There are beautiful beaches on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico along with great snorkeling and scuba diving. 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. While the island is rebuilding from the effects of Hurricane Maria, most of the attractions are open and welcoming visitors.
Explore the Beaches
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 depends on what you're looking for. To find a big, public beach where everyone loves to go, head to Sun Bay with its beautiful turquoise water and swaying palm trees. Looking for some privacy? There's no better place than Secret Beach in Pata Prieta (although that's not so secret anymore). Want something different? Check out the one beach in Puerto Rico with black, magnetic sand—Playa Negra.
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.
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 (OTH), a type of radar system with the ability to detect targets at very long ranges used as an early warning system.
Experience the Vieques Biobay
Mosquito Bay is world-renowned for being one of the best bioluminescent bays in the world. The bioluminescence is created when the light given off by small organisms lights up the ripples of the water at night. Bio bays are formed by microscopic single-cell organisms called dinoflagellates that release energy in the form of light. By swimming in the bay, you will affect these organisms and the light will be released as you move through the water. You can also kayak and canoe through the water, creating the same effect with your paddle.
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.
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.
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.
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. If you’re in an exploratory mood or want a change from the beach, it won’t take long to check it out.
Tour the Towns
Vieques has two towns, Isabel II (Isabel Segunda) 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.
See the Mile-Long 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.
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 offers tours in the water, on the water, and around the island. JAK Water Sports rents bicycles.
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.