Wondering what would be the perfect way to spend seven days in the USA’s Caribbean paradise? Look no further than this comprehensive one-week itinerary for Puerto Rico!
Eleven hundred miles below Florida, Puerto Rico sits like a jewel in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Once the home of thriving indigenous peoples like the Taíno and later a major strategic point in the Spanish empire, Puerto Rico is now a United States territory. American citizens can visit this colorful island without a passport, and there are plenty of reasons to put Puerto Rico at the top of your Caribbean bucket list.
I first visited San Juan, Puerto Rico’s enchanting capital city, as a brief stop on my honeymoon, but it wasn’t until a mother-daughter trip with my mom and sister that I finally got the opportunity to experience more of this unique and fascinating place. We spent a week exploring the paradisiacal nearby island of Vieques, enjoying the tasty and vibrant town of Luquillo, and wandering the historic streets of Old San Juan. Below is our one-week itinerary for Puerto Rico, stuffed full of tips and information to help you plan the Caribbean vacation of your dreams. Puerto Rico is begging to be explored; it’s time to book your ticket!
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One-Week Itinerary for Puerto Rico:
At a Glance
Day 1: Arrive in Puerto Rico and Experience the Luquillo Food Kiosks
Day 2: Ferry to Vieques Island, Playa Sun Bay
Day 3: Full-Day Kayaking, Snorkeling, and Bio Bay Tour
Day 4: Beach-Hopping on Vieques
Day 5: Return Ferry, El Yunque, and More Food Kiosks
Day 6: San Juan Food Tour
Day 7: Exploring San Juan
Day 8: Our Crazy Trip Home
Day 1: Arrive in San Juan and Experience the Luquillo Food Kiosks
The first morning of our trip started bright and early. Well, I guess I should say that it started dark and early, since we were up before the sun to catch our flight to San Juan from Philadelphia International Airport. We prefer to take early flights on the way to our destinations since it gives us more time to spend there once we arrive and allows for any delays. (More on that topic on our trip home!)
Our flight to San Juan was direct and fairly uneventful, with the exception of our in-seat entertainment not working and an adorable co-passenger to our left: a Golden Retriever guide dog named Ernie. We, and particularly Brooke, were thrilled when he took advantage of his human’s bathroom break to sneak over and say hello.
We landed in San Juan around 1:00 PM, which included a time zone jump from the East Coast. After grabbing our bags and our rental car (we used Avis this time), our Puerto Rican adventure was underway!
Our destination for the night was the seaside town of Luquillo, which is located about forty-five minutes east of San Juan. We had chosen Luquillo for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it put us in fairly close proximity to the ferry terminal in Ceiba, which we would be using in the morning to head to the island of Vieques. Secondly, it is also a great base for exploring El Yunque National Forest, which we hoped to visit upon our return. Third, it sits right along the ocean and has some lovely, beachy hotels.
Perhaps the best part about staying in Luquillo, though, is that the city is home to a famous strip of beachfront kiosks, or kioskos. There are sixty in all and feature ramshackle beach bars, souvenir shops, food stalls, and restaurants offering almost any kind of cuisine you can imagine.
More than ready for a very late lunch, we strolled the long line of kiosks, passing everything from pizza to Peruvian, burgers to barbecue, and sandwiches to seafood. Fried Puerto Rican snacks and arepas (a sort of fried dough patty often stuffed with anything from cheese to meat or seafood) were everywhere. It was hard to decide where to stop when everything looked so delicious.
We finally settled on a place called Terruño Comida Artesanal in kiosk #20. Although we chose it on a whim, multiple people later raved to us about it and told us it was one of the best kiosks. I haven’t tried all the kiosks in Luquillo, but after eating at Terruño I can definitely agree that it’s worth prioritizing. Not only was it atmospheric – the colorful, open-air dining area had a view of the beach – but the food was awesome.
It was mid-afternoon by the time we sat down, so we chose to split a few appetizers rather than indulging in meals. After much debate and some assistance from our friendly server, we settled on a pastelillo de conejo (rabbit turnover), piononitos de camarones y churrasco (sweet plantain stuffed with shrimp and skirt steak), and a seafood arepa. The verdict? Outstanding, and a perfect first meal in Puerto Rico.
