Rincon, Puerto Rico  2006

Isla Desecheo

Isla Desecheo

Desecheo Island sits uninhabited and mysterious on the horizon off the coast from Rincon. It has a storied past, and is today a National Wildlife Refuge administered by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Services.

Because Isla Desecheo has a healthy reef and water clear enough to see from 100 to 150 feet, it is very popular with divers. But the island itself is closed to all visitors due to the presence of unexploded military shells.

Isla Desecheo from the Vista Resort Hotel, Rincon, PR
Isla Desecheo located 14 miles off the west coast of Puerto Rico


Isla Desecheo is located about 14 miles off the west coast of Puerto Rico, and is about 40 minutes by boat from Rincon. 

The 360-acre island is about 1.1 miles in diameter, and is located in the Mona Passage between Puerto Rico and Hispaniola,  

Geological evidence suggests that it was once connected to Puerto Rico.

A Storied History

Desecheo was discovered by Christopher Columbus, and has been claimed by Spain, Cuba, and the United States. 

While uninhabited, the island has been used by pirates (19th cent.) and smugglers and bandits (19th, 20th cent.); by U.S. Marines (Spanish-American War); the U.S. Armed Forces as a bombing range (1942-52); the U.S. Air Force for survival training (1952-64); the National Institute of Health for animal experiments (1966-86); and as a base by several amateur radio expeditions. It is closed to the public today.

An arial view of Isla Desecheo
An outline map showing the main coastal features of Isla Desecheo

Geography of Isla Desecheo 

The island terrain is steep, rocky and rugged. Its highest peak is 218 m (715 ft). It has no known bodies of water and 40 inches of rain.

Landing is possible at Puerto Canoitas (on the south). Puerto Manolillo (west), Puerto de Lobo Botes (on the southwest) where several small houses remain on a mesa 400 feet above the sea, and nearby Punta Culebron where the ruins of a lighthouse stand.

Around the island are several small islets including (El Murro (on the west) and Islotes Dospiedras (on the east).

Sunset on Isla Desecheo

The Desecheo Wildlife Refuge was established in 1912 to protect a large nesting colony of brown boobies. Seabird nesting has virtually disappeared from the island due to past military bombing, illegal hunting, fires, and the introduction of rats and nest-predating rhesus monkeys.

Administration of the refuge was turned over in 1976 to the Department of Fish & Wildlife Services, with the objective of restoring and protecting historic seabird colonies and natural island ecosystems.