Most travelers to the island of Puerto Rico envision themselves spending time relaxing on white sandy beaches, listening to the surf and taking in the beauty of the landscape. However, if spending and afternoon watching a community of wild Rhesus monkeys is more your speed, the island of Cayo Santiago (also known as “Monkey Island”) might be a venture worth pursuing. Whether by boat or kayak, monkey island is an amazing sight found only off the shores of Puerto Rico.
Caya Santiago is a small island, about ½ mile off of the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, that is home to about 1200 free-roaming Rhesus monkeys. The island serves as a research center for the University of Puerto Rico Caribbean Primate Research Center, the National Institute of Health, Yale University, and Harvard University. The focus of the research is to obtain observational information about the behavior, cognition, morphology and physiology of the species. The animals are the bambinos of a native group of 409 monkeys imported from India in 1938. Currently, the research facility accommodates 11 scientists and technicians who commute daily by boat from Humacao.
The island is not open to tourists due to the innate safety risks, however visitors can get a glimpse into the shenanigans of the Rhesus monkey community inhabiting the island by boat or kayak. The water surrounding the island is shallow which offers incredible voyeuristic viewing opportunities into the lives of flora and fauna above and below the water. Reaching the island by kayak is approximately a 20-minute row from Humacao. Most folks touring the island recommend staying 20-30 feet from the shore in order to prevent a disturbance of the natural activities of the monkeys.
Though Cayo Santiago’s primary attraction is the Rhesus population, the island also houses the skeletal remains of a sunken barge just below the surface of the water near the shoreline. The barge is home to schools of fish and other marine life. You can view the wreckage from the safety and security of your kayak, or to try your hand at snorkeling for a more up close and personal experience. The island is also in close proximity to a coral reef teaming with an array of tropical fish including barracudas, stingray, and a resident octopus.