Vieques

Aerial view of Vieques

Vieques is a Caribbean island belonging to Puerto Rico, also known as Isla Nena or Little Girl Island. It is a relatively small, rural island about 8 miles east of Puerto Rico. It is about 22 miles long and 4 miles wide.

Vieques maintains a rural character, despite increasing tourist interest. Horses and chickens run wild in the streets. Expect to hear roosters and dogs during the night and morning while you're trying to sleep.

Cities

Vieques is an island municipality of Puerto Rico with two main towns.

Other destinations

What makes the Island of Vieques unique is its recent history. For many years, the island was home to a major U.S. naval base, which used it for training, storage of munitions, and even target practice. During the early years of this century, there was a major dispute about the continued operation of the facility. As a result, most of the area formerly controlled by the military was turned over to the US Park Service. While there are still many restricted areas, a large part of the former military base is now open to the public.

Two locals, one PR born and one NY born, expressed the same concern - that the years of Navy munitions target practice both on land and off shore created a chemical drift which has contaminated the soil, causing higher than normal incidences of cancer. Presumably due to this, in Esperanza, there is no locally caught fresh fish and no locally grown fruits and vegetables. All food, including the water, is brought in from the PR mainland, greatly increasing the cost of living.

Because of this past, the island was bypassed for major development. Instead of lots of chain hotels and condos, one discovers an undeveloped Caribbean island. This is what makes the bioluminiscent bay (discussed below) one of the most vivid in the world. It also means that it is possible to find a remote beach where few will disturb you during an entire day. (The beaches are named for colors--presumably given by the military.) These beaches are accessed by dirt and gravel roads off the main roadways. Rent a small truck, tracker, or 4X4 to get to the best beaches.

Understand

A young woman decked out in costume for the Festival Viequense in Isabel Segunda, 20 July 2008

Talk

Spanish is the working language of locals. However, with a population of U.S. mainlanders English is known by most but not all residents. Residents appreciate visitors that try to speak Spanish; knowing a few words will make a difference.

Get in

By ferry

Vieques has ferry service several times a day from Fajardo. While the ferry suffers from a bad reputation due to it regularly being sold out in high season and to its service being intermittent at times, it often enough makes for a cheap and convenient way to travel, especially for groups and in low-season. A one-way journey costs $2/adult and $1/child and takes 60-90 minutes.

While obtaining tickets it usually no problem in low season, the ferry does sell out in high season. In low season, arriving an hour before departure should be fine. Vieques inhabitants get preference, and in weekends and holidays, Puerto Ricans flock to the island as well. If you're travelling in these times, buy tickets ahead of time or arrive very early. Even when you have your ticket, be sure to arrive at least an hour in advance. The ferry usually begins loading 30 minutes prior to departure. Pets are allowed on the passenger ferry, but, not under the air conditioned area, they need to be in a pets cage and ride on the non/air conditioned areas of the ferry. You are allowed to whatever you can carry (with the exception of any items containing gas). Passengers can ride inside the ferry where is nicely air conditioned - maybe too much - or on the upper deck where you can enjoy one of the most beautiful scenery of the surrounding big island of Puerto Rico. If you rented a car on the main island of Puerto Rico, your contract usually does not allow a transfer to Vieuques. There is a parking at the ferry terminal in Fajardo (about $5), and if you wish to rent a car on Vieuques, which is recommended, you can book ahead and agencies will meet you at the terminal.

By plane

The island is also serviced by an airport with service to Ceiba and the Isla Grande and LMM/SJU international airports in San Juan. Regional carriers include Cape Air, Sunshine Air, and Vieques Air Link. Single journey tickets from Isla Grande cost about $75 and take some 30 minutes. Note that the price only includes some 25 pounds of luggage, with extra charges for excess pounds. Tickets are easily purchased online and arriving about 45 to 30 minutes before take-off gives plenty of time. Flights are executed with small, 6 to 8 passenger planes and provide fine views over the area.

