10 Best Things to Do in Vieques, Puerto Rico

Fuerte de Vieques
John and Tina Reid / Getty Images

Vieques, a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico, is well-known for its pristine beaches and slow-paced way of life. To get there, you need to travel by ferry, a private plane, or a boat charter, making the tropical getaway feel off the beaten path. Once there, enjoy world-class snorkeling and scuba diving, tour colonial-era ruins and abandoned naval facilities, or witness the wonders of nature, like bioluminescent Mosquito Bay and the Gran Ceiba tree. This rugged, tropical island, with its dense forest and towering cliffs, is a must-see destination for those who love cultural travel.

01 of 10

Experience the Bio Bay Light Show

Mosquito Bay

11209 / Flickr

Vieques 00765, Puerto Rico

Mosquito Bay is world-renowned for being one of the best bioluminescent bays in the world. This phenomenon is created when the light given off by small organisms ripples across the water at night. Bio bays are formed by microscopic single-cell organisms called dinoflagellates that release their energy in the form of light. If you swim in the bay, you will stimulate the dinoflagellates, causing them to light up as you move through the water. You can also kayak and canoe through the water, creating the same effect with your paddle. It's best to go at night when the show is the most spectacular.

02 of 10

Search for Endangered Species on the Wildlife Refuge

Manatee swimming under water

DejaVu Designs / Getty Images

4JR4+QXF, State Rd 997 km 3.2, Vieques, 00765, Puerto Rico
Phone +1 787-741-2138

Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, voted the fourth-best national wildlife refuge within the entire refuge system, is home to a diverse group of flora and fauna. It is the second-largest conservation area in the Puerto Rico Archipelago and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Here, you can stroll the beaches and the subtropical dry forest looking for the park's four endangered plant species and 10 endangered animal species. Among them are the Goetzea elegans fruit and the cóbana negra, as well as birds, like the brown pelican and the Antillean manatee. The refuge is open for visitors year-round for wildlife observation, wildlife photography, environmental education, and access to kayaking, biking, fishing, and beach use.

03 of 10

Visit the Gran Ceiba Tree

Gran Ciba Tree in Vieques, Puerto Rico


The site of the Grand Ceiba tree is considered a sacred spot for many locals and is surrounded by a nature park, complete with interpretive signs. Over three centuries old, this tree is the second most visited spot on the island (the first is Mosquito Bay). Ceiba trees, with their thick trunks and knobby limbs, are located throughout Vieques and were once used by the indigenous people to make canoes. If you go in February, expect to see the Grad Ceiba abloom in pink flowers, and make a little wish while you stand under its enormous branches.

04 of 10

Explore the Beaches

Black Sand Beach (Playa Negra), Vieques, Puerto Rico

E_Rojas / Getty Images

Sun Bay Beach, Vieques 00765, Puerto Rico

Most people visit Vieques as a way to escape everyday life and relax on a sandy beach with aqua blue water. But choosing from one of the island's many beaches is dictated only by the experience you'd like to have. For those looking for the action of a big, public beach, head to Sun Bay, known for its beautiful turquoise water and swaying palm trees. Those longing for privacy should check out Secret Beach (although it's not quite a secret anymore) in Pata Prieta. Kids will love Playa Negra, with its black, magnetic sand. Just make sure to pack along a magnet.

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05 of 10

Visit the Conde Mirasol Fort

Fort Conde de Mirasol Museum

bastchild / Flickr

4HW6+X92, Cll El Fuerte, Vieques, 00765, Puerto Rico
Phone +1 787-741-1717

The largest and most important historic monument on Vieques, the tiny (by fort standards) Fort Count Mirasol is not quite like the magnificent castles of Old San Juan. Still, it's a lovely landmark located in the town of Isabel II and perched on a hill overlooking the Atlantic. The fort was built by the Spanish between 1845 and 1855 to repel British and Danish attacks. The attacks never materialized, and the fort would prove to be the last military fort ever built by the Spanish empire. The fort later served as a barracks, and then a jail, before becoming a museum that now displays artifacts and chronicles of the island's history.