After a truly satisfying stop at the kiosks, we headed into downtown Luquillo to check into our first hotel of the trip, the Luquillo Sunrise Beach Inn. As its name suggests, the hotel faces east and is just across Ocean Boulevard from a public beach. Most of the rooms have oceanfront balconies, which was a big selling point for my mom, but the price per night was still one of the best we saw on our trip.
While the room decor would make any of the Golden Girls feel at home, there was a lot to like about the Luquillo Sunrise Beach Inn. It was clean and beachy, with air conditioning in all the rooms and secure parking onsite. (As Ocean Boulevard can get packed on busy beach days, this is a big bonus.) Breakfast is included and served on a pleasant rooftop terrace, which doubles as a bar area at night. There are lots of complimentary beach amenities, including towels, chairs, and even boogie boards, along with an outdoor shower to rinse off after your day in the sun.
Following our long day of travel, and with our trip to Vieques quite literally on the horizon, the rest of our night was pretty low-key. Brooke took a quick pick-me-up nap while Mom and I spent some time walking Playa La Pared, the beach across the street from our hotel. Since it was late afternoon on a Wednesday, the beach was mostly deserted, with only the sound of the crashing waves and the occasional car on Ocean Boulevard to distract us.
If you live in a colder climate like I do, there’s just something really special about your first day on a winter vacation to someplace warm. It was absolutely glorious to feel my toes in the sand and the warm breeze caressing my face. The chilly Northeast felt a world away, and many of my worries as well. I couldn’t wait to see what this week would bring.
Although we weren’t exceptionally hungry after our feast at Terruño, eventually the three of us took a walk along the shoreline to a little place called Boardriders Surf Bar and Grill. The Luquillo Sunrise Beach Inn isn’t within walking distance of many restaurants, but this one was tasty and convenient. We had a light dinner and a celebratory cocktail apiece before returning to the hotel to rest up for our morning trip to Vieques!
Tips for Arriving in Puerto Rico and Luquillo
- The Luquillo kiosks are tremendously popular, especially on weekends when the weather is nice. People come from all around to hit the beach, including many from San Juan, and parking at the kiosks can be scarce. Have patience; you’ll find something eventually!
- I’ve read some reports that the water can be a bit rough at Playa La Pared, so exercise caution if you plan to do any swimming. Consult your hotel staff or other locals to learn the lay of the land before you jump in, and beware of rip currents. The surfing is apparently pretty good here, though, as evidenced by the number of surf shacks that have popped up along the beachfront.
- A better option for swimming is Balneario Monserrate, which is a government-run beach with lifeguards, restrooms, and other services not far from the kiosks.
- Other hotels we considered in Luquillo included Yunque Mar Beach Hotel and Ocean Pearl Guest House (also called Ocean Pearl Inn).
Day 2: Ferry to Vieques and Playa Sun Bay
Our first full day in Puerto Rico was filled with more travel, but our destination couldn’t have been a better payoff for the craziness of our morning. We were headed to the island of Vieques, and it turned out to be even more of a paradise than we could have imagined.
Vieques is an island located about seven miles off the coast of “mainland” Puerto Rico. It is a part of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, which I learned is actually made up of a group of islands rather than just the most famous eponymous one as I had originally believed. We were lured to Vieques by the promise of its bioluminescent bay, which is said to be the brightest in the entire world, as well as its stunning beaches.
But first, we needed to get there.
While you can easily fly to Vieques from different airports on the main island, the least expensive way to get there is by taking the ferry. The price difference is significant; it would have cost us as much as $900 to fly roundtrip from San Juan to Vieques, while we took the ferry there and back for just over $40 total. With those cost savings, however, comes a certain amount of inconvenience. The ferry terminal is located in Ceiba, about an hour (or more) from San Juan, and the ferry itself has a reputation for being unreliable and a bit of a hassle.
