Vieques

Little Vieques Island (or Isla de Vieques) is fifty-five square miles of Caribbean splendor. For years it was a U.S. Navy base, but the turn of the century brought about changes on the tiny island - after being handed over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, Vieques's status has rapidly risen from undiscovered jewel to burgeoning tourist attraction.

You still won't find the high-rise hotels or skyscrapers that mark San Juan and other Puerto Rican hotspots - there is still an atmosphere of sleepy indifference to the island, the majority of the island is taken up by lush subtropical forests spread across the hills of the countryside. Two major cities break up the stretches of green, Isabel Segunda to the north, Esparnaza its southern shore counterpart. In between you'll find unsteady roads interrupted by stray farm animals, the occasional iguana or, most likely, an enormous bog capable of swallowing a car tire, if you are not careful.

Driving can be a dicey proposition on much of Vieques Island, but it's a necessity. It's the most effective, if nerve-rattling, way to see the natural wonders located here. The main tourist draws of Vieques are its three main beaches, which have retained their Navy-designated names - Red Beach, Blue Beach and Green Beach. The armed forces stationed here were too busy running live fire drills to get distracted by complicated nomenclature.

Red Beach is the most popular, and easiest to get to. Blue Beach offers a serene glimpse of the Caribbean, while the roads to Green Beach are so tortuous that any reason to get out the car will be met with a sigh of relief. Luckily, the beach itself is well worth the effort. Sparkling, clear waters greet visitors, and surfers and snorkelers alike love Green Beach.

Vieques Island is also home to the world's largest bioluminescent bay. Puerto Mosquito is where you'll find tiny plankton, lighting the midnight waters with their single celled bodies.

Most people reach the island by the Farjado-Vieques Ferry. Farjado is just a taxi ride away from San Juan, albeit a bit of an expensive one. From there the Vieques Ferry leaves four times a day on weekdays, three times on the weekend. Many prefer just taking a direct flight. Less than a half hour later, you are touching down on Vieques Island, saving more time to explore. Isabel Segunda is the main city, but acts more as a commercial hub than a tourist destination. Still, there are some decent - and affordable - Vieques hotels here. Most visitors head south to Esperanza, a secluded hamlet that is quickly giving itself over to the tourist industry. Here you'll find the majority of Vieques hotels, and the few instances of beachfront nightlife that the island has to offer.

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