You are going where? I heard that a lot the week before I was leaving for my trip to Vieques. It seems that although everyone has heard of San Juan and Puerto Rico, almost no one knows anything about a small island named Vieques which is off the coast of San Juan. I highly recommend you get to know it. It couldn’t be easier getting there – Jet Blue and Delta both fly direct to San Juan several times a day from New York and the flights are short and inexpensive. Once in San Juan you have a choice to either hop on a Cape Air 20 minute flight to the island (also not expensive) or take the ferry – $1. I’m pretty sure the lack of knowledge about this place is due to its origins.
From Wikipedia: Vieques is best known internationally as the site of a series of protests against the United States Navy‘s use of the island as a bombing range and testing ground, which led to the navy’s departure in 2003. Today the former navy land is a national wildlife refuge, with numerous beaches that still retain the names given by the navy, including Red Beach, Blue Beach, Green Beach and others. The beaches are commonly listed among the top beaches in the Caribbean for their azure-colored waters and white sands.
We decided that since this would be our second trip to Vieques (we had been five years previously with the same three couples) we would spend the first night in Old San Juan before venturing on to the island. None of us had ever stayed in the old city and we were curious. This blog post is not about that part of the trip but lets just say we stayed at a very cool boutique hotel (Hotel Villa Herencia), ate extremely authentic puerto rican food, shopped for $15 espadrilles and toured a few forts. Well worth the overnight.
The following day, we returned to the airport and boarded the small plane (a 10 seater I think) and we landed on the island of Vieques in less than 20 minutes. The weather was a beautiful 82 degrees with a light wind. There is no rush upon arrival to get to your hotel as there is a great outdoor bar at the airport (you can’t miss the signs) and there is just no reason not to sit and have a rum punch while you call a cab to pick you up. It’s called the Isla Nena and its run by a true salty dog and his Chinese wife. If you happen to be there on a Tuesday you must get an order of her homemade pot stickers.
We stayed at the Bravo Beach Hotel which is one of very few boutique hotels on the island. There is a W that we heard is quite lovely but we didn’t go and take a look. We were more into going native then going upscale. There are plenty of home rentals as well and I suppose most visitors to the island rent houses. The last trip we took, we stayed in a private home and so we decided this trip to shake things up a bit. The BBH is very close to town and on the ocean but the beach is pebbly. But that makes no difference at all as there are so many wonderful beaches to discover on this island its actually better that the hotel’s beach isn’t perfect – it forces you to not be lazy. The hotel is run by a young couple from Minnesota. We actually came across quite a few expats on the island looking for a more subdued (and warmer) lifestyle. The room we booked was called the Villa and we shared it with my sister and brother in law. There were two bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen, dining room and living room, an outdoor patio with a dining table and steps to the pebble beach. The entire villa cost $325 per night (that’s right – about $160 per couple). We rented an SUV for the week which I would say is a must and the hotel provided chairs, umbrellas, boogie boards, coolers and beach towels.
This was the lovely area outside our villa in front of the beach:
The town itself is a bit sleepy and if you are looking for a cup of coffee before 7am, you’re just not going to find one. But pretty quickly we got into a nice little routine. A few members of our group would wake up early, walk into town and go to the patisserie where you could get amazing puerto rican coffee and a few baked goods. On their way back, they would pick up some fresh empanadas that were sold on the corner. By the time they returned, the hotel’s buffet would open (around 8) and we would sit out on our deck, have breakfast and plan our day. The plan would include which beach we would hit, what drinks we would bring and where we would end up for something to eat later in the day. As you can see from the photo below, we pretty much had the place to ourselves (except for a few wild horses which are everywhere on the island).
This is what our beach bar looked like:
There are plenty of places to eat and drink. One of our favorites was a local expat hangout with amazing sunsets:
It’s called Al’s Mar Azul but depending on how many drinks we had, we started calling it all sorts of things. This bar was quite conveniently located a short walk from our hotel. There’s not much of a night life in Vieques but we brought our own, so that wasn’t a problem.
Another to do list item is the Bioluminescent Bay (also known as Puerto Mosquito, Mosquito Bay, or “The Bio Bay”),which is considered the best example of a bioluminescent bay in the United States. The luminescence in the bay is caused by a micro-organism which glows whenever the water is disturbed, leaving a trail of neon blue. You go at night with a tour but as we had already been the last time, we skipped it this time around.
There are plenty of great places to eat, one of our favorites was Tin Box and the last time we were there we loved Chez Shack although it was closed when we were there this time.
The only snag in the week was when the beach police lady told us it was illegal to sit in the ocean with our beach chairs. The gallons of alcohol set up on our beach bar was fine though. This only happened once at one of the beaches and we just didn’t go back to that beach again. Good thing there are so many to choose from on Vieques; our beach chairs spent the entire week in the ocean after that.
Put this trip on your list – its well worthy of a week of your life. Or even a few days…