We certainly experienced the fickleness of the ferry on our first morning in Puerto Rico. Even though we had bought our tickets in advance and were at the terminal well before the departure time, we were turned away because our ferry somehow had already filled up and left. We were told that we could take the next ferry, which left us stuck at the terminal with no services and nothing to do for over three hours.
People, myself included, hurried to exchange their tickets at the already agonizingly slow ticket counter. The lines weren’t marked at all, so I didn’t realize that I was in the line for tickets to Vieques’s sister island, Culebra, until the real line for Vieques had grown exponentially. Thankfully, it was soon announced that there was another boat for Vieques, and that those with 8:30 AM tickets should get on it. Thank goodness I speak Spanish or we never would have known and I’d probably still be in line.
I have no idea if the boat we ended up on was an actual ferry or just a random ship that happened to be available, but we didn’t care much. We were just grateful to be on our way and to have avoided a multi-hour delay.
The crossing was quick – less than an hour. True to form, my mom spent the ride making friends. The guy sitting next to her happened to be a manager at one of the beach bars in Esperanza, the town where we were staying, and he was all too happy to share his tips and experiences.
While we appreciated his advice, the chance meeting really paid off when he invited us to share a ride to Esperanza. He had already arranged for a driver to pick him up in one of Vieques’s ubiquitous shared-ride vehicles, or publicos. Considering the Isabel Segunda terminal area was swarmed with publicos and passengers waiting to hail them when we arrived, we were grateful to have our transportation to Esperanza already sorted.
(I should note here that you should always be cautious when offered a ride from a stranger upon arrival at a new place. This is, unfortunately, especially true for women. [We’ve all seen Taken, right?] I’ll admit that I was hesitant at first to trust this random dude we met on a boat, but everything checked out once we arrived in Isabel Segunda and we felt safe accepting his offer.)
The ferry deposited us in Isabel Segunda, the largest town on Vieques and its administrative hub, which we quickly left behind to head toward Esperanza on the southern coast. Within a few minutes, we were winding through the green, hilly interior of the island.
Soon enough, we pulled up in front of Malecón House, our home for the next three nights. It was the hotel we were most excited about on this trip, and it did not disappoint. It’s a gorgeous place, bright and airy and beautifully decorated, and exactly what you would want for a beachy getaway.
The interior of Malecón House is warm and welcoming, and they offer lots of amenities that made our stay pleasant and convenient. Beach towels, chairs, coolers, umbrellas, and more are available for guest use, and there’s a nice pool area where they serve the included continental breakfast in the morning. (No offense to the Malecón House pool, but if you’re choosing that at the expense of the island’s incredible beaches, you’re selling yourself short.)
Our room was right on the first floor and surprisingly large, which was a huge bonus for three people traveling together. There was plenty of space for us to stash our suitcases, hang wet bathing suits to dry, and get ready at the start of each day.
Malecón House is perfectly located at a quiet end of its namesake malecón, the waterfront promenade that forms the main drag of Esperanza’s tourist area. Open to the glittering sea on one side, the other side of the malecón is lined with open-air restaurants, beach bars, hotels, and guest houses.
Once we checked in, the three of us decided to stroll down the malecón in search of some lunch. We ended up at Duffy’s, where we enjoyed some tasty food while watching the unhurried comings and goings along Flamboyan Street (Calle Flamboyan). This included one of the more unusual but quintessential sights on Vieques: a few of the island’s semi-wild horses trotting uninhibited down the middle of the street.
After lunch, Mom was content to sit and continue enjoying the view while Brooke and I were excited to explore more of the town. Our server had told us that there were some stunning beaches within walking distance, and we resolved to check them out.
Following her directions, Brooke and I set off east along Calle Flamboyan and soon came upon our first stretch of sand, Playa Esperanza. Even though it was essentially right in the middle of town, it was still picturesque, with gorgeous teal water and an old concrete pier in the distance.
When we passed the pier, though, it got even better. There, we found an entire stretch of sugary sand with almost no one in sight. Little waves lapped gently at the shore, making it an absolute pleasure to stroll right along the waterline. There’s not much better than walking along the beach, shoes in hand, while your feet are gently bathed in warm, crystal-clear water.