06 of 10

Uncover Hidden Military Bunkers

A bunker used to store ammunition when this part of the island was owned by the US Navy


During the U.S. Navy's occupation of the island, the Naval Ammunition Facility (NAF) built a network of naval magazines in Vieques. They included hundreds of bunkers for ammunition storage, built into the hills, camouflaged beneath earth and grass on the western side of the island. The bunkers are a bizarre and eerie reminder of what once took place here. Drive along the unnamed military road (it's easy to find), and you’ll soon come upon them. The older bunkers, built during World War II, are so well hidden that they can be easily mistaken for rolling hills. A few are unlocked if you want to venture inside. And while you're there, check out another remnant of the military, the ROTHR (Relocatable Over the Horizon Radar), a radar system used as an early warning device.

07 of 10

Discover Sugar Plantation Ruins

Plantation in Puerto Rico

Viet Linh Tran / EyeEm / Getty Images

200 00765, Cll Vieques, Humacao, Vieques 00791, Puerto Rico

The sugar industry in Vieques has a sad history, one of exploitation and abuse. And, finding the ruins of the Playa Grande Sugar Plantation on the western coast of Vieques is no easy feat. There are no roads or trails, and the markers are hard to spot. Your best bet is to ask a local for directions. Once there, however, you'll see the damage done by the Navy’s long occupation of Vieques. Playa Grande was once one of five large estates that fueled agricultural production during the late 1800s and early 1900s. When the Navy came in during the 1930s, they expropriated the Playa Grande estate, along with much of Vieques, and the building fell into a state of decay.

08 of 10

Tour the Island's Towns

Isabel II port area

Veronica Garbutt / Getty Images

3GWF+5XM, Esperanza, Vieques 00765, Puerto Rico

Vieques has two towns, Isabel II (Isabel Segunda) and Esperanza, and both are quite different. Esperanza is more tourist-driven and a place where many of the island's American residents live and work. Restaurants, bars, shops, and tour companies can be found along the pleasant malecón, or boardwalk, that runs through the heart of the town.

Isabel II offers a mix between tourism and local culture and also houses the island's basic facilities, like gas stations, a post office, a picturesque lighthouse, and the ferry docks. Both towns are worth a visit, if only to soak in the laid-back island lifestyle and people watch for a while.

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09 of 10

Go Fishing Off of Mile-Long Mosquito Pier

Mosquito Pier

Veronica Garbutt / Flickr

4FRP+XRG, Florida, Vieques, Puerto Rico

Want more evidence of wacky naval projects in Vieques? Look no further than this mile-long finger of man-made seawall stretching away from the northern shore of the island. Mosquito Pier, as it's known today, was the beginning of a massive land bridge built by the Navy in the 1940s during World War II to connect Vieques to Puerto Rico and create a massive naval base in the Caribbean. When the tides of the war turned, the land bridge was abandoned. What resulted is an absurdly long pier that offers a great spot for fishing and creates a nice wave break (the locals nicknamed it rompeolas, or “wave breaker”) for the calm beaches on the other side.

10 of 10

Embark on a Bike, Scuba, or Kayak Tour

Bike on a Caribbean beach

Terry J / Getty Images

53 C. Benitez Guzman, Vieques, 00765, Puerto Rico
Phone +1 939-283-6841

You can be as lazy as you want while visiting Vieques, but you can also have an active holiday experience on this island. Biking tours, kayak excursions, dive trips, and horseback riding are among the activities you can enjoy in Vieques. Black Beard Sports offers scuba, snorkeling, and kayaking tours on the water, and ecotours around the island. JAK Water Sports rents bicycles and can line you out on the best routes for sightseeing. If horseback riding on the beach is on your bucket list, contact Penny at the Sea Gate Hotel, as she established the Vieques Humane Society and organizes riding tours of the island.

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10 Best Things to Do in Vieques, Puerto Rico