I love Puerto Rico for a quick, easy and relaxing winter escape. Because of the ease of travel (no passport, yay!), the quick and cheap direct flights, the great food and culture, Puerto Rico remains a top of the list destination. For those willing to go a bit off the beaten path (but still keep their feet on US soil) you should definitely consider a trip to Puerto Rico’s beautiful island, Vieques. Vieques is located about 8 miles off the east coast of Puerto Rico. The island was used exclusively by the US Navy for bomb testing until the Navy abandoned it in 2003. Because of this the island is relatively undeveloped by Caribbean standards. On Vieques you will be treated to miles of abandoned beaches, wild horses roaming the island and friendly and low-key islanders. There are few options for the luxury traveler but for those willing to immerse themselves in relaxed Caribbean island life, Vieques is the place.
1. Beaches The number one reason most visitors venture to Vieques is for the beaches. And they will not disappoint! There are over 20 easily accessible public beaches, each with unique features. When the Navy departed in 2003 their land was converted into a Nature and Wildlife Reserve. Many of the best beaches on the island are protected in this reserve. Vieques’ beaches boast clear blue waters, white sands, remote jungle locations and lots of privacy. You may not be the only person on the beach but you will feel as if you are!
2. Mosquito Bay/Biobay
Mosquito Bay on Vieques is the brightest bio-luminescent bay in the world and there are a multitude of companies who can take you out on the bay at night to experience the glowing water up close. The glowing is caused by the dinoflagellate Pyrodinium bahamense, which lights up when disturbed, either by oars, fish or rain. The Biobay is a world-class attraction and worth the trip to Vieques to see. If possible take a kayak tour, being up close to the water and seeing the fish darting around your boat is absolutely magical.
For more info on biobay tours click here.
There are many beautiful snorkel spots on Vieques which you can visit yourself or with a tour. Some great spots are Mosquito Pier, Blue beach, Green beach, Secret beach and Pirate’s Cove. On arrival you will likely get a copy of THE local map which marks most of the top spots for you to check out. If you want to get out for a sail there are several companies which depart daily from Esperanza. I highly recommend Vieques Classic Charter.
While on Vieques take time to drive the entire island, walk the towns, eat at the many wonderful roadside food trucks, explore the sugar mill ruins or check out the jungle-claimed Navy bunkers, and generally leave the rest of the world behind.
Flights booked through major airlines can be very expensive. Book your flight to San Juan through normal channels but book your flight to Vieques separately. You will have more options and save money this way. Here are some of your options:
Fly direct from SJU: most convenient but certainly most expensive.
Fly from San Juan via Isla Grande airport: this is the ‘local’ airport in San Juan. It is a $20 cab ride from SJU to Isla Grande but the airfare difference should more than make up for the cab fare. Also if you are planning to spend a night in San Juan (highly recommended!) before heading to Vieques this makes the most sense.
Fly from Fajardo or Ceiba: If you are planning on renting a car and visiting some of the east coast of Puerto Rico before heading to Vieques you will save even more flying from these local airports.
Ferry from Fajardo: cheapest option but a bit unreliable. You can get bumped from the ferry if it is crowded (which it will be!) and is an hour long rather choppy ride.
You will want to rent a car on Vieques. Nothing is very far (you can get anywhere on the island in 20 minutes or less) but there are basically no taxis or other transport options. Car rentals are somewhat expensive ($50 and up per day) but are essential. I don’t feel a 4X4 is necessary unless you are venturing to the most remote of beaches in the rain. You will encounter bad roads however so you should drive with caution. Check with your accommodations to see if they can get you a car at a discount. Many guest house owners have cars they rent to guests for less than the rental companies.
One of the wonderful things about Vieques is that very few big resorts have swooped in to develop it and because of this there are a myriad of unique, small and personalized lodging options. There is the W Resort, but if you just want a full-service resort experience you might as well skip coming to Vieques and stay on Puerto Rico. Outside the W, most of the accommodations on Vieques are guest houses, b&bs or small hotels. There are lots of great options to choose from including:
La Finca Caribe – La Finca’s rustic villa and cottages are located in the center of the island amidst lush jungle. The property is truly ‘away from it all’ and embodies quintessential Caribbean relaxation. Wonderful hosts, like-minded travelers, a quiet, unplugged vacation. The main house the owners describe as something “between a boat and a tree house. Think Swiss Family Robinson.” Shared baths, outdoor showers, shared kitchen facilities and plenty of hammocks and swings to stop and take in the view! (Room rates are $97-$135). For ultimate privacy choose one of their casitas over the main house. ($125-$205)
Hacienda Tamarindo – Located near cute Esperanza (Vieques’ second ‘town’ which hosts mostly tourist services (shops, restaurants, hotels)). Excellent service, beautiful spanish-style architecture and decore, hillside location, 24 hour pool, breakfast incl. $162-$375. No children under 15 in high season (8 in low).
Casa de Armistad – If you prefer something a little more connected to local life you can try the nine-room Casa de Armistad B&B located in the heart of Isabel Segunda (Vieques’ only real town). With friendly owners, a small pool, clean and comfy rooms, shared kitchen and central location Casa de Armistad is a great base for your Vieques vacation. Rates are $75-$125)
Hector’s by the Sea – An ideal couples’ getaway, Hector’s is a beautiful property with three guest casitas all with spectacular ocean views. It is located outside Esperanza adjacent to a horse farm and walking distance to the beach. Each casita has a kitchenette, porch and views of the idyllic landscape. Rates are $140-$180.
Coqui Fire Cafe – A mexican restaurant with a caribbean twist, Coqui Fire is some of the best, and most affordable, food on the island. Margaritas, Mole, the works, all freshly prepared and severed in a relaxed open-air dining space. Located in Isabel Segundo, open Monday-Friday 5:00-9:00, $11-$30.
Sol Food – A killer food truck located at the entrance to the beach reserve. Stop here for lunch. Highlights include the ‘Bob Marley’ (jerk chicken with pineapple salsa); the Cubano (enough carnitas for an army) and the empanadas. Good prices (for sure cheapest lunch on the island), friendly service and a creative and fresh menu. Only open Friday-Sunday from 11-3 (or until the food runs out!).
Cositas Ricas – By far the cheapest dinner option on the island Cositas Ricas is a food truck located slightly south of the entrance to Sun Bay. They sell delicious skewers of BBQ for $3-5 a pop. (Two will make a meal for most anyone). Great stop after your Biobay tour!
Next Course – Upscale restaurant with beautiful balcony seating. A mix of cuisines from different cultures. Excellent food and service. Open Friday-Tuesday 5:30-10:00, $10-$40.