If you’re looking for gorgeous beaches, look no further than Vieques.
You may have heard of Vieques thanks to its world-famous bioluminescent bay. Each night, visitors climb into kayaks and paddle into Mosquito Bay to watch in awe as tiny dinoflagellates in the water illuminate all around them. It’s one of nature’s most fascinating wonders, and Mosquito Bay is said to be the brightest bioluminescent body of water in the world. It’s well worth the trip and the primary reason most people choose to visit Vieques.
Many of those visitors return to the main island of Puerto Rico the next day. By leaving so quickly, however, they’re missing out on some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. Vieques is dotted with secluded coves, many boasting glistening white sand and water so impossibly clear that you can see your feet even when submerged to your chest. It’s a place where you can easily find your own private piece of paradise, where a bumpy drive and a short walk rewards you with a spectacular hidden bay you can have almost entirely to yourself.
Drawn by the bio bay, my mom, sister, and I visited Vieques as a part of our girls’ trip to Puerto Rico in February. We decided to spend three nights on the island to get in a little beach time, and it ended up one of the best decisions we made on the whole trip. Our entire second day on Vieques was devoted to beach-hopping, hitting Playa La Plata, Playa La Chiva, Pata Prieta, and Playuela on a casual tour. By the morning of our ferry ride back to the main island, none of us wanted to leave.
Today, I want to share a guide to some of the best beaches on Vieques. My tips and commentary here are based on our experiences exploring the island as well as conversations with locals we met during our stay. I hope that it will encourage you not only to visit this lovely little island but to spend a few days experiencing more than just the bio bay!(Note: some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which means that I may earn a small commission from your purchase at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting Full Life, Full Passport! You can find the full disclosure here.)
Vieques is a small island about seven miles off the coast of Puerto Rico. Along with neighboring Culebra, it is a municipality of the Puerto Rican commonwealth. Vieques, Culebra, and the smaller islands surrounding them are also sometimes referred to as the Spanish Virgin Islands.
In the 1940s, the United States military took control of large chunks of Vieques to use for weapons testing and military exercises. For the next sixty years, the island was battered by bombs, mock seaborne invasions, and other military maneuvers. It wasn’t until 2003, after years of protests, that the military left the island for good.
Rather than selling off the land over to developers, however, it was turned over the US Fish and Wildlife Service to be preserved. Although the presence of the military on the island was tremendously unpopular, every Vieques native with whom we spoke lauded this final parting decision. Rather than being marred by high-rise condos or all-inclusive resorts, many of the best beaches and bays of Vieques are now preserved in their pristine glory to be enjoyed by all.
A Note About Beach Names
Many of the beaches on Vieques have two names: the original Spanish name and the English name given to the same stretch of sand by the US military. Playa La Chiva, for example, still shows up on some maps and websites as “Blue Beach.”
The military occupation is still a touchy subject for a lot of Vieques natives, and the use of the English beach names is considered by many to be disrespectful. With the exception of Sun Bay, we only ever heard the Vieques beaches referred to by their Spanish names by locals. It is for that reason that you’ll see only the Spanish names listed here (again, with the exception of Sun Bay).
Try to use the Spanish names as much as possible. Even if you pronounce a name incorrectly, the locals will most likely appreciate it more than just defaulting to an English name.
The Beaches of Vieques
Many visitors to Vieques base themselves in the town of Esperanza along the southern coast. In addition to having some fun beachside bars and restaurants, Esperanza also boasts easy access to two public beaches that are walkable from the town’s main tourist street. The closest is Playa Esperanza, which is just steps from the malecón, or waterfront promenade.
Playa Esperanza is a beach that gets better the farther along it you walk. Nearer to town, it can be more crowded and we did spot some broken glass. Step a little farther past the pier and down the sand, however, and you’ll find a beautiful curved beach with plenty of space to grab your own private slice of paradise.
Playa Sun Bay
Sun Bay has a lot going for it. It’s huge, for starters, which means that there is lots of room to spread out. Secondly, it’s walkable from Esperanza, making it one of the more easily accessible beaches on the island. Third, it’s one of the few beaches on Vieques with facilities such as bathrooms and food stalls. This makes Sun Bay a perfect beach for families as well as those who don’t want to worry about packing a lunch or lacking cell service.
Oh, and it’s a stunner, too.
The most enjoyable way to reach Sun Bay is to walk the length of Playa Esperanza and hop across the little sandy peninsula at its far end. This will deposit you on the tip of Sun Bay, at which point you can follow the curve of the beach until you reach a good spot. (The facilities are located in the middle of the half-moon.) It’s also a five to ten minute drive from the malecón if you need or prefer to drive.
Whenever we asked Viequenses which beaches we should visit, Playa Caracas was always at or near the top of the list. Like Sun Bay, Caracas is a big beach that is popular with locals and visitors alike. Located about fifteen minutes from Esperanza, it is the closest beach within the National Wildlife Refuge and therefore one of the most accessible. Although it doesn’t have a full suite of facilities, there are a couple of picnic gazebos. Come early if you want to snag one.
Sadly, we didn’t get a chance to make it out to Caracas, though we caught a small glimpse of it from Playuela, below. I highly recommend adding it to your list, however. We talked to multiple people who hailed it as their favorite on the island. If and when I return to Vieques, Caracas will be at the top of my list of beaches to visit.
