Things to Do in Vieques

What to Do When You're On (And Off) the Island

Sure, there is a beach or two on Vieques Island, along with great snorkeling and scuba diving. But there's also a lot more to see and do when you come here. This tropical getaway is more than just its natural beauty and aquatic adventures. There are colonial-era ruins, abandoned naval facilities, wonders of nature, and plenty of other activities to enjoy on this island.

  • 01 of 10

    Explore the Beach(es)

    Red beach at sunrise in Vieques, Puerto Rico
    ••• Red beach at sunrise in Vieques, Puerto Rico. Getty Images/Scott Perry

    This is an easy one. Most people visit this island to get away (even if that means getting away from the main island of Puerto Rico!) and to enjoy its many wonderful beaches. Which beach is the right one for you? It all depends on what you're looking for. A big, public beach where everyone loves to go? Head to Sun Bay. Looking for some privacy? There's no better place than Secret Beach (although that's not really so secret anymore). Want something totally different? Check out the one beach in Puerto Rico with black, magnetic sand.

  • 02 of 10

    Visit the Conde Mirasol Fort

    The largest and most important historic monument on Vieques, the tiny (by fort standards) Fort Count Mirasol is going to disappoint if you're looking for something like the magnificent castles of Old San Juan. But it's still a lovely landmark in Isabel II. Perched on a hill overlooking the Atlantic, the fort was built by the Spanish between 1845 and 1855 and was meant to repel British and Danish attacks. These 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 displaying artifacts and chronicles of the island's history.

  • 03 of 10

    Uncover Hidden Military Bunkers

    The history of Vieques is tied up with the history of the U.S. Navy. During its occupation of the island, the Naval Ammunition Facility (NAF) built a network of naval magazines in Vieques -- hundreds of bunkers for ammunition storage, built into the hills, camouflaged beneath earth and grass on the western side of the island. They're a bizarre and eerie reminder of what once took place on the island. Drive along the long, unnamed military road (it's easy to find) and you’ll soon come upon them. The older ones, 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 in. And close by is another remnant of the military: the Relocatable Over the Horizon Radar.

  • 04 of 10

    Experience the Vieques Biobay

    Bioluminescent dinoflagellates
    ••• Bioluminescent dinoflagellates. Wikimedia Commons/catalano82

    Sadly, the majority of the photos of this wondrous bioluminescent bay are altered to recreate the effect of millions of dinoflagellates creating a neon, glowing phenomenon that should be seen to be appreciated. 

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  • 05 of 10

    Discover Sugar Plantation Ruins

    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. And to be honest, there isn't much to look at. The ruins represent more of 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. The sugar industry in Vieques has a sad history, one of exploitation and abuse. 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.

  • 06 of 10

    Check Out an Ancient Grave

    Drive past Sun Bay Beach on Route 997 and you'll come to an open field strewn with huge boulders that look as if they fell from the sky. This is the site of an archaeological dig in 1990 that unearthed a 4,000-year-old skeleton. The remains of the dig aren't there anymore, but the site has a surreal feel to it. It's not a major landmark in Vieques, and not one that will take up a lot of your time, but is still a pretty interesting place to visit.

  • 07 of 10

    Take a Short Walk in the Kiani Lagoon

    On the Northwestern corner of the island, toward the end of Route 200, is the Kiani Lagoon. This small, wooden boardwalk cuts through a mangrove reserve (wear bug spray if you go). If you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the local wildlife, which consists mostly of turtles, lizards, and birds. It’s nothing spectacular, but if you’re in an exploratory mood or want a change from the beach, it won’t take long to check it out.

  • 08 of 10

    Tour the Towns

    Seaside cafe at Esperanza on Vieques
    ••• Seaside cafe at Esperanza on Vieques. Getty Images/Veronica Garbutt

    Vieques has two towns, Isabel II and Esperanza, and both are quite different. Esperanza is more tourist-heavy, and 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 is more of a mix and is also where the town's basic facilities are: gas stations, post office, a picturesque lighthouse, and the docks where the ferries land. Both towns are worth a visit, if only to soak in the laid back island lifestyle for a little while.

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  • 09 of 10

    Take a Long Walk on Mosquito Pier

    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 that the Navy began in the 1940s during World War II to connect Vieques to the mainland Puerto Rico. The idea was to create a massive naval base in the Caribbean. Then the tides of the war turned, and the land bridge was abandoned. The result? An absurdly long pier with great spots for fishing, beaches, and a cool phenomenon that has earned Mosquito Pier the nickname rompeolas, or “wave breaker.” Look east on the pier and you’ll see choppy waves and strong winds; look west, and all is calm.

  • 10 of 10

    Bike, Row, Dive and Ride

    You can be as lazy as you want on this island, but you can also have quite an active holiday. Biking tours, kayak excursions, dive trips, and horse-riding are among the activities you can enjoy in Vieques. Black Beard Sports and Island Adventures​​​ are two companies that offer tours in the water, on the water, and around the island.

    If you want to go horseback riding, Penny at the Sea Gate Hotel is a wonderful resource -- she established the Vieques Humane Society and organizes riding tours of the island.