Visit an Island Run by Monkeys

Monkey Island, Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico

You will see many neat things in Puerto Rico, but wild animals are not usually one of them – except if you go check out Monkey Island. Monkey Island (officially Cayo Santiago) is a small island, about 1 nautical mile off of the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, that is home to about 1000 free-roaming Rhesus monkeys. The monkeys are the offspring of an original group of monkeys imported from India that were used for scientific research in 1938. Operated by the University of Puerto Rico’s (UPR) Caribbean Primate Research Center (CPRC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Harvard University, scientists there study the monkeys’ behavior, demographics, genetics and physiological changes. The island is not open to tourists, but you can get a view of the monkeys from the water.

Our Trip

Monkey Island, Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico

I am a BIG fan of animals, so this was something I had to do! We went out one afternoon with Barefoot Travelers Rooms Adventures. They run a kayak tour over toward the island so you can view the monkeys.

We met Keishya and Bob at the launch point on the beach, directly across from Monkey Island. On our tour day, we had a bit of a storm passing, so as we waited until it was safe to go. Just so happened that three researchers from Monkey Island stopped to chat on their way home from their day of research. They told us about their jobs, the monkeys and all sorts of interesting first hand experiences and details about what goes on over on the island. Even if you don’t get to meet the researchers on your trip, Keishya is good friends with these researchers, so she can relay lots of what she has heard them say about the monkeys. The island was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, so it was rough for a while, but things are looking up for the monkeys!

It was about a 20-minute kayak trip over to the island. You need to remain a number of yards away from the island so as not to disturb the monkeys. It is cool- you can see the monkeys doing their usual monkey business. Their antics were fascinating to watch.

At no point can you step onto the island. There are rules in place- These are wild animals with diseases and they want to protect both the monkeys from you and you from the monkeys! I was happy to just sit in my kayak and watch these beautiful animals enjoy the afternoon. Since they are free to move around, you aren’t guaranteed to see them, but if you go at the right time or area of the islands, you have a much better chance. Keishya knows the best times/places and we saw about 50-100 monkeys during our 30 minutes of watching them. The wind must have been blowing the right way because we didn’t smell a thing.

Monkey Island, Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico

When you’re done watching the monkeys you have to paddle your kayak back to the mainland. We did the afternoon trip and the views were beautiful, with the sun on El Yunque. Since we were delayed in starting, the sun was beginning to set and the clouds were colorful. I really enjoyed the trip. All in all, we were on the water about 2 hours.

Equipment

Contact Barefoot Travelers Adventures

Barefoot Travelers Rooms and Adventures has several kayaks (single and double) that they use for these trips. They can easily handle a group of up to 6 people. They also provide dry bags for cameras, and life vests (that you are required to wear). You should also plan to bring along one bottle of water for each person in your party … all the kayaking and the sun will make you thirsty.

Normally, when we review an activity that is not free to the public, we pay the admission price out of our own pockets. However, we just want you to know that the folks at Barefoot Travelers Adventures were kind enough to offer us this trip for free. While we don’t feel that this free ride influenced our review one way or the other, we felt that we should tell you, just as a matter of fact.
Ray & Gwenn

Kayak rentals are $45 plus tax per person. Minimum group size is 2 people, maximum 6 people. Reservations required.

If you're happy, let them know it — Don't forget to tip your your bartender, tour guide or trip operator if you enjoyed yourself. Gratuities are appreciated and typically aren't included in the price they charge you.

Barefoot Travelers Rooms and Adventures don’t have any set schedule for this trip. They are available most days. Contact them in advance to set up your trip.

You can visit the Barefoot Travelers Rooms and Adventures web site for more information.

You can call Barefoot Travelers Rooms and Adventures at 787.850.0508 for more information or to make a reservation.

Remember to wear lots of sunscreen!

You should probably allow a good half-day for this trip. You may have to wait out a storm, like we did, or you may have to paddle to a different part of the island to find some monkeys to watch.

