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.
Vieques is an island municipality of Puerto Rico with two main towns.
- Isabel Segunda or Isabel II is where most of the island's population lives. Isabel II is on the northern side of Vieques.
- Esperanza is a smaller town which caters more to tourists. It is on the southern side of the island facing the Caribbean Sea.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Vieques Adventure Company, ☎ +1 787-692-9162. Mountain bike tours $75/day 3-4hrs & rentals $25/day, delivered to most hotels and guesthouses.
- Abreeze Car Rental (787) 741-1856
- Acevedo's Car Rentals (787) 741-4380
- Chepito's Car Rentals (787) 741-8691
- Island Car Rentals (787) 741-1666
- Marcos Car Rentals (787) 741-1388
- Maritza Car Rentals (787) 741-0078
- Martineau Car Rental (787) 741-0087, (787) 741-3948
- Vieques Car Rental (787) 741-1037
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.
- The Bioluminescent Bay, or Mosquito Bay, is one of the most brilliant displays of the micro-organisms that light up in a blue-green glow whenever there is movement in the water. There are several boat tours out to the bay, including kayak trips (which are more ecologically sustainable). Any visitor to the island should arrange a trip. Those who wish to visit the Bio Bay should arrange their trip around the lunar calendar. The micro-organisms are not visible under a full moon. During the two or three days before and after a full moon there are usually no boat tours of the bay.
- Isabel Segunda has the last Spanish fort built in the Caribbean (an interesting contrast to El Morro in San Juan).
- A stonehenge built by the Taino Indians is incredible--if you can find it.
- The "Mosquito Pier" or Rompeolas is mile-long seawall extending from the north side of Vieques, west of Isabella, towards main island of Puerto Rico. It was built during WWII, as the beginning of a breakwater intended to shelter the British fleet if the British Isles had been conquered.
- Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust (Esperanza), ☎ +1 787 741-8850, fax: (787) 741-2844, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Hours: Tu-Sa: 10AM-3PM, Su: 11AM-3PM. The VCHT is a small, but dedicated and fairly interesting museum, whose goal is to educate visitors about the cultural history of Vieques and Vieques' ecological system. Vieques Computer Systems provide internet access for visitors of Esperanza. Entrance is free.
- El Fortin Conde de Mirasol, Isabel II, ☎ +1 787-741-1717. Hours: W-Su: 10AM-4PM. Constructed between 1845 and 1855 on a hill overlooking Isabel II, this fort was built with the intention to protect the port. It originally housed the Spanish militia, who would guard the island of Vieques against invading countries and pirates. However, it was never used in defense of Vieques. Today, the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture manages the fort and has completed a restoration of the building and the surrounding grounds.
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!
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.
- Blue Caribe Kayaks, 149 Callle Flamboyan (Esperanza), ☎ +1 787 741-2522. Blue Caribe Kayaks' tours to the Bio-bay start at 6:45PM and last about two hours. $30 per person.
- Island Adventures, Near Esperanza, ☎ +1 787-741-0720. Island Adventures Biobay Tours offers nightly excursions aboard an electrically powered double-pontoon boat through the amazing glowing waters of Puerto Mosquito. Their bilingual guides explain the fragile ecology of the plants and animals of the bay, give interpretive star lectures, and then park the boat in an area of high bioluminescent concentration, giving visitors the chance to view the millions of glowing creatures.
- Travesías Isleñas, Malecón Esperanza, in front of Trade Winds Guest House (Esperanza), ☎ +1 787 447-4104. Bio-Bay Tours at 6PM. $25 Adult, $15 Children.
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.
- Nan-Sea Charters. do great scuba trips from town.
Scuba and Snorkeling Trips from the South end in Esperanza. PADI instruction and Certifications. Specializing in New Divers, Families and the Experienced Divers
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.
- Black Beard Sports, 101 Munoz Rivera, ☎ +1 741-1892. An outdoors activity shop with scuba, snorkeling, beach, biking and camping equipment. They also have a couple of computers available for Internet access for the decent price of $3 for 30 minutes. If you're looking to only use some equipment for a couple of days they have fair prices for renting equipiment by the day.
- Carambola (near Esperanza at the Inn on the Blue Horizon (see below)). Tuesday thru Sunday for dinner. Fine dining – renowned for serving the best food in Vieques created by Chef Xandra.
- Chez Shack. Billed as a tree house located in the Pilon Jungle, this is truly a one-of-a-kind outdoor eating experience. While the surroundings are au naturale, the food is expertly prepared and exquisite. The place turns magic when the jungle turns pitch-black and the white Christmas lights brighten up the house in the jungle. Don't miss this experience.
- Chicken King. This local eatery has some of the best fried chicken and fries you can get on the island.
- El Quenepo, on the Malecon in Esperanza (The East end of the Malecon), ☎ +1 787 741-1215. Tu-Su: 5:30PM-close. Fun funky island food on the Malecone in Esperanza. Classy casual dining with amazing food and fantastic service.
- Shauna's (Isabel II). If you want to dine with the locals come here. Brush up on your Spanish. They serve delicious, criollo Puerto Rican cuisine. Very reasonably priced, and some great flan.
- Trade Winds (Esperanza). A beautiful ocean-front restaurant in Esperanza. Wonderful breakfasts, lunches, and dinners serving traditional American fare, fresh seafood and tasty cocktails. This restaurant also has some of the best commercial ocean-front views on the island.
