Why should you visit Vieques on your next trip to Puerto Rico? Because it’s an island like no other! Despite being rimmed with pristine, secluded beaches and home to the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world, this hidden gem in the Caribbean is still outside of most tourists’ radar! So why not go see it for yourself?
I’ll be the first to admit that I had never heard of Vieques until I started researching Puerto Rico for our second mother-daughter trip in 2020. (Yes, 2020. We landed back at our home airport on March 6, so we BARELY snuck the trip in!) And out of our entire week in Puerto Rico, Vieques was by far our favorite destination and the place to which we’ve most longed to return. It was so unexpectedly wonderful, so scenic and off-the-beaten-path, that we’re still discussing when we might be able to go back.
Today I want to share the top ten reasons why I think you should visit Vieques and experience this beautiful corner of the Caribbean for yourself. And when you’re done and ready to plan your trip, make sure to check out these helpful guides, as well:
Why Visit Vieques?
It's off the beaten path.
Many people visiting Puerto Rico do so without realizing that there is more to the commonwealth than just the eponymous main island. Vieques isn’t even on their radar! For others, the expense or inconvenience of getting to Vieques is enough to keep them on the mainland checking out other worthy spots like San Juan, El Yunque, or Ponce.
Traveling to Vieques feels like you’ve found a hidden gem, and while you won’t be the only visitor there – especially in the tourist enclave of Esperanza – you certainly won’t be overwhelmed by crowds.
The beaches are pristine and uncrowded.
When the US military left the island in 2003 (more on that below), they made the unusual decision to turn their formerly-occupied land over to the US Fish and Wildlife Service rather than selling it off to developers. As a result, many of the most gorgeous stretches of Vieques’s coastline have been saved from overdevelopment and pollution and are available for all to enjoy.
It’s not hard to find a secluded stretch of sand on Vieques, whether you’re spreading your towel on the huge crescent of Sun Bay just outside of Esperanza or journeying to a tucked-away spot deep in the wildlife refuge. A little extra driving or a few extra steps reward you with the feeling that you have a slice of paradise all to yourself.
Don’t miss my detailed guide to the beaches of Vieques for more great information and photos!
It has one of the brightest bioluminescent bays in the world.
Perhaps the biggest draw for visitors to Vieques is the incredibly bioluminescent Mosquito Bay. Referred to locally as “the bio bay,” Mosquito Bay is home to billions of dinoflagellates: microorganisms that radiate a brief, bluish glow when disturbed. Imagine your kayak slicing through the water surrounded by a bright blue cloud of light, or dipping your hand into the bay to find it covered in tiny blue sparkles. It’s one of the most amazing phenomena I’ve witnessed in all of my travels, and Mosquito Bay, as the brightest bioluminescent bay on Earth, is the best place in the world to experience it!
It’s very hard to properly photograph the bioluminescence, but the video below does a nice job in showing how it works:
There's no passport needed.
As part of the United States, Puerto Rico is easy for US citizens and residents to access and enjoy despite being a Caribbean island paradise. You don’t need a passport or a visa, and there are no customs or immigration procedures to endure when getting off the plane. Just grab your bag and start exploring!
There are great accommodations.
Vieques has plenty of lovely accommodations for all budgets. We loved our stay at Malecón House, which is located at the end of the waterfront promenade (or malecón). It was bright, beautiful, clean, and comfortable for the three of us traveling together.
And great food.
Despite its small size, Vieques has more than enough delicious places to eat. From open-air beach bar-and-grills and food trucks to fine dining and classic Puerto Rican cuisine, you won’t get tired of dining out on the island. One of our personal favorites was Rancho Choli, a colorful, homey place that tasted like you were being fed by your own abuela.
You'll see wild horses.
One of the more surprising moments of your first visit to Vieques will undoubtedly come when you’re enjoying a meal at one of the island’s many open-air restaurants and a couple of horses suddenly come trotting down the street.
Vieques is home to a population of not-quite-wild horses that technically belong to people but are allowed to roam freely. You’ll usually find them grazing in the wildlife preserve or swishing away flies along the road. It’s another fun quirk of the island!
And learn some fascinating history.
Similar to many Caribbean islands, Vieques was home to Taíno peoples before the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the so-called “New” World. The following years of Spanish conquest had a devastating effect on local populations and cultures, and the island became a bit of an outpost during the colonial period. It was even a favorite hiding place for pirates; Mosquito Bay, the famous bioluminescent cove mentioned above, is named not for the bloodsucking insects but after a pirate ship nicknamed The Mosquito that used the bay to evade capture.
In the mid-19th century, Vieques became part of Puerto Rico and was subsequently acquired by the United States after the Spanish-American War. Forty-odd years later during World War II, the US 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. Finally, in 2003, years of protests paid off and the military left the island for good.
Today, you can visit the Spaniards’ last fort in the Americas, Fortín Conde de Mirasol, near Isabel Segunda, as well as lighthouse and sugar mill ruins and even some abandoned military bunkers. There’s also a 300-year-old ceiba tree, if natural history is more your style.
There are beautiful mangroves and marine environments.
In addition to the beaches and bio bay mentioned above, there are plenty of other fun ways to get out on the water during a trip to Vieques. Snorkeling is popular, with lots of scenic spots around the island. It’s also a lot of fun to kayak through the thick, vibrant mangrove forests, or to take a cataman tour or romantic sunset sail. No matter how you’d like to get your vitamin sea, you’ll likely find an opportunity on Vieques!
And getting there is a (scenic) adventure!
Part of the reason that there aren’t more tourists on Vieques is that it’s not terribly easy to visit… but that’s part of the fun! The quickest and easiest (and most expensive) way to reach the island is by flying there on a small plane from the mainland. The flight only takes a half hour from San Juan, and you get a bird’s-eye view of the glistening Caribbean and verdant green islands as you go.
Alternatively, you can take the ferry from Ceiba, on Puerto Rico’s eastern coast. It’s significantly less expensive (less than $5 per adult compared to $200-$400) and only takes about fifteen minutes longer than the flight. Along the way, you’re treated to the fresh sea air and green-hilled vistas in front of and behind you. The only downsides are that the ferry terminal is over an hour from San Juan (with no public transit) and can be overbooked or subject to delay.
PS: Don’t miss my tips for the Vieques ferry – you’ll need them!
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