Did you know the territory of Puerto Rico is more than just the one main island of Puerto Rico? About 1000 miles from Miami, Puerto Rico includes the main island of the same name, plus about 5 other smaller islands and even more little islets, but only Vieques and Culebra are inhabited year round. Vieques is a perfect little island to enjoy the beauty of the Caribbean at a slower pace. I hope you find this travel guide to visiting Vieques, Puerto Rico helpful.
- 1 History of Vieques, Puerto Rico
- 2 About Vieques
- 3 Getting Around Vieques, Puerto Rico
- 4 Where to Stay in Vieques, Puerto Rico
- 5 What to do in Vieques, Puerto Rico
- 6 Best Beaches in Vieques
- 7 About the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge
- 8 When to Visit Vieques, Puerto Rico
History of Vieques, Puerto Rico
The islands of Puerto Rico and its indigenous population were colonized by the Spanish in 1493 until 1898 when America acquired it in the Spanish-American war. Although Puerto Rico is not a state and residents can’t vote, they have been US Citizens since 1917 and can move between the islands and US mainland freely. Spanish predominates, but both Spanish and English are the official languages and are spoken regularly.
The island of Vieques has a unique history. In the 1940’s the US government purchased 60% of the land in Vieques from the local people and for 6 decades used it as a testing site for weapons. In 1999, a Vieques native working for the navy was killed when a bomb misfired and dropped well off its mark.
Protests erupted over the US bomb testing on Vieques and in 2001 a treaty was signed to have the US remove its military from the island and halt testing by May 2003. Celebrations ensued when the military left the island for good.
The eastern part of the island still contains contamination (and some unexploded artillery!) and the cleanup is a work in progress by the US Department of Fish and Wildlife. That are is closed to the public, but most areas of the island are accessible to tourists including many of the quiet, remote, beautiful beaches in Vieques National Wildlife Refuge.
Unfortunately, some statistics about Vieques suggest the cancer rate among locals is up to 25% higher than that on the main island of Puerto Rico.
With the navy’s departure, Vieques had an opportunity to grow its tourism industry. It didn’t take people long to discover this quiet, undeveloped gem…but so far tourism hasn’t changed its quiet pace and uncrowded beaches. For US citizens, part of the attractiveness is no passport or visa is required to visit Puerto Rico.
Getting to Vieques
Only about 8 miles east of the main island, Vieques is a pretty quick flight or ferry ride from Puerto Rico island. And it’s a small island at just 20 miles long and under 5 miles from top to bottom.
Flying to Vieques
This is the most convenient way to get there, as you can just take a flight from the San Juan International airport or from one of the other 2 Puerto Rico airports on the main island. The flight from San Juan International airport is only around 30 minutes but the cost can vary from $150 to $400 roundtrip (yikes).
Just 15 minutes from SJI is a smaller local airport still in San Juan called Isla Grande. Flight times are about 20 minutes and prices are a little more affordable…but still not cheap, in my opinion, at about $80 per way.
Thirdly, there is an airport on the Eastern tip of Puerto Rico called Ceiba. It is right next to the ferry port. You can fly to Vieques in about 10 minutes and $80 roundtrip. The catch is it will cost you about 2 hours and a hefty taxi charge to get to that side of the island from San Juan.
The last option for flights is to book an air charter. With a large group, it could be worth it.
Take the Ferry to Vieques
Due to COVID-19, the ferry is currently restricted to residents only. Visitors must fly. Please check for updates HERE.
The ferry to Vieques departs from a small port called Ceiba. As previously mentioned, it takes almost 2 hours to drive there from San Juan. I hired a taxi driver ahead of time to pick me up from my San Juan Hotel and drop me at the ferry terminal. We also arranged for him to pick me back up and take me back to San Juan in a few days. The cost is about $80 per way, which wouldn’t be so bad if shared among others. I recommend taking an early ferry in case there is a cancellation due to weather, and you could still catch a later ferry or flight from Ceiba. Also leaving SJ at like 6 am avoids traffic and is quicker.