We kept walking, as our server had told us that crossing the little peninsula in the distance would deposit us on Playa Sun Bay, one of the prettiest beaches on the island. She wasn’t kidding. No sooner did we set foot on the other side of the peninsula than a massive, half-moon shaped beach opened up before us. It was like stepping into a dream.
Playa Sun Bay is huge, with plenty of space to spread out and still feel like you have the place to yourself. Brooke and I walked to roughly the middle the arc, where we found the highest concentration of visitors sunbathing or swimming within easy access to food stalls, restrooms, and other public facilities. By that time, we were itching to join them.
We hurried back to Duffy’s to collect our mom, and the three of us returned to Malecón House, quickly changed into swimming suits, slathered on some sunscreen, and headed back out to Sun Bay. Grabbing a spot not far from the peninsula, we spent the rest of the afternoon bobbing in the surf and relaxing in the sun. Although we waved and exchanged greetings with the occasional beach walkers, we largely had the place all to ourselves. Paradise!
Later that evening, we had a tasty dinner at Bananas Beach Bar and Guesthouse, where we tried mofongo for the first time. A Puerto Rican staple made with mashed fried plantains, our mofongo also included mussels, shrimp, chicken, and veggies.
It was a delicious end to the day.
Tips for the Vieques Ferry, Arriving in Vieques, and Playa Sun Bay
- I’ve written an entire guide full of tips for taking the ferry to Vieques. Be sure to check it out to set yourself up for success!
- Alternatively, consider flying either roundtrip or one way if your budget allows. The ferry is more of a hassle heading to Vieques than returning from it, so you can get the best of both worlds if you fly from the airport in Ceiba (also the cheapest ticket on the island) and return via ferry.
- Make sure to check out my Complete Guide to Vieques for help planning your trip to the island. It includes comprehensive information on what to do, where to eat, how to get around, safety tips, and more.
- While we loved Malecón House, other hotel suggestions for Vieques (at varying price points) can be found here.
Day 3: Full-Day Kayaking, Snorkeling, and Bio Bay Tour on Vieques
After such a great first impression of Vieques, we couldn’t wait to see more! Luckily, we had booked a full-day excursion that we hoped would show us some of the best that the island had to offer.
As I was sifting through all of the tours available to Vieques’s famous bioluminescent bay, I came across an intriguing all-in-one option that offered not only the bio bay, but the opportunity to kayak through mangrove forests, visit a remote beach, snorkel a coral reef, and have a sunset picnic in the sand as well. It seemed like the best bang for our buck and a great way to spend our first full day on Vieques, so we took the plunge.
Our tour didn’t start until 2:00 PM, so we enjoyed a leisurely morning in Esperanza. While I was dying to head back to Playa Sun Bay, we all agreed that it would be best to keep our sun exposure to a minimum in the morning since we’d be outside all afternoon. Instead, we lingered over breakfast at Malecón House, relaxed in our beautiful hotel room, took a short walk to a little convenience/grocery store to buy snacks and water for our tour, and fueled up with a yummy lunch back at Bananas.
A little before 2:00 PM, we headed out to start our tour. The meeting point was practically next door to our hotel, and within a few minutes, we were saying hello to our guide for the afternoon, AB. While I will admit that I was initially a little leery of what we had gotten ourselves into – AB’s sense of humor can be hard to read at first, and it seemed evident that some of the things I was expecting based on the website’s tour description weren’t accurate – it ended up being a great day with a great guide. Best of all, we were the only ones registered, so we had a private tour!
After taking care of all of the necessary evils – payment, liability waivers, picking up the kayaks – we drove off in AB’s rickety pickup truck into the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge.
The Vieques National Wildlife Refuge is comprised of land that was formerly occupied by the United States military. Starting in the 1940’s, large swaths of land on Vieques were used for weapons testing, military training and exercises, and other purposes. When, after decades of protests, the military finally left the island in 2003, it turned the land over the US Fish and Wildlife Commission rather than selling it off to developers and other private enterprises. As a result, many of the best beaches on Vieques were kept in a pristine condition rather than being marred by giant resorts and high rise condos. Nowadays, the Wildlife Refuge is full of great opportunities for beach-hopping, kayaking, watersports, and more.
