The Caribbean's Best Kept Secret: Mona Island
Dazzling coral reefs, breathtaking cliffs and a multitude of caves make Mona Island the perfect habitat and the best kept Caribbean refuge to more than a hundred endangered species. Giant iguanas and sea turtles, red-footed boobies and many other migrating birds will be your welcoming hosts during a visit to this small island sandwiched between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Viewed from the air, this bean-shaped island looks like a giant piece of green puzzle placed over the dark blue ocean. Vertical cliffs rise from the ocean as giant walls surrounding its coasts.
Mona's uniqueness among other Caribbean islands lies in its use as a natural reserve for the conservation of sea turtles and the strict protection program implemented to preserve its ecosystem. The island is not inhabited except by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources (DNR) personnel, resident biologist and rangers. Ecotravelers, nature lovers, biologists and ecologists are most welcomed. Because of its hot, dry climate and its limestone soil, Mona Island is a heaven for ecological conservation. The Mona Iguana, certified as threatened by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, is a four feet long reptile found only in the Mona Island. They dig their nests in the dry soil between the dense vegetation. Another family of the long Mona Iguana is the Geco Oriundo. Unlike its native cousin, this tiny iguana only reaches about an inch long. It is easily recognized by a dark spot over its neck and can be found in the flatter southern areas. Another interesting native is the Coqui de Mona, a close cousin of the famous tiny frog encountered only in Puerto Rico. They might be difficult to spot because of their size but the high pitch concert they hold at night is unmistakable.
The North side is the refuge to dozens of different species of migrating birds, the most common is the red-footed booby. The cliffs and the rocky soil are ideal for nests making Mona their favorite winter home. The waters surrounding the island are the most hospitable habitat in the Caribbean for over 270 species of fish and endangered sea turtles who have found the peace and tranquillity needed for their reproduction. The most famous ones are the Hawksbill and the Leatherback sea turtle. Mona Island is 42 miles from the western coasts of Puerto Rico. The island is about seven miles long and four wide with an approximate area of 13,000 acres. Mona has more than twenty miles of coast, 90% consist of abrupt cliffs of over 200 feet high rising vertically from the ocean. The island reminds of Saba with the difference that Mona is practically flat top. The highest peak is about 300 feet above sea level. Because of its size and topography, Mona is dry as opposed to Puerto Rico.
The island is classified as having a semi-arid, subtropical climate. Temperature is between 80 to 90 all year long. About 2% of Mona's surface is formed by caverns, penetrating horizontally from 150 up to 800 feet inside the limestone soil. The island is located close to the deepest ocean trench of the Atlantic Ocean: the Puerto Rico Trench. Between Mona and Puerto Rico, ocean depths reach over 3,000 feet. Ocean depths close to Mona's cliffs are more than a hundred feet. Coral reefs surround the South coast where a myriad of keys protect more than five miles of white-sand beaches.
Mona offers over 13,000 acres of unspoiled ecological treasures. Camping is allowed only in the three beaches located on the South and South West of the island. Trails join the three beaches up to the eastern point of the island where the lighthouse is located. During the day, you can go hiking, bird watching, snorkeling or scuba. Activities can be coordinated with the resident biologist if you want to learn about the ecosystem of the island. It is required to visit the caverns with a guide. Star gazing at night may be the most unforgettable experience of a trip to Mona. Because of the darkness, the sky offers at night myriad of bright stars, a spectacular experience for the amateur astronomer equipped with a telescope. A sunset viewed from Mona can also be a remarkable experience.
Mona island is under the protection of Puerto Rico's Department of Natural Resources since 1975. A group of three to four rangers is always on the island along with a resident biologist. They are rotated on a weekly basis. Rules are very strict to maintain Mona as the best ecological site of the Caribbean. No more than a hundred visitors can be on the island at any time. The nesting areas of the sea turtles are closed to the public at night. Visitors have to bring their own food, drinking water and all camping equipment. Open fires are not allowed. It is also the visitor's responsibility to carry all solid waste back to Puerto Rico. Showers and bathrooms are available at Playa Sardinera, one of the three camping sites. The island can only be accessed from Puerto Rico. From the west coast towns of Mayaguez and Cabo Rojo, chartered boats are available for the six hour trip. Because of the distance and the wide range of activities available, it is recommended to make plans for at least a few days. The waters are rough in the Mona Passage, especially during the months of November to March. Fishermen offering the sea transportation schedule their trip at night when the ocean is calm. Small planes used to land on a small grass field in the South coast of Mona. The airfield is now closed and will be reopened to the public in a near future. You can apply for a camping permit from the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources -- (809) 724-3724 -- or use a tour operator. Upon calling the DNR, they will mail a brochure and the application form. The fee is $4 per night for adults and $2 per child for a camping permit.
Traditional Cache, regular size, transparent Tupperware-style container with blue border lid. Content: logbook, pencil, pen, pencil sharpener, Geoescondites Buttons, camera and English/Spanish instructions and Geocaching information. A Travel Bug was left inside.
Note on cache maintenance: I visit the island every other month. From Sardinera Beach, take the main trail that goes through the Old Lighthouse. Long hike, about 14.12 km. After arrival to the Old Lighthouse, look from the south of the Tower for a round concrete marker pole about 6” in diameter and 24” tall; with the # 25.