Playa La Plata
If you truly want to get away from it all, Playa La Plata is the place for you. We dropped cell service on the way to this secluded cove, which sits deep inside the National Wildlife Refuge. The beach was almost entirely deserted when we arrived, with a lone couple tucked away in one of the few shady spots.
“La Plata” translates to “Silver,” and it’s easy to see how the beach got its name. The sand is sparkling white, the whitest we saw on Vieques. There are some rocky outcrops that are fun to explore and snorkel, and the water is beautifully clear. It would be the perfect spot for honeymooners or folks looking for a romantic getaway.
La Plata was the first beach we visited on our beach-hopping tour, and we were worried it couldn’t get any better. Amazingly, it did.
Playa La Chiva
Playa La Chiva is like paradise on earth. This long, graceful stretch of sand is lined with swaying palm trees and faces some of the clearest, bluest, calmest water on the island. If you’re a fan of beachwalking, La Chiva is ideal, and the gentle waves are perfect for families with young children. It’s also good for snorkeling, so make sure to bring your gear.
La Chiva was a little more crowded – relatively speaking, compared to the empty Playa La Plata – but there was more than enough space for everyone to spread out.
There are twenty entrance points to La Chiva, and each is numbered. We were dropped off at number 8, which is roughly in the middle where the shoreline comes to a point. Golden sand arced away from us in either direction, with clear water lapping lazily on the shore. The waves are larger toward the lower-numbered entrances, and both ends of the beach are rockier than in the middle. There isn’t much shade unless you’re lucky enough to snag one of the cabanas and picnic areas that dot most of the entrances.
Playa La Plata may feel remote, but Pata Prieta feels like a secret hideaway. To reach this small bay, you have to descend a narrow, rocky path through some brush. Between the branches, you can glimpse a thin sliver of the teal-blue sea ahead. Soon, you emerge onto a half-moon-shaped arc of soft, powdery sand and stunning turquoise waters.
The waves at Pata Prieta are also fairly gentle on a calm, clear day. For those looking for a break from the sun, there are a few shady spots in the trees.
When we chose to visit Playuela instead of the more famous Playa Negra (below), we weren’t sure if we were making the right decision. What we found, though, was a perfect beach at the base of a rocky, green hill. The sand was soft and golden and the waves were perfect for jumping. It ended up being my mom’s favorite of the four beaches on our tour.
I have heard that Playuela sometimes is overwhelmed with seagrass, but the water was clear and beautiful when we visited. It also takes 10-15 minutes of easy walking to get to the beach from the parking area, so be prepared. That said, the threat of seagrass and the little hike to get there dissuade many people from visiting Playuela, so you’re likely to have plenty of space for yourself if you go!
Playa Negra was another beach that failed to find its way onto our Vieques itinerary. Unlike Caracas, however, this omission was intentional. We didn’t have time to visit Caracas; we chose not to visit Playa Negra and went to Playuela instead.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t go. Playa Negra is one of the most visited beaches on Vieques thanks to its most unique (and eponymous) feature: its black sand. Everyone we spoke with about the beach told us that it was beautiful, and it’s a must-see for those looking for a unique photo to post on Instagram. However, the popular opinion seems to be that Playa Negra is a beach that you visit for a few minutes to appreciate its beauty and snap a few photos. It’s not a great beach for sunbathing, swimming, and spending the day.
Tips for Visiting the Beaches of Vieques
- Make sure to check out my complete guide to Vieques for comprehensive, practical help planning your vacation to this island paradise!
- The easiest way to access the more remote beaches on Vieques is by renting a vehicle. You’ll want to do this well in advance, as they can sell out. Although golf carts are available, I recommend renting an actual car or SUV.
- If you don’t have your own transportation, you can visit the farther-flung beaches by taking a beach-hopping tour or arranging transportation with a publico, or taxi. We chose the former, and our tour included one-hour stops at Playa La Plata, Playa La Chiva, Pata Prieta, and Playa Negra, which we swapped for Playuela. The cost was $45 per person and the tour lasted about five hours total. To book, contact Ana at 787-397-2048.
- Some of the beaches don’t have reliable (or any) cell service, so make sure that you have arranged return transportation before you arrive if you aren’t driving yourself.
- Most of the beaches on Vieques don’t have any services. Make sure to pack a lunch and bring plenty of water, reef-safe sunscreen, bug spray, and anything else you might need for the day. A small first aid kit would not be amiss just in case.
- Keep an eye on your valuables. We didn’t have any trouble, but we heard reports of some petty theft on the beaches.
- At some of the beaches, the parking area is located well away from the sand. It’s a good idea to wear sturdy shoes or sandals (not flip-flops) for traversing the uneven paths. This is particularly true at Playuela and Pata Prieta.
- Obey all posted signs and do not go exploring through the Wildlife Preserve. Although the beaches discussed in this article have been cleared, there are areas where unexploded ordnance is still being found and removed. Do not attempt to access Cayo La Chiva – the island in La Chiva Bay – as it has not been completely cleared.
- I recommend basing yourself in the town of Esperanza for the best access to the beaches. We had a fantastic experience at Malecón House.
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