Calling ahead for a publico to meet you at the airport is an option, but there's no saying how long you'll wait. They'll typically ask you to wait at the upstairs, outside café. Usually, especially in low season, a couple of them are waiting outside (ask the café), and will take you to Esperanza for $15. Alternatively, rental car agencies can meet you there.

Get around

The most convenient way to get around the island is by renting a car. You may also get around by using the publico (taxi) system, but the taxis will only take you to easily accessible beaches around the island. There are bicycle rentals on the island.

Car Rentals

Publicos

Public transportation is nonexistent except for publicos, which are independent. Publicos (vans that are loaded up like sardines) are waiting at the ferry for tourists. The fare paid by locals is $3 each way/per person to get to anywhere on the island, although as a visitor you may have to negotiate to get near that price.

See

A big brain coral in Goat Bay (Bahía de la Chiva)

The Navy Bunkers at the west end of Vieques provide a glimpse into that era. Beware: the roads are unmarked, single lane dirt roads that wind around. It is easy to get lost but also relatively easy to eventually find your way out, since it is an island. It is unlikely that you will meet another person so make sure you have enough gas and the number for a local service station in the event you break down. Do not go on a time-table!

Do

Bio-Bay

The bioluminescent bay of Vieques, known as Mosquito Bay, is said to be one of the most spectacular bioluminiscent bays in Puerto Rico and the world. The bay has large numbers of dinoflagellates, who when stimulated glow to scare off predators.

Several businesses run tours to the bay for an average $30 per person. The best time to go on a night tour of the bay is when the sky is not very cloudy or if it is dark. If the moon is out then it will most likely be impossible to see the bay as it becomes illuminated. Even if the sky is cloudy and the moon is out your experience is very likely to be dull compared to moonless nights.

Also, do not use any chemicals such as lotions or bug spray (especially those containing DEET) because they harm the dinoflagellates. There are many kayaking tours to the bay so visitors will have to know how to paddle a kayak.

Beaches

One of the greatest things about this island are its beaches. Since the island was once a military training area, large parts of the island are now part of the U.S. Park Service. You can drive down dirt roads to isolated beaches with crystal clear blue waters. Park your rental truck under a palm tree and you may not see another person for the remainder of the morning.

The cons to the remoteness of Vieques' beaches lie in petty theft occurring at some of the beaches. Thieves can either hide in bushes or ride up on horseback (horses are not allowed on the beaches) and take a tourist's belongings. So when visiting a remote beach in Vieques leave your valuables at your lodging area; don't lock them in your vehicles.

Scuba

Scuba and Snorkeling Trips from the South end in Esperanza. PADI instruction and Certifications. Specializing in New Divers, Families and the Experienced Divers

Volunteer

The Vieques Humane Society on the island is always looking for volunteers and being a tourist is not a problem. Come by and check out the facility and maybe even lend a hand.

Buy

Eat

Drink

Sleep

Unusual six-legged Caribbean red cushion sea star, Mosquito Pier

Splurge

Stay safe

Vieques has developed somewhat of a bad reputation in terms of petty crime, especially at the beaches. While overall this is a pretty safe island, use common sense when visiting the more remote beaches, especially when there are many bushes around. Leave all valuables such as passports, credit cards, and any other important documents and electronics at your place of lodging. Take enough cash for you to buy drinks and lunch on a beach day.

Most car rental agencies ask their clients to not leave anything in the car and to always leave the doors unlocked. Locked cars are likely targets for break-ins (often with broken windows), as potential thieves may suspect that there are valuables inside.

Go next

Most people head over here from the main island of Puerto Rico and will take that direction out as well. The ferry to Fajardo and regular flights to Ceiba and San Juan airport make those the most obvious next destinations. There are however some flights and - if money is not an issue - expensive charter boats to nearby Culebra. If you've been lucky enough to be here with your own boat, you might consider heading out to St. Thomas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other Caribbean destinations in the area.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, March 01, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.