A Trip to Vieques
If you are traveling to Puerto Rico, one of the top things to do is explore the little offshore islands. The two main islands to head to are Culebra and Vieques, both of which are just a short ferry ride away.
Whilst in Puerto Rico we only had time to visit one so we picked Vieques. 6 miles off the southeast coast of mainland Puerto Rico, it is the biggest of the offshore islands. Here are some of the things we loved doing and seeing on the island and tips on making the trip there and back easier!
Getting there and back
Lets start with how to get there. There are several different ways depending on your plans and where you are coming from.
The first is by ferry which is how we got to the island. The port you need to go from is in Ceiba, about an hour from San Juan. We got an Uber from where we were staying in San Juan for around $70. We generally found Uber cheaper than getting a taxi. The ferry across only costs $2 one way and takes about 30 minutes. We booked our ferry tickets online here, but you can also buy tickets when you get to the ferry terminal.
One thing to note about getting the ferry is that Uber will drop you at the ferry terminal, but you can’t book one to pick you back up. There are also limited taxis which means they can charge you higher prices and, if you are unlucky, you might not be able to find one to take you back at all.
If you have a rental car, you can park it at the ferry terminal for a fee of $8/day.
The other way to get to Vieques is by flying. From San Juan airport, you can book a connecting flight to Vieques which takes around 30 minutes. If you have been staying in San Juan and plan to fly, you can also go from Isla Grande airport. There are also 10-minute flights that go from Ceiba airport to Vieques.
If you want to get to Ceiba from the airport in San Juan, they offer one-way car rentals. You can drive to the car rental office in Ceiba and they will transfer you to either the airport or ferry terminal.
Stroll around Esperanza
The laid-back town of Esperanza is a favorite with locals and tourists. Located on the south of the island, the small beach town is where most visitors stay during their time in Vieques. Along the main strip, you’ll find great bars and restaurants overlooking the Caribbean sea. If you are visiting Vieques for the bioluminescent bay tours, most of them will go from Esperanza to mosquito bay.
We loved the relaxed vibe of the island compared to the busy life in San Juan. Vieques isn’t built-up so it truly feels like a secluded beach get-away.
Take a Bioluminescent Bay Tour
A must do when visiting the beautiful Isla de Vieques is taking a tour of the bioluminescent bay. Located in Mosquito Bay (named after a pirate not the insect!), it is the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world and draws in thousands of visitors year round. Discover the magic of mosquito bay and experience the mesmerising waters which transform into a sea of stars in your very fingers.
So what makes the water sparkle? The beautiful glow is created by an organism in the water that glows a bright blue colour when it’s agitated. It is due to the large number of organisms in the water that this bay is the brightest in the world. To see the bay at it’s brightest it’s best to visit during a new moon phase or when it is cloudy.
In 2017, hurricane Maria destroyed much of the beautiful island and affected the waters of the bioluminescent bay, extinguishing their glow. However, the magical glow is returning again and the bay is back up and running with tours. As the bay is such an important part of the islands economy, the community has taken steps to conserve the area. Around the bay, they have limited light pollution to allow the organisms to glow. Local preservation efforts also extend to schools and communities to teach children about the importance of the mangrove trees and how they feed the organisms.
Our tour was with Aquasunsettours who provide completely clear kayaks which fit two people. Paddling around the bay in the clear-bottom kayaks was amazing and the water looks like shooting stars under your feet. The tour takes around 1hr30minutes and you get transport there and back along the bumpiest road you’ve ever been on. You also get a guide in the water with you to tell you all about the bay.
Sun Bay Beach
Located about 1km away from the town of Esperanza is the gorgeous Sun Bay beach. As Vieques largest beach, the golden sand stretches 3km in a crescent shape around the sparkling turquoise water. We went to Vieques at the end of January and the beach was super quiet however, even if it did get busier, the size of the beach means you can likely find a spot to perch easily. There is a long dirt road running to the beach from the main road and if you come by car, there are plenty of places to park when you get there.
National Wildlife Refuge
Vieques National Wildlife Refuge is considered one of the largest and most ecologically diverse wildlife refuges in the Caribbean. Covering over 17,000 acres, the huge area encompasses many different eco-systems and was created to preserve the habitats for threatened and endangered species.
You can visit the reserve from both the west and east sides of Vieques and it is open to visitors all year round! The wildlife reserve also includes nesting beaches for endangered sea turtle species and is the top nesting site for green sea turtles.
You won’t be able to visit Vieques without spotting the wild horses roaming the beaches and streets. Horseback riding is a popular way for people to see the beauty of the island and there are plenty of tours around. Although we didn’t go on one ourselves as we weren’t on the island for long enough (and we aren’t the biggest fans of horses!) The Esperanza Riding Co is one that we would have been happy to join. You can choose from private or group tours which take you through meadows and woodland and along two beaches. Sounds like the perfect way to spend an afternoon!
Vieques isn’t the place you’d think would have a black sand beach. Previously unknown to tourists and locals, it has become increasingly popular and is now one of the top beaches people head to when visiting Vieques.
Material from the volcanic areas of the island, mainly Monte Pirate, is washed onto the beach creating its dark appearance. The colour of the sand can vary depending on how much rainfall has washed the sediment onto the beach.
If you haven’t hired a car, it is possible to walk from Esperanza to Playa Negra as we did – it’s a bit of a distance to walk but very scenic. We went early morning and, as the tide was coming in, it had started to wash away some of the black sand but created a beautiful patterned effect!
Get in the water!
We couldn’t leave out water activities if you’re visiting an island in the Caribbean sea! Vieques is full of gorgeous beaches, coves, and bays to swim and kayak in. With plenty of colourful marine life to explore and great visibility, grab your snorkel and see what the underwater world has to offer. Vieques is also a popular diving destination in the Caribbean year-round with 16 different dive sites to choose from.
Getting around the island
The easiest way to get around will depend on how long you are planning to stay on the island. If you are only staying for a day or a night then taxi’s are a good option. You can easily get them to and from the ferry port and around to various parts of the island. A popular way to get around Vieques is to hire a jeep. Due to the rugged terrain in certain parts of the island, you’ll be able to easily get around the island and navigate the rougher roads.