Tickets for the ferry cost $2.00 for nonresident adults (what a bargain!). To buy online ahead of time (which I recommend, tickets have an extra $3.00 service charge. CLICK HERE.
The ferry arrives at the top middle part of the island near the main town of Isabel Segunda. The airport is just to the west of the ferry port in the same area.
Getting Around Vieques, Puerto Rico
You’ll definitely want a car. The island is small, but you’ll want to explore it.
My rental car company, Island Jeep and Coqui Car Rental, was just a block or two from where the ferry arrived, so I just drug my suitcase a little ways up the road until I found it. I rented a Jeep since many of the roads are potholed, dirt roads, and it isn’t cheap. I think I paid about $55 per day.
Driving in Vieques is very easy. There are no big cities, the roads are decent, and the speeds are pretty slow. Just watch for the occasional wild horses in the road. Some of the roads in the National Wildlife Refuge are pretty bumpy and rocky. There was a time I turned around for fear of popping a tire and getting stuck out there alone.
Where to Stay in Vieques, Puerto Rico
I personally loved the little town of Esperanza on the southern side of Vieques. It takes about 15 minutes to drive there from where the ferry arrives and where I picked up my car. This side seemed to have prettier beaches and is very quiet. But the northern end of the island has a couple lovely looking hotels as well.
This is where I stayed in Esperanza and I absolutely loved it. It is such a beautiful little boutique hotel, everyone was so friendly, and you could easily walk along the malecon along the beach (not a great swimming beach though) and to the few little restaurants. There was easy parking, although you have to get out and open and close the gate if no one is around to do it.
They have a nice little complimentary breakfast and a small pool to relax by.
The jungle tree house vibes of this hotel are reminiscent of Bali. I didn’t stay here, but it would be at the top of my list for another visit and I have heard rave reviews from acquaintances.
If you want to stay closer to the ferry terminal in the main town, with plenty more restaurants and shops, Bravo Beach Hotel has good reviews and a nice view of the water.
This cute little hotel with only 4 rooms is above Duffy’s restaurant. They have balconies with ocean views. There could be a bit of street noise with the location though.
This hotel in Esperanza is somewhat strange in style. It is very modern with a lot of concrete. I really liked it actually. I was only there for a few minute to meet with the group for a bioluminescence tour, but it would be somewhere I’d consider staying on another visit.
What to do in Vieques, Puerto Rico
This tiny island has a few fantastic highlights which make Vieques well worth the side trip from Puerto Rico. Aside from the undeveloped natural beauty and unspoiled beaches, Vieques offers two really unique experiences that I loved.
Named Mosquito Bay, Vieques has what the Guinness Book called the brightest luminescent bay in the whole world. Located on the southern shore of Vieques, this makes staying on this side of the island another convenience if you want to do a bioluminescence tour. I had a great experience with Taino Aqua Adventures.
We met at the El Blok hotel at the end of Esperanza where I was able to park my rental car in a large gravel lot. Then they take you in a minivan to Mosquito Bay where you get in kayaks and paddle out to the middle of the bay to see the phenomenon. The guides tell you about the ecology of the bay and if the moon is too bright, they bring covers so you can see the glow better. Time your visit during a new moon if possible! Also, you will get wet, so don’t expect to be able to bring a camera or any gear with you.
Esperanza Riding Company
This was my absolute favorite of all the thing to do in Vieques. Esperanza Riding Company is professional, safe, and magical. The owner, Elizabeth, is from Virginia but she makes her home in Vieques much of the year and has an absolutely stunning home for her herd of island raised horses on a grassy bluff overlooking the ocean. They are healthy, well cared for, and loved.
Elizabeth is a pro. She refreshes you on the basics and accommodates any experience level. Helmets are provided and required, but she’ll let you take it off to get pictures on the beach. The rides can be booked as either private or part of a group depending on how many people book that day. I ended up being the only one, so Elizabeth and myself had plenty of time to chat. She’s an amazing human.