We are in the process of updating the maps we use on our web site. While we're working on that, you can click on the GPS coordinates below to view the location on Google Maps ...

PuertoRicoDayTrips.com assumes no responsibility regarding your safety when participating in the activities described in this article. Please use common sense! If your mother or that little voice in your head tells you that you are about to do something stupid … then don't do it! Read more about Safety →

Comments & Discussion Leave a Comment »

There are 13 comments on this article. Add to the Discussion »

I live here next to the island, we lost a great many of them when Hurricane Maria hits us full force. We found carcasses in our town on one of the roads leading out of our town. Some where blown even farther. The ones that survived were so malnourished and so scared they were not eating. The island was layer barren nothing survived but a couple of cement structures where some of the monkeys fled too. The island is now barely looking green with much of its vegetation coming back. The monkeys are doing better now.

Comment by PalomaNopal on 29 Dec 2019

I believe I read all survived. It was the buildings and dock, trees/habitats that were damaged. https://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/51376/title/Scientists-Unite-to-Save--Monkey-Island--After-Hurricane-Maria/

Comment by Gwenn on 19 Mar 2018

Gwenn, do you happen to know how many of the monkeys survived hurricane Maria?

Comment by DJ Rocke on 19 Mar 2018

Thanks for you suggestion. But before you tell us what we should do, you should really read our article...no one on these tours goes anywhere near to touching the land.

Comment by Gwenn on 22 Jul 2015

Unless you are a SCIENTIST, you should not be visiting this island!!! Please read / listen to this latest NPR article. You really should remove this posting. http://www.npr.org/2015/06/27/417790081/puerto-ricos-monkey-island-lures-scientists-for-generations

Comment by Sam Anderson on 18 Jul 2015

Yes, we mention him and another motorboat option at the bottom of the article. Always good to have options!

Comment by Gwenn on 24 Feb 2014

There's a great old guy named Paco Lopez who runs boat tours out there. $40 per person. He's entertaining and makes sure you have fun. He supplies snorkles and water socks (no fins) for use around an old wreck. While we were there we saw a few sea kayaks heading out there in VERY choppy weather. I thought they were nuts for trying that. Sounds to me like a better alternative for families. (or old farts like me)

Comment by Cliff Wiegand on 24 Feb 2014

Yeah- I can see ocean kayaking with a 3 year old may be a bit risky! Contact Captain Frank Lopez. He has a motor boat which he can take out. I heard he will take it out midweek for a family. 787-850-7881 or 787-316-0441.

Comment by Gwenn on 04 Sep 2013

Gwenn, do you have any updates about this activity? I contacted the Barefoot travelers and, although amazingly friendly, advised me that they cannot take a 3 year old on the kayaks. Looking for an option that can accomodate my 3yr old. Thanks!

Comment by Mandy on 04 Sep 2013

Learn something every day. Thanks for the clarification.

Comment by Jose on 16 Jul 2012

No Jose-these monkeys are infected with Herpes simian B virus, which is totally different from Herpes simplex that you are thinking of. Herpes simian B in humans causes severe central nervous system disease, resulting in permanent neurological dysfunction or death. It has a very high mortality rate in humans.

Comment by Gwenn on 13 Jul 2012

You mentioned the monkeys have "Herpes B"; just a head's up, I'm pretty sure you meant Hepatitis B. Unless there's some funky business going on with the monkeys, I'm sure Herpes would not be a concern to anyone, even if the monkeys do carry the disease. However, yes, they will attack if provoked and it has been confirmed that Hepatitis B is present in this monkey troop.

Comment by Jose on 13 Jul 2012

One of the best things we did in PR, Bob is a great person! We looked up the Barefoot Traveler number on your site and called them from an awesome beach just north of the pier where we would meet Bob about an hour later. Overall a great experience, Bob was fun to talk to and super helpful. With only room for 4 it was a private tour of the island and some snorkeling for the 2 of us. A really fun 3 hours or so for a great price.

Comment by Nikki and Aric on 29 Mar 2011

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