board (though they are available for rent on the island).
The ferry runs on weekends and holidays during year but runs almost everyday during summer (Mid May, June, July and part of August). It departs from La Guancha at 8:30 am and departs from Isla Caja de Muertos at 3:30pm, but you need to be on-board earlier. Reservations are required.
Call 787-842-8546 (office) for more information (they take calls Tuesday- Saturday 10am-7pm) or to make a reservation. Or use their online reservation calendar to see what dates are available and make reservations .
Aqua Adventures offers a boat trip from Salinas, to the island and snorkel spots around it. Includes equipment & training, snacks and lunch and then beach time and/or guided hike to the lighthouse and cave.
The cost of the full day trip is $135/person.
You can call 787- 636-8811 for more information or to make a reservation and get directions to their boat dock. Note- they do NOT leave from La Guancha.
You can visit the Aqua Adventure web site for more information.
Getting to La Guancha
Trips to Isla Caja de Muertos depart from Ponce’s La Guancha waterfront park/marina. This area has bars and restaurants, and is popular year-round on the weekends.
Driving directions from the San Juan area: Take Route 52 south to exit 104B (Ponce Playa/Portuaria) to Route 12 south. Follow Route 12 south for about 1½ miles — it leads right to the marina. The road ends and you are forced to take a left (due to construction at the port). After that, take your second right and park in the lot closest to the water. The boat is right there.
The drive from the San Juan area takes about 1½ hours.
Use this map to locate places mentioned in this article. You can click on a placemark to view the GPS coordinates for that place.