Vieques Island – A Hidden Gem of Puerto Rico

Discover the tranquility and beauty of this tropical paradise

Isla de Vieques (Vieques Island) is a town and island in Puerto Rico. It’s located 13 miles (21 km) to the east of the main island and has a frontage on both the Caribbean Sea and Vieques Sound, the body of water that links the Caribbean and Atlantic Oceans.

The island is 21 miles (34 km) in length, 3 miles (5 km) in width, and 52 square miles (135 sq. km) in size, and is made up primarily of igneous and granite intrusives. The capital, Isabel Segunda, can be found on the northern shore. The coastal town of Esperanza can be found on the southern shore. The economy relies heavily on fishing, tourism, and minor industry.

Among the outlying island towns of Puerto Rico, Isla de Vieques can be found just 7 miles from the east coast. Vieques is one of the few places left in the Caribbean that feels like the Caribbean of old: tranquil, verdant, uncommercialized, and blessed with stunning scenery.

Mosquito Bay, the world’s most brightly and shiny bioluminescent harbor, can be found on the island of Vieques, and so can scores of secluded beach coves where visitors can experience real tropical happiness. The biggest natural animal sanctuary in the Caribbean can be found on this tiny island of Puerto Rico.

A brief history of Vieques Island in Puerto Rico

It would be simple to describe Vieques as a tropical paradise with calm waters and beautiful beaches, but we believe it is also essential to learn about the island’s past before going there.

A brief history of Vieques Island in Puerto Rico
A brief history of Vieques Island in Puerto Rico

Natives from other Caribbean islands, particularly Cuba and Hispanola, were the first to settle on Vieques. They were the first people Christopher Columbus would have met when he “discovered” the New World, and they became known as the Tano.

Along with Puerto Rico, Vieques fell under Spanish control in the 1490s. As the smaller island became a hub of Tano resistance against the Spanish, the majority of its indigenous people were either killed, imprisoned, or enslaved.

For several hundred years after the Spanish conquest, Vieques was a haven for pirates and smugglers. In the middle of the nineteenth century, sugarcane farms emerged. After the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War in 1898, Vieques and the remainder of Puerto Rico were annexed by the United States.

As part of its Roosevelt Roads Naval Station on the island of Puerto Rico, the United States military occupied the majority of Vieques in 1941. After World War II concluded, the United States Navy kept using Vieques for munitions testing until 2003, despite years of complaints from the local population.

Most of Vieques became a National Wildlife Refuge after the troops departed. Scars remain, some more obvious than others (such as the numerous signs around the island advising of unexploded explosives) (like the mysteriously high rates of cancer and other serious illnesses among longtime residents).

In addition to all this, Vieques was severely impacted by Hurricane Maria in 2017; not only were structures flooded and devastated, but the world-famous bioluminescent bay went black for a while as the tiny organisms that produced the bay’s glow disappeared.

Vieques Island, Puerto Rico
Vieques Island, Puerto Rico

However, Vieques is on the recovery. The bio bay is now livelier than it has ever been, and there are very few visible traces of the hurricane’s destruction. We figured our tourism money would do more good on Vieques than on the main territory of Puerto Rico, which is where most cruise ship passengers go.

How to get to Vieques Island in Puerto Rico?

It takes a little over an hour to drive from San Juan to Ceiba, where the boat departs. The boat ride is quick (about half an hour) and inexpensive (only $2 per passenger). However, there may be a lot of people on the ferry (especially on vacation weekends), and the residents will always be given priority. There is a chance that you won’t be able to get on the yacht of your choice, despite the fact that you can pre-book a limited number of seats online.

You can also reach Vieques by air. You may go to Vieques by plane from any of these three airports: San Juan International Airport (SJU), Isla Grande Airport (SIG), or Ceiba Airport. (RVR). Several smaller airlines, such as Vieques Air Link and Cape Air, operate these itineraries multiple times daily.

Short trips (from SJU, 20 minutes) and affordable options (from SIG and RVR, 10 minutes) are available. The fare from SJU is the highest, while that from RVR is the lowest.

Vieques Island in Puerto Rico
Vieques Island in Puerto Rico

When is the best time to visit Vieques Island in Puerto Rico?

While Puerto Rico enjoys a fairly steady tropical climate, there are certainly preferable times to travel than others.

There are two main “tourism seasons” in Puerto Rico. The months of December through May are the busiest, while the months of June through November are less crowded. The Caribbean can experience significantly more rain from June to November due to storm season (and obviously also sometimes full of hurricanes).

The lunar period is something else to think about before planning a trip to Vieques. If you want to go canoeing in Mosquito Bay (the renowned bioluminescent bay), you should go as close to the new moon as you can, as the darker clouds will result in a brighter bay.

Highlights of Vieques Island in Puerto Rico

An alluring stretch of magnetic black sand nestled beneath a towering precipice creates a picture-perfect beach and a retreat at no cost. Use the sand as an exfoliant by rubbing it on your face, or wrap yourself in it for a full 40 minutes. Magnetite found in nature has long been used to help with posture.

The shoreline is about a mile west of Esperanza, on the south coast of Vieques. Travel via 996 to 201. Take the 201 left. The fence stops on the left about 50 yards down the road. The walk from the trailhead to the shore takes about 10 minutes along the Quebrada Urbana stream. Even though the stream can be muddy, visiting this stunning shoreline is well worth the mess.

View of Vieques Island
View of Vieques Island

The world’s most luminous bioluminescent bay can be found in Vieques, making it a truly remarkable destination. Your tour guide will do a much better job of describing the phenomenon and its causes, but in short, dinoflagellates are microscopic creatures living in the water that emits a brilliant blue light when they are agitated. The final result is spectacular and creates an atmosphere of pure charm.

You and your companions paddle through the night to Mosquito Bay’s entry, where you put on your life vest and get your kayak ready. When you get out on the ocean, you’ll see the most amazing sky. As there is very little artificial light on Vieques Island, it is possible to see planets and nearly every star.

Then, as you pass your fingertips through it, the water will light up. Imagine a sky filled with a million azure stars, all of which are under your watchful eye. The fact that you can see the blue radiance beneath you as you paddle along in a glass-bottomed kayak is an added bonus.

This phenomenon is notoriously challenging to photograph, so if you want to remember it forever, you’ll just have to carry the experience with you.

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