The ride will take place either in the morning or late afternoon. We had originally planned for morning, but Elizabeth had to change the schedule and we ended up going at golden hour. I couldn’t be happier about this change. The colors and lighting were just magical. The ride took about 2 hours and we covered a ride through a part of town, a couple beaches including the black sand beach, and riding along a dirt path through the hills with a view. This was probably my favorite ride ever while traveling.
Best Beaches in Vieques
There are no shortage of awesome beaches in Vieques. They really are gorgeous and often times you can have an entire beach to yourself. So here they are in no particular order:
Sun Bay Beach
I didn’t edit any people out of this picture. It really was this empty. Granted I like to get to the beach early, say 9 or 10 am, but I pretty much had it all to myself much of the day. Sun Bay is one of the only beaches with bathroom facilities and little cafe. It is close to Esperanza, about a 5 minute drive, and you could walk there if you wanted. It’s about 1-1.5 miles from town.
There is an entrance fee of $4 if someone is manning the entrance booth. I think I paid one day and not the next. I found it well worth it. The beach has ample space to spread out and plenty of parking.
Playa Negrita “Black Sand Beach”
The black sand beach can be a little tricky to get to, but if you go horseback riding with Esperanza Riding Company, you’ll get to visit it. It’s really quite beautiful. You can also drive from Esperanza, it’s not far at about 1.7 miles but parking is limited. To reach the beach you walk down a “road” which is more of a creek bed. Alternatively, you could walk along the beach from town, which seems a bit tedious to me, especially if the tide was high.
Playa La Chiva “Blue Beach”
This beach and the rest of the following beaches I’ve listed are within the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. They’ll require traveling farther on dirt roads. I took an entire day to drive into the refuge and essentially explore every little dirt road that turned off to empty stunning beaches. Consider downloading an offline map so you can see what beaches you’re at.
Playa La Chiva offers some good snorkeling along the rocky areas at the end of the beach.
I particularly liked Caracas beach. It is one of the first ones you come to in the wildlife refuge and it was just so picturesque with the big palm tree and white sand. There always seemed to be horses sleeping in the grass or walking near the beach. There are no bathrooms, but there are picnic tables and garbages. The whole place just enchanted me. I was there completely alone, so I felt like I was on a deserted island or something.
Pata Prieta “Secret Beach”
The road to this beach is unpaved and bit rocky. You come to a parking lot and then walk through the thick brush along a path down to the beach. It’s a smaller beach, but nicely framed by green foliage and again feels like you’re on a deserted tropical island. I posted up in the shade under a leafy tree and just relaxed for an hour or so.
Playa La Plata
A long stretch of beach at the end of the road, this is a great spot for a long beach stroll or wading way out in the shallow water. This is one of the places where I saw wild horses on the beach.
About the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge
The largest of only 9 wildlife refuges in the Caribbean, the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge was established in 2000 to protect migratory birds and endangered species, to protect historical and archaeological resource sites, and provide a safe environment for the public to enjoy wildlife (source: US Fish and Wildlife Service).
The entrance to the refuge is via a gate from 7 am to sundown (or earlier, so read the entrance sign). It closes automatically, whether you’re inside or not. A major portion of the eastern refuge is closed to the public due to danger of unexploded ordnance. Cleanup is an ongoing process.
Bring snacks and plenty of water. Drones are not allowed in the refuge and do not leave valuables in the car. I’d recommend renting a jeep or something with high clearance for driving around the refuge.
When to Visit Vieques, Puerto Rico
Personally, as long as I’m avoiding hurricane season from August to October, I’d be happy to visit Puerto Rico. The driest time of year is from December to March, which also makes it the high season. I went in mid December and the weather was perfect. Spring from April to June enjoys fewer crowds, lower prices, and usually still good weather.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this travel guide to Vieques, Puerto Rico.
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