The island of Culebra was inhabited by Amerindians of Arawak origin called by the Spanish "Tainos." The first European to reach Culebra was Christopher Columbus in 1493. The island was used as a refuge for pirates for more than three centuries.In 1875 an Englishman named Stevens was made the first governor of Culebra by the Vieques government. He was tasked with protecting the island and its fishermen from pirate attacks. Stevens was assassinated later the same year. Culebra was then inhabited by Cayetano Escudero Sanz on October 27, 1880. The first settlement was called San Ildefonso de la Culebra; the first part recalls San Ildefonso de Toledo, one of the Church Fathers, while the second part apparently derives from the abundance on the island of the serpent Alsophis portoricensis. Two years later, on September 25, 1882, construction began on the Culebrita Lighthouse, completed on February 25, 1886.
This was the oldest lighthouse in operation in the Caribbean until 1975 when the United States Navy and the The Coast Guard finally closed it in. In 1902, Culebra was annexed to the island-municipality of Vieques. A year later, US President Theodore Roosevelt established the Culebra Naval Reserve. A bird sanctuary was established on February 27, 1909. In 1939, the United States Navy began using Culebra as a bombing practice site. In 1971, protests began against the US military presence in Culebra led by the leader of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, Rubén Berríos Martínez. Four years later, in 1975, the expulsion of the US military was achieved. Culebra was declared an independent island-municipality in 1917. The first democratically elected government was in 1960. Prior to this, the government of Puerto Rico sent delegates to administer the island.
Culebra is a small archipelago that consists of the largest island (Culebra) and twenty-three small islands or keys. The four largest keys are: Culebrita to the east, Cayo Norte to the northeast, and Cayo Luis Peña and Cayo Lobo to the west. The smaller islands include Cayo Pirata, Cayo Verde, Cayo Matojo, El Ancón, Piedra Stevens, Los Gemelos, Alcarraza, Roca Lavador (submerged), Cayo Botijuela, Las Hermanas (Cayo del Agua, Cayo Ratón, Cayo Yerba), El Mono , Cayo Lobito, Roca Culumna (part of Cayo Lobito), Cayo Tuna, Cayo Botella, Pelá, Pelaíta, Roca Speck, Cayo Sombrerito, Cayos Geniquí, Cayo Tiburón and Cayo Ballena. The islands of the archipelago are arid since they do not have rivers or streams.
Fresh and drinkable water is brought from the Big Island via Vieques. Culebra is characterized by an irregular topography resulting in an intricate coastline. The island is approximately 11 by 8 kilometers. The coastline is punctuated by cliffs, coral sand beaches, and mangroves. The highest elevation on the island is Mount Resaca at about 190 meters (623 feet) of altitude. Its hydrography is based on lagoons or lagoons (Laguna Flamenco, Laguna Zoní, Laguna de Cornelio, Laguna de Molino, among others), bays (Ensenada Honda [within it: Ensenada del Coronel, Ensenada Fulladoza, Ensenada del Cementerio, Ensenada Dákity , Mosquito Bay and Ensenada Malena], Puerto Manglar, Tamarindo Bay, among others) and small streams.