Puerto Rico is known as the island of enchantment, where world-class beaches and a vibrant culture attract visitors looking for sunshine and relaxation. But for adventurous travelers who are willing to go a little bit further than Puerto Rico’s main island, excitement awaits.
The idyllic paradise of Vieques sits roughly sixteen nautical miles to the east of Puerto Rico. While the island spans only about 55 square miles, it is ripe with unforgettable experiences just waiting to be discovered.
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Ride a Paso Fino Horse
One of the hallmarks of Vieques is the free-roaming horses that can be spotted all over the island. While these beautiful animals may look like horses you’ll find elsewhere, they are of the Paso Fino breed—they're found exclusively in the Caribbean and are easily identified by their distinctive gait. Operators like Esperanza Riding Company in the south and SeaGate Hotel in the north lead guided rides, which often include access to areas that are hard to get to on foot or by car. Tour guides easily accommodate riders of all skill levels, so no prior horseback riding experience is necessary.
02 of 10
Kayak in the World’s Brightest Bioluminescent Bay
No trip to Vieques is complete without a nighttime tour of Mosquito Bay, the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world. While the electric blue glow is explainable by science (microorganisms called dinoflagellates light up when they sense motion), the effect feels like magic. Tour operators including Taino Aqua Adventures, Vieques Kayaks, and Black Beard Sports lead groups of kayakers into the bay each night to experience this phenomenon first hand. Tours are suspended when the moon is full, so be sure to check the lunar calendar before booking your trip.
03 of 10
Tour Long-Abandoned Sugar Mill Ruins
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Vieques was home to a thriving sugar industry. Sugar production ceased when the US Navy came to the island, but reminders of this past incarnation still remain. On the southwest side of the island, visitors can explore the long-abandoned Playa Grande Sugar Mill Ruins. Much of the area has been overgrown with greenery, but visitors can easily spot abandoned train cars and broken-down brick buildings that once played a part in sugar production. The site is open to visitors all year long, and the Vieques Conservation & Historical Trust leads semi-monthly tours of the ruins during peak tourist season.
04 of 10
Explore Once-Active WWII Bunkers
The US Navy appropriated a large portion of Vieques in the 1940s, and while the military exited the island in 2003, its storage bunkers still remain on the west side of the island. The bunkers are no longer in use but remain an interesting site to explore nonetheless. Built to house weapons and supplies, the structures were designed to fit with the natural landscape so as not to be spotted from the air, but they are easily accessible via car.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Snorkel With Sea Turtles
Vieques is home to Rompeolas, a mile-long jetty that juts into the Atlantic Ocean. Rompeolas translates to “breakwater”, so while seas on the east side of the jetty can be rough, the west side is usually much calmer. At the end of Rompeolas, Mosquito Pier, a remnant of the US Navy occupation, is no longer in use, but sea turtles love to feed on the algae that grows on the pier’s pilings. While turtle sightings aren’t guaranteed, visitors are very likely to encounter these shelled swimmers when snorkeling at the pier.
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Visit a Tree That’s More Than 300 Years Old
The north side of Vieques boasts one of the island’s most visited sites: a majestic ceiba tree that dates back more than 300 years. The massive tree is a truly beautiful sight to behold, but be careful when approaching it; ceiba trees are covered with thorns.
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See Neighboring Islands From a Historic Spanish Fort
El Fortin de Mirasol was constructed to defend Vieques from intruders under orders from the Governor of Puerto Rico during Spanish occupation in the mid-nineteenth century. Today, the site is home to the Vieques Museum of Anthropology, History and Art, which hosts permanent and rotating exhibits. The historic structure remains largely intact, down to the canons mounted along the perimeter walls. On a clear day, visitors can see neighboring islands like Puerto Rico and Culebra.
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Beach Hop in a National Wildlife Refuge
A large portion of Vieques was off limits to civilians during the Navy days, but after the military exited, much of its land was turned into a National Wildlife Refuge. Many of the beaches in this area are known by their Navy-era training monikers, but locals are making a big push to reclaim their traditional Viequense names. Settle into Pata Prieta (aka Secret Beach) to enjoy powder-white sand and calm waters, head to La Chiva (aka Blue Beach) for world-class snorkeling, or gather with friends for a beachside barbecue at Caracas (aka Red Beach).Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Explore an Important Archaeological Site
At the end of the 20th century, human remains dating back an estimated 4,000 years were discovered on Vieques. The skeleton, known informally as Puerto Ferro Man, has since been moved, but the area still offers intrigue and mystery. The site is adorned with massive boulders arranged in a circular formation, and it’s unclear exactly how and when these rocks got there. A sign on the side of one of the island’s main roads marks the turnoff to get to this important archaeological site.
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Jump Off a Cliff Into the Caribbean Sea
The drive to Playa Navio is rocky, windy and bumpy, but the destination is well worth the precarious journey. The stunning beach is anchored by natural caves and rocky cliffs, and daredevils love climbing to the top and cannonballing into the Caribbean Sea. While their companions are getting an adrenaline rush, beachgoers who are a little less adventurous can stick to swimming and sunning at sea level.