Our first stop was a mangrove lagoon, where we boarded our kayaks and set off.
The lagoon was wide and peaceful, surrounded by lush mangroves perched on their thick, finger-like roots. As we paddled, AB shared tons of information about mangrove forests, the unique ecosystems they foster, and their role in the creation of bioluminescent bodies of water like Mosquito Bay on Vieques. The bacteria that mangroves release into the water provides crucial food for the dinoflagellates that light up the bio bay. Without its mangrove forests, which are endangered or severely depleted in many parts of the world, Vieques’s most awe-inspiring feature would be dark.
To get us even more up close and personal with the mangroves, AB led us through a tunnel through the trees.
While it looked benign going in, the tunnel quickly narrowed until we were surrounded on all sides by twisting, reaching mangrove roots and branches. You could see the tangled webs of roots right below the kayak, to the point where I often wondered if we would clear them, and we had to duck frequently to get under branches hanging overhead. At a few points, there didn’t even seem to be enough room to move our paddles. The forest was so close and so full of life, all-encompassing and just a little eerie. It was definitely a cool experience.
Thankfully, we soon emerged on the other side of the forest where a bay opened up in front of us.
From there, the paddling was easy as we moved along the rocky coastline toward the remote beach where we would do our snorkeling. We rounded a headland and there it was: a small arc of sand flanked by forest and kissed by calm, lapping waves.
We took some time to stretch our legs and wander the shoreline before AB was ready to dive into the snorkeling part of our adventure. Brooke chose to stay behind and relax in the sand while Mom and I swam off after our intrepid guide.
We passed a lot of seagrass at first, but soon the sea floor opened up into a jungle of coral, fish, and other underwater delights. AB was excellent at pointing out the sights, from a moray eel to a huge lobster to an uncountable number of interesting and colorful fish, including pufferfish. While I have definitely been spoiled by the incredible Belize Barrier Reef, it’s always amazing to experience the wonders of a coral reef teeming with life. This little bay was no exception. There was so much to see!
We snorkeled for over an hour, floating over waving sea fans, huge brain coral, and flittering fish. Finally, tired but exhilarated, we rejoined Brooke on the shore. There was no rest for the weary, though, as AB was anxious to get us back in our kayaks to explore more of the coastline. Donning our lifejackets, we set off toward the open sea.
The paddling was rougher, but the coastline was pretty spectacular. We passed some impressive, sandy-colored sea cliffs that stood out strikingly against the deep blue of the water. In the distance, we could see an old lighthouse illuminated by the setting sun, and there was absolutely no one else around. We were all alone in a timeless world of waves and rocks and sunshine.
It was hard to get good photos because we were bobbing up and down a lot, and also because it was a lot more satisfying to just soak up the moment than trying to frame a shot.
Finally, it was time to paddle back toward the truck and return to Esperanza for our included dinner. After securing our kayaks, we made our bumpy way through the Wildlife Refuge, with AB giving us the scoop on the military occupation, what has happened to the land since, the general economic and social state of affairs on Vieques, and all manner of other brutally honest commentary. Upon our return to Esperanza, he dropped us along the malecón and disappeared into El Guayacan restaurant to grab our dinner. He emerged a few moments later with three takeout containers of delicious, homemade Puerto Rican food, and after thanking him profusely for a great day we said our goodbyes and tucked in with gusto.
We sat on benches as the sun set over the malecón, enjoying the rest and our delicious takeout dinner. Soon enough, though, it was time to meet our group for the part of our tour we were most excited about: kayaking on the famous bioluminescent bay.
We joined our new guide, Cesar, and twenty or so others on a bumpy bus ride back through the Wildlife Preserve to Mosquito Bay. It was dark by the time we arrived along the shore, donned our life jackets, and started to board our tandem kayaks. There were plenty of guides there to help us get underway, and within a few minutes Brooke and I were paddling out into the bay. Since we were a group of three, Mom got to ride with Cesar.
