The island of Vieques in Puerto Rico is located seven miles off the east coast of San Juan, the country’s capital. This small island has a land area of just 52 square miles.
Vieques may be small, but it has a fantastic history. It was first inhabited by Native Americans from South America, then Spaniards, and later Puerto Ricans. In 1940 the island became a military base for the United States Army. For sixty years Vieques was an island of protest by Puerto Ricans and international activist groups because of the use of the island as a testing ground for bombs and other weapons. Finally, in May 2003 the United States military exited the island, giving it back to Puerto Rico.
Today, Vieques is back to its roots. The Puerto Rican tourism board says that it is “known as one of the last destinations that truly remains like the Caribbean of the past: quiet, lush, and uncrowded, with unmatched natural beauty”. I am happy to confirm that description.
The two ways to get to the island are by a short plane ride from San Juan airport or by a more scenic ferry route from Ceiba. The first option is quick, helping you manage your time, while the second one gives a genuinely Caribbean experience. The ferry option is a very laidback experience.
The best way to experience the island is by renting a car. Watch out for wild horses as you drive. Vieques has a lot to offer to its visitors. It truly is a magical place.
Vieques has 18 top-rated beaches. The tourism office estimates that it would take a visitor two weeks to visit and enjoy each one of them. The beaches in Vieques are unique in the Caribbean for their natural beauty without all the tourist development. Since there are many choices of beaches, it is not uncommon to be the only one present.
Puerto Rico is very well known for its flavorful mix of Taino and Spanish cuisine, and Vieques is no exception. The same traditional plates that you find on the main island can be found here. Some of my favorites are mofondo, a traditional dish made from deep-fried green plantain with garlic and pork. Tostones are also a must. They are made from fried plantains. Fish and seafood are mainly from the island. Most restaurants are located in the neighborhood of Esperanza.
3. Puerto Mosquito
Puerto Mosquito, Mosquito Bay, Bioluminescent Bay, and the Magic Bay are some of the many names assigned to the south part of Vieques. Here at night,you can observe one of the most spectacular shows that nature can give. It is believed that the bay contains more than 700,000 tiny dinoflagellates per gallon of water. The narrow bay prevents the dinoflagellates from being washed out to sea, and mangrove swamps keep the dinoflagellates fed.
The science is simple: when the water is agitated, these microscopic organisms react by flashing a blue-green light for about one-tenth of a second. The impressive natural show will give you a new appreciation for tiny things. Vieques has the brightest bioluminescence in the world at Mosquito Bay, winning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2006.
Tours must be reserved. This is a protected area and self-guided tours are not allowed. No swimming or photos are permitted, yet the moment is magic and will be recorded in your memory forever.
4. El Fortín Conde de Mirasol Museum
This is the last fort built by Spaniards in the Americas, built between 1845 and 1855. El Fortín Conde de Mirasol (The Count of Mirasol Fort) has a colonial-style restored house, a beautiful art gallery, and a collection of indigenous artifacts in its museum. The building also has an impressive conference room that can accommodate over 100 people. Outside you can find cannons that were once a crucial part of the fort.
At the fort, you can learn all about the history of the island of Vieques. The gift shop is the perfect place to buy books about the island and the Caribbean.
Stunning views of Puerto Rico and Isla Culebra are a guarantee from the site. The Puerto Rican Institute of Culture administrates Fuerte Conde de Mirasol; a small entrance fee helps maintain the museum.
5. Ceiba Tree Park
The Kapot tree, or the Giant of Vieques, is a little over three centuries old. Known to Puerto Ricans as the ceibatree, it has become a sacred place for locals and a must-visit for tourists. A group of volunteers in the community created the nature park for adults and kids to explore and learn about this significant tree. A lot of respect is given to this tree as it was an essential resource for the island’s indigenous people, who built canoes using the trunk of the tree.
6. El Malecón
El Malecón (the boardwalk) is located on the south side of Vieques in the Barrio Esperanza (Hope Neighborhood). A favorite place for residents and visitors of the island to hang out, you can find the best restaurants on the island as well as stores and local artists. Every evening there is relaxed entertainment.
El Malecón is close to hostels, hotels, and beaches, so if you decided not to rent a car, then this is a great location. From here you have public transportation to other parts of the island. At the malecón,you are guaranteed to have the best sunsets on the island.
7. Punta Mulas Lighthouse
This historic lighthouse was built in 1895 by Don Juan Puig Cerber. In 1896 the beam of its lights shone out for the first time. Punta Mulas Lighthouse is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. This is the second lighthouse of the island that was restored in 1992 as a celebration of the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. There is a small museum in the lighthouse with exhibits of artifacts and photos of Vieques’ history. At the moment the entrance to the tower and museum is closed for damage to the roof of the lighthouse.
The lighthouse is located on a hill north of the small town Isabel Segunda. The lighthouse has beautiful gardens from which you have spectacular vistas of the city, colorful fisherman’s boats in the sea, and the main island of Puerto Rico.
8. Playa Grande Sugar Plantation
Sugar plantations were once the primary industry on the island, with five farms exporting sugar to the mainland. Workers worked hard and long days for just $0.50 a day.
Playa Grande Sugar Plantation was the biggest plantation on the island. It was closed in 1940 after the United States Navy confiscated the land.
You can visit the ruins of the Playa Grande Sugar Plantation on the western coast of the Vieques. The plantation’s famous brick walls and tropical vegetation will transport you to the past.
The Conservation Trust Museum in Esperanza gives tours. Reservations are required.
9. Laguna Kiani
The laguna (lagoon) is the perfect place for bird watching and nature lovers.
There are different kinds of mangroves species growing in the area, like red, black, white, and button. They are important in the fight against climate change. The boardwalk through the mangroves leads to the beautiful lagoon with spectacular views.
The lagoon is also one of the natural bioluminescent areas of Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, this one cannot be accessed at night. The area is protected by the United States Fish and Wildlife Services. Swimming and fishing are not permitted.
10. Observe Wild Horses
Horses were brought from Spain to the island. The Paso Fino (fine step) horses are majestic animals that have free reign of the island. For the last 500 years, Puerto Rico has cultivated this breed, a blend of Barb, Spanish Jennet, and Andalusian horses.
Their breeding focuses on their gait, which is the origin of their peculiar name in Spanish: Paso Fino.These horses produce an elegant, rapid step that gives such a comfortable ride that their riders barely move. Islanders in Vieques say, “on a small island, everyone knows everyone and their horses”.
If possible, rent a car to better experience the island. Be flexible for things not to go as scheduled or with tardiness; life is slower on the island. The slow-paced life in Vieques will make you reconnect with nature and appreciate a different way of life. This island is truly a vacation destination that will make you forget the busyness of everyday life.
Last Updated on October 29, 2020