- Richard's Cafe, Road 200 (Isabel II), ☎ +1 787 741-5242. Service seems attentive, however, the kitchen takes a painfully long time to cough up even the easiest food, like a fish sandwich. On the upside, the food was served piping hot.
- Chez Shack, Pilon, ☎ +1 787-741-2175. 5PM-1AM. It's the "In Spot" to rub elbows with the local ex-pats and party to the beat of a local Salsa band. $10 and up.
- Duffy's (Esperanaza, adjacent to Banana's Guesthouse), ☎ +1 787 741-7600. Opens daily at noon, except Mondays when Duffy's is closed.
- Blue Moon Bar & Grill (Esperanaza). Open 7 days a week, Tropical fares menu begins at 11AM.
- Banana's Guesthouse (Esperanza), ☎ +1 787 741-8700, fax: 741-0790, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 1PM, check-out: 11AM. A decent guesthouse located on the southern coastline. $65-90 per night.
- Casa de Amistad, # 27 Calle Benitez Castano (Isabel Segunda, walking distance from the ferry terminal), ☎ +1 787 741-3758, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Comfortable guest house with a communal kitchen, small but pretty pool, located in the middle of Isabel Segunda. Not fancy by any means, but several steps above the youth hostel it used to be. $70 for one queen bed room, $85 for two full beds room, $90 for two room suite, two full beds in the bedroom and a separate sitting room, private bath.
- Crow's Nest Inn, ☎ +1 787 741-0033, toll-free: +1-877-8163-169, fax: (787) 741-1294, e-mail: email@example.com. $114 for double occupancy, $124 for a garden suite or $225 for a two bedroom, two bath with a deck suite.
- Hacienda Tamarindo (Esperanza), ☎ +1 787-741-8525, fax: 787-741-3215, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Hacienda Tamarindo, offers 16 very special rooms, each lovingly and creatively designed and decorated by owner, Linda Vail. Each guest room and public space is unique; imaginatively spiced with a lifetime’s accumulation of art, antiques, and collectibles. Amenities include: swimming pool, honor bar, box lunches, beach chairs, towel and cooler.
- Inn on the Blue Horizon, Crrt. 996 Km 4.3 (Esperanza), ☎ +1-877-741-2583, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 11AM. The boutique hotel on the island's southern coastal road, less than a mile west of Esperanza on a bluff overlooking the sea
- Malecon House, 105 Calle Flamboyan (On the Malecon in Esperanza), ☎ +1 787 741-0663, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Chic new inn on the boardwalk, comfortable large rooms, modern design, pool & gardens. $138-235.
- Martineau Belle Playa, ☎ +1 787 409-3057. Oceanfront villa in Martineau Beach Estates. Three bedrooms, pool, concierge services. $1250 per night.
- Ocean View Hotel, 571 Plinio Peterson St, ☎ +1 787 741-3696, fax: (787) 741-1793, e-mail: email@example.com.
- Tropical Guest House, E-41 Apolonia Gittings, Mambiche (Isabel Segunda, walking distance from ferry, historical fort), ☎ +1-787-741-2449, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 11:30AM. All rooms have A/C and TV. Studios with kitchenettes that sleep 4-6 people are also available. $69-$139 per night.
- Bravo Beach Hotel, 1 North Shore Rd (Atlantic Coast, east of ferry dock, past the light house in the Bravo Beach neighborhood, walking distance to Isabel Segunda and the ferry dock), ☎ +1 787-741-1128, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. 10-room boutique hotel, modern/minimalist in design, 2-bedroom 2-bath private villa available on the property, 2 swimming pools, daily continental breakfast, Low Season: $125-$375; High Season: $150-$375; Christmas/New Year Week: $175-$400.
- Hix Island House Hotel, Route 995, km 1.5 (Pilon neighborhood), ☎ +1 787-741-2302. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Eco-friendly hotel designed by Canadian Architect John Hix. This hotel has 19 "lofts", each with outdoor showers and full kitchens. Buildings include Casa Rectangular, Casa Redonda, Casa Triangular, La Casona, and the newest off-grid building Casa Solaris. Casa Solaris is the first of its kind in the Caribbean, being completely self sustaining with LED lights, high-efficiency appliances all run off of 24 solar panels and 12 batteries. Daily yoga classes are held in the outdoor pavilion. 135-450.
- Casa Dos Chivos, La PRRA/Los Chivos (Short drive from the airport or ferry dock in Isabel), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 10AM. Casa Dos Chivos is a 1 or 3-bedroom vacation rental house. This chic house overlooks the ocean and nearby islands.
- Beach House Vieques (Santa Maria), e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Three bedroom beachfront bungalows with private pool, washer/dryer, hammock and beach chairs $1000 per week.
- Villa Gallega, A-16-N florida Hill rt. 201 (150 yards From Crows Nest, left Hill), ☎ +1-212-784-6189, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Villa and Studio have A/C, stereo surround sound and TV. $750/850-$2500+ per week, depending on number of guests and Season.
- W Retreat & Spa, Vieques Island, State Road 200 KM 3.2 - HC-1 Box 9368, Vieques Island, Puerto Rico 00765, ☎ +1-787-741-4100, e-mail: Wvieques.email@example.com. 156 rooms and suites. Away Spa on site. $350-$600 per night.
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.
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.