At first, I thought the blueish tint around my paddle was a trick of the light, but as we moved farther out into the bay the glow grew brighter. Suddenly, the wonders of Mosquito Bay were revealing themselves in all their glory. Every time we dipped our paddles in the water, the water around them lit up in a blueish glow. A similar luminescence surrounded our kayak where it sliced through the water, and every so often we would catch sight of a glowing fish scuttling away from us and leaving a trail of light behind.
It’s really difficult to properly capture the bioluminescence on camera, so we didn’t even try. Instead, we soaked up the moment and just enjoyed this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I later found the video below that does a great job in showing this phenomenon:
I don’t say this lightly: kayaking the bioluminescent bay on Vieques was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in all my travels. It was magical in every sense of the world, a true wonder of nature unlike anything I had ever seen. There was something so special and otherworldly about being out in the middle of the dark, silent bay watching the water glitter right before your eyes.
Because our mom was Cesar’s kayak buddy, we stayed fairly close to him during our time on the water. As a result, we got to hear most of his excellent commentary about the science behind the luminescence and the history of the area. He showed us how to put our fists in the water and flip open our fingers so that our hands were illuminated, and how to drop handfuls of water from one hand into an open palm so that we could see the tiny, individual sparkling dinoflagellates wiggling around.
As a former tour guide, I know how quick some guides can be to tell guests that their experience is unusually special. (“We NEVER see weather like this!” “Wow, you’re really lucky to have seen so many bears!” “Lots of people don’t get to experience what you just did.”) Thus, when Cesar mentioned that the bay was unusually bright that night, I was initially skeptical. When I pressed him good-naturedly, though, he assured me that he was being sincere. We really did have one of the best nights on the bay that he had seen in a while.
By the time we made our way back to the boat launch, we were practically giddy with excitement at what we had just witnessed. Regardless of what else we had done on Vieques, that single hour out on Mosquito Bay made the entire trip worth it.
Tips for Kayaking, Snorkeling, and the Bio Bay
- There’s a small grocery/convenience store called Colmado Lydia on Calle Almendro between Tintillos and Hucar. Only a block off the malecon, it’s a convenient place to pick up snacks, water, personal items, and other sundries. The Green Store (La Tienda Verde), located across town on the main route into Esperanza, is an even bigger establishment where you can find most everything you could need.
- We chose Abe’s Snorkeling and Bio Bay Tours for our day-long excursion, though I’m no longer seeing the all-in-one option on their website. (You might want to call to confirm.) While we had a good experience, be advised that some things promised on the website may not be delivered to the letter. (For example, there were no dry bags for our stuff, and our “sunset picnic in the sand” ended up being a takeout container of [admittedly, delicious and home-cooked] food eaten on a bench on the malecón.)
- Don’t forget to use reef-safe sunscreen while in Vieques to help protect her vulnerable marine ecosystems and coral reefs.
- Our group with Abe’s was also the largest at the bio bay that evening. While we didn’t mind at all – and it could be a testament to the quality of the tour – those looking for smaller groups or clear kayaks should probably book elsewhere. Other recommended bio bay tour purveyors on Vieques include Bieque Eco Trips, Taino Aqua Adventures, Black Beard Sports, and JAK Water Sports.
- For the best bio bay experience, try to visit as close to the new moon as possible. If there’s too much moonlight, you won’t be able to see the bioluminescence very well.
- It is strictly prohibited to swim in Mosquito Bay so as to protect the fragile dinoflagellates that make it so special.
Day 4: Beach-Hopping on Vieques
After our first impressions of Playa Esperanza and Playa Sun Bay, I didn’t think the beaches on Vieques could get any better.
Our fourth day in Puerto Rico immediately proved me wrong.
For our final day on Vieques, we decided to do a beach-hopping tour that would include four different beaches in the Wildlife Preserve. While we were originally worried that we wouldn’t have enough time at each one to enjoy it properly – the tour only allotted about an hour per beach – we ended up being very glad that we got to experience each spot rather than spending our whole day in one place.
