A weekend on Vieques Island is probably all you need for your first trip to Puerto Rico. That's not a knock on Vieques, by the way; many tourists spend their entire vacations here and barely set foot on "The Big Island" (mainland Puerto Rico). But the first-timer can get a good feel for what this small wonder of an island has to offer.
Yes, Vieques was slammed in 2017 by Hurricanes Irma and Maria and is still recovering, but this beautiful island is rebuilding and tourists are returning. Most of these businesses mentioned have rebounded well after the hurricanes.
This weekend itinerary builds in ample time for Vieques' many beaches, its unparalleled bio-bay, and even some of its more unusual attractions. Included are suggestions on where to eat, play, and party.
This is an island of unusual blends: idyllic beaches steps from military fortifications, rustic local life amid luxury tourist accommodations, and turbulent history in which local fishermen took on the U.S. Navy. And you get to explore it all.
How you get here depends mostly on your budget. If you can afford it, definitely fly from San Juan. The 30-minute flight will save a ton of time; the only problem is that you cannot bring too much luggage. The cheaper option is to be a walk-on passenger on the ferry from Ceiba.
When you come to Vieques, be sure to bring the following:
- Pack more than one bathing suit (you'll be in the water a lot).
- Light, summer clothes will ensure your comfort. Although the weather on the island is not quite the same as on the mainland, you most likely won't need warm clothes (and if it is too cold for shorts and T-shirts, then there's really no point in coming here).
- Sunblock is essential wherever you are in Puerto Rico.
- Bring your camera as there are sights here that you won't see anywhere else.
Day One: Settling in and Hitting the Beach
Whether you fly or float into Vieques, you'll want to start by securing your hotel and rental car. The car (and the type of car) is important. Because many of the island's roads are unpaved and can get slippery with mud, a jeep is highly advisable. (Many people also love to rent scooters.) Once you're settled in, hit the beach.
- From the airport or ferry dock, take a público (a public transport van) to your hotel. If you don't know where to stay, budget travelers should consider the SeaGate Hotel overlooking the ocean and surrounding hills of Vieques. Check in and change into your bathing suit and summer clothes.
- Get your transportation—call well ahead to reserve your jeep, car, or scooter. Three reliable agencies are Vieques Car Rental, Maritza's Car Rental, and Fun Brothers for scooters.
- Head to Esperanza, the smaller of Vieques' two towns, for lunch. The oceanfront Trade Winds and Bananas are among Vieques' most popular restaurants, and both are off the Esperanza malecón (waterfront boardwalk).
- Spend an hour browsing the shops along the malecón. Kim's Cabin is a good bet for island clothing.
- By now it's time to hit the beach. Steps away are Esperanza Beach and nearby is Sun Bay, and you'll find that there are many more on the island.
- Sunbathe and swim until it's time for dinner. Two worthy options a short drive away from town are Carambola Restaurant at the Blue Horizon Boutique Resort, which is closed to repair hurricane damage and expected to re-open soon, and Bigotes, known for seafood and creative Caribbean cuisine.
- Your Vieques nightlife options are slim, but if you're in the mood for a party, head to Bananas, where the second floor is devoted to revelry on weekend nights.
Day Two: Exploring the Island
Get an early start on Day 2: There's a lot to see. Grab a map from your hotel (you'll need it!) and look out for yellow markers that identify the island's sights and monuments.
- If your hotel doesn't offer breakfast, head to Isabel II, Vieques' main town, and stop at Panaderia & Reposteria La Viequense for local pastries and stock up on sandwiches for a picnic lunch.
- After breakfast, drive out to the western side of the island along Route 200. Eventually, you'll reach the Kiani Lagoon, one of the natural bioluminescent sites on the island with a boardwalk through dense mangroves. Continue along the trail past the lagoon and you'll reach Punta Arenas and Green Beach.
- Head back along Route 200 and veer left to get to Mosquito Pier, a mile-long fishing pier that was an aborted attempt by the Navy to link Vieques to the mainland.
- Return to Route 200 and look for the paved, unmarked road leading up into the mountains. This military trail takes you into a wild, Mad Max apocalyptic landscape filled with abandoned ammunition storage bunkers that have been covered over by grass and vegetation. It's a desolate, bizarre, and fascinating place.
- At the end of the road, turn left and head east toward Esperanza. Along the way, you'll pass Playa Grande beach. If you head east instead of to the west (you'll have to walk it), you can try to find your way to the hidden Playa Grande Sugar Plantation ruins, which were abandoned after the Navy took control of the island.
- Past Esperanza and Sun Bay along Route 997, you'll see a road leading off to the left to a cluster of giant boulders that look mysterious and almost alien. This is the site of an archaeological dig that unearthed a 4,000-year-old skeleton that the locals call the Puerto Ferro Man.
- Explore the island at your leisure, and then get ready for a special night out.
Day Two: A Magical Night
After a long and full day, you'll want to return to your hotel for an hour or so to relax and freshen up before an early dinner. Then you'll get dirty and wet all over again, but it will be worth it. And finally, if you're still up for it, finish off the evening at a cool tropical bar.
- Contact Vieques Outdoors or El Viequense Sea Tours to arrange a tour of the Vieques bio-bay. You can reach the bio-bay either via kayak or electric pontoon boat. No matter how you get there, make sure you visit this lagoon where tiny creatures make you glow in the dark when you get in the water.
- The bio-bay will tire you out, especially if you take the kayak tour, but if you want to stretch the night out, head to Isabel II and the rustic bar environment at Al's Mar Azul, a friendly local watering hole.
- Head back to your hotel and fall into a grateful and gratifying sleep, with nothing but the whistle of the coquí tree frog and the rustle of leaves to lull you to sleep.
Day Three: Isabel II
You have a few options for your last day on the island: Those who enjoy guided tours can get in the water, get on a bike, or get on a horse. Or, you can see what Isabel II has to offer. Finally, when all else fails to spark your interest, there's always one more unexplored beach to visit.
- If you want to take a tour, you'll need to get up early. Diving and snorkeling enthusiasts should call Abe’s Snorkeling Tours or head to Blackbeard Sports. La Dulce Vida offers mountain bike tours of the island and horseback riding is available at the SeaGate Hotel. Finally, Kiani Tours focuses on the cultural highlights that the island has to offer.
- If you'd prefer to stick around Isabel II, a good way to begin your day is by visiting Roy's Coffee Lounge, the closest thing Vieques has to a Starbucks. Get yourself a "Frozen Roy" and then get going.
- Visit the Fuerte Conde de Mirasol, Vieques' largest cultural icon. A small colonial Spanish fort, this site is also a museum that exhibits local art and history and has an excellent documentary on the struggle of local fishermen against the Navy.
- If it's open, check out the Punta Mulas Lighthouse, a small but picturesque landmark that houses a museum of local maritime history.
- Spend the rest of your weekend wandering around the town. The main plaza boasts a bust of The Great Liberator himself (Simon Bolivar), whose only (unplanned) stop in Puerto Rico was at Vieques.
- Catch the ferry or the plane back to the mainland and take memories of your Vieques weekend with you.