After another delicious Malecón House breakfast, we and our fellow beach-hoppers were soon on our way. The first beach was the farthest from Esperanza, so deep into the Wildlife Preserve that we dropped cell service along the way. When we arrived at Playa La Plata, we found a beautiful half-moon of silvery sand and teal water. To our delight, it was almost completely deserted. Aside from a lone couple tucked away in the brush father along the shore, our group had the entire place to ourselves.
An hour isn’t much time, but we still managed to soak up as much of Playa La Plata as we could. Brooke and I took a walk along the shoreline toward a rockier part of the beach. There, we waded out into the bay to explore the rocks and coastline. The water was crystal clear; we could easily see our feet even when submerged to the waist.
Soon enough, though, it was time to gather our things and head back to the van. Our next stop, Playa La Chiva, was waiting.
Again, the three of us worried that the next few beaches would be disappointing after the beauty of Playa la Plata. Thankfully, two steps onto Playa La Chiva immediately proved our fears to be unfounded. Playa La Chiva was gorgeous.
Much bigger than Playa La Plata, La Chiva stretched away from us in a huge arc in either direction, with calm, shallow water just begging to be entered. It was the kind of place where you could just sit and bask in the sun for hours, with the cool ocean providing the perfect respite from the warmth of the day.
After an hour of sunbathing and floating at Playa La Chiva, I was even more sad to leave. At this rate, however, we could only imagine what wonderful beaches were in store for the rest of our day.
Our next destination was Plata Prieta, which the US military called “Secret Beach.” As soon as we arrived, it was easy to see why. To access the beach, we had to descend a short, rocky trail through some brush. We could just glimpse the blue-green water of the bay beyond.
When we emerged from the trail, though, Pata Prieta opened up before us in all its glory. The sand here was perhaps the most sugary we’d seen, the water was perfect, and there were plenty of shady spots to stash our chairs and bags.
With a half-dozen or so fellow sunbathers already sharing the smaller stretch of sand, Pata Prieta felt almost crowded compared to our previous stops. Thankfully, there was plenty of sand to go around and it didn’t take much effort to distance ourselves. Again, we had our own little slice of paradise.
The water at Pata Prieta was gentle and deep. It was perfect for swimming and floating, especially compared to shallow Playa La Chiva. At the far end of the beach was a lovely stretch of rocky coastline that was fun to explore as well. These beaches just kept getting harder to leave when our time was up!
Our final stop of the day was supposed to be Playa Negra, Vieques’s famous black-sand beach. One of the couples on our tour, however, had already visited Playa Negra and requested that they be dropped off at another beach called Playuela instead. After some discussion, we decided to join them. Given what we later heard about Playa Negra – that it’s beautiful but the appeal is more in the novelty of visiting and photographing a black sand beach vs. actually sunbathing and swimming there – we were glad we did. Playuela actually ended up being my mom’s favorite beach of the lot.
Much like Pata Prieta, Playuela is tucked away from the road and requires a little effort to get there. The easy ten-minute walk through brush and trees, however, only added to the remote feel of the place and probably helps dissuade crowds from coming.
The fun thing about Playuela was that it had the biggest waves we’d seen all day. Unlike the first three beaches, Playuela was perfect for playing in the surf, and that’s just what we did. We bobbed and swam and floated, spending almost the entire hour quite literally soaking up our last moments of beach time on the trip. I barely took any photos at Playuela because we were having such fun.
When our time at Playuela came to an end, we hiked back to the van for our return to Esperanza. It was well into the afternoon by this point, so we were pretty famished. Thus, our first priority upon our return to town was to find some food. Windswept, sandy, and sun-kissed, we made our way to Rancho Choli for some incredible, authentic Puerto Rican food.
With our bellies full of roasted pork, beans and rice, and fresh passionfruit juice, we were thoroughly pleased with our day. We spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning up and relaxing before a final dinner along the malecón. Our time on Vieques had surpassed all of our expectations, and we were a little sad at the prospect of leaving the island in the morning. Thankfully, we still had lots of excitement to come!
That’s all for the first half of our week! Be sure to come back next week for the second part of our itinerary for Puerto Rico, including El Yunque, more food kiosks (of course), and San Juan. Better yet, receive an alert directly in your inbox by subscribing using the form below!
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