If you’re looking to visit the island paradise of Vieques, Puerto Rico, one of the first questions you’ll have to answer is how to get there. Many people opt to fly to Vieques, which is the quickest and most convenient option. Others, however, choose to take the Vieques ferry.
Although it is by far the least expensive way to get to Vieques, the ferry does have its downsides. First, the terminal is located in Ceiba, which is about an hour (or more) from San Juan on the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. Second, the ferry has a reputation for being unreliable and a bit of a hassle. Based on our experience during our recent girls’ trip to Puerto Rico, I would have to admit that the ferry’s poor reputation is not entirely undeserved.
That said, however, Vieques is an incredible island and well worth whatever hassle it takes to get there. There are also a lot of reasons why it might be worth your while to take the ferry instead of flying. First and foremost are the cost savings. Roundtrip flights would have been anywhere from $90 – $300+ apiece, whereas we took the ferry to Vieques and back for less than $15 per person. It’s also a beautiful ride and the best way to get the local experience.
While you can’t guarantee that nothing will go awry, there are steps you can take to give yourself the best chance at a smooth, pain-free crossing. Read on for twelve of my best tips for the Vieques ferry, and don’t forget to check out my complete guide to Vieques for more help planning your trip!
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1.) Buy your tickets in advance.
It is absolutely essential that you buy your tickets ahead of time. Not only is it possible for tickets to sell out, but the sales lines at the terminal are ridiculously slow.
2.) Book a morning passage, and avoid weekends and holidays.
I highly recommend buying a morning ticket so that you have some buffer if you get bumped. When we were turned away from our 8:30 AM ferry, we were really glad that there were multiple alternative options later in the day.
You’ll also want to avoid traveling on weekends and especially on holidays. Vieques is a popular day trip destination for Puerto Ricans, and locals get priority for seats on the ferry. Try to travel on a random weekday to avoid jostling for position with a crowd.
3.) Don’t forget a ticket for your luggage.
Be aware that you will not only need a ticket for yourself but also for anything you’re planning to carry onto the ferry. This includes coolers, beach chairs, suitcases, bicycles, etc. Don’t forget to add these items when purchasing your ticket. If you don’t, you might get turned away when boarding. You don’t want to miss your ferry because you’re standing in line to buy a ticket for your suitcase!
4.) Don’t be surprised by the taxes and fees.
While at first glance the Vieques ferry appears to be dirt cheap, there will be some taxes and fees added on at the end. Our tickets cost us $8 ($5 for ourselves and $3 for our luggage) each way, and yet the total cost of each passage was $21.41 once taxes and fees were added. That said, getting to Vieques and back for less than $15 per person is still a pretty great deal.
5.) Consider staying near the ferry terminal the night before your departure.
One of the best decisions we made was spending the night in Luquillo before boarding the ferry to Vieques. The drive to the terminal was less than a half-hour and fairly devoid of traffic, which helped our stress levels considerably compared to having to make the trip from San Juan. While it was nothing fancy, the Luquillo Sunrise Hotel did the trick for us. (Plus, staying overnight in Luquillo allows you to chow down at their famous food kiosks!)
6.) Pack a snack and some water.
It’s a good idea to bring some food and water along with you in case you get bumped from your ferry and have to wait around a while. While I did spot a vending machine or two, the terminal is nowhere near any services. Thus, you’re pretty much stuck there until the next ferry arrives, which could be hours. (When we got bumped from our 8:30 AM ferry, the next scheduled departure wasn’t until 11:30 AM.)
7.) Arrive at least 1-1.5 hours early.
This one is non-negotiable. It is imperative that you arrive early for the Vieques ferry to maximize your chances of making it on the boat. We were told to get there at least an hour early, but if you have a car to park I recommend adding even more time. You pay for your spot when you enter the parking lot, which can cause a backup, and then you’ll need to walk to the shuttle stop and take the short ride to the terminal. All of these steps can eat up time quicker than you might expect.
8.) Leave your rental car behind.
It is not permitted to take a rental car from mainland Puerto Rico to Vieques. Happily, there is a fairly convenient parking lot right down the road. The cost is $8 per day, and there is a shuttle available to take you back to the ferry terminal. Make sure to lock your car, hide any valuables you’re leaving behind, and tip your shuttle driver if he or she helps with your luggage.
9.) Wear sunscreen.
On a nice day, the best place to be on the Vieques ferry is the top deck. It’s absolutely glorious feeling the wind on your face and watching the deep blue of the Caribbean sea roll underneath you. Just make sure to slather on a bit of sunscreen, as there is no shade on the top deck and you’ll be exposed to the strong tropical sun for the duration of the trip.
10.) Arrange your transportation in advance.
If possible, try to arrange for a taxi to be waiting for you when you dock in Vieques. I acknowledge that this is not an easy feat since ferry service is so unreliable, but you can always call back to update your pickup time if you get delayed. The street in front of the ferry terminal in Isabel Segunda is narrow, and there’s not much room for people to congregate and wave down transportation. Having a publico (public taxi van) waiting for you when you arrive will save a lot of hassle.
One of the most commonly-used taxi services on Vieques is Vieques Taxi (+1 787-741-TAXI ). M&M Taxi was also recommended to us (+1 939-208-1600). It should cost $5 per person to get from the ferry terminal in Isabel Segunda to Esperanza.
11.) Arrive 45 minutes early for your return trip.
For unknown reasons, the return trip on the Vieques ferry is much less of a hassle than the trip from Ceiba. As a result, it is less imperative to arrive dramatically early or to be prepared with snacks for a long wait. (There are plenty of restaurants within walking distance of the terminal if you would happen to get delayed.) I suggest arriving about forty-five minutes to an hour before your scheduled departure.
12.) Be prepared for a disorganized mess when the Vieques ferry returns to Ceiba.
The parking shuttle situation when the ferry returns to Ceiba leaves a lot to be desired. The shuttle stop is not marked and there’s no clear method for lining up to board the van. (Our annoyed shuttle driver told us that the security guards are supposed to help organize people but they don’t.)
Head to the little white pavilion that sits in the middle of the looped drop-off area just through the gate, and bring your patience with you. There were a lot of angry ferry passengers jostling for position and yelling about who should be picked up first and from where. We just stood back and waited for the crowds to clear out rather than trying to battle them. It didn’t take long.
There you have them: my twelve best tips for maximizing your chances for success on the ferry to Vieques. Before you go, though, I want to throw one more idea out there…
Alternative: Consider flying at least one way.
For those on a budget, the cost of the Vieques ferry simply can’t be beaten. In terms of convenience, however, it leaves a lot to be desired. If the price of a roundtrip flight has you balking, but you’re nervous about the unpredictability of the ferry, why not consider flying to Vieques and taking the return ferry back? You’ll save time and money while eliminating the more laborious and unreliable of the two crossings. Plus, you’ll get to experience the trip from two different perspectives!
Of the three airports with flights to Vieques, flights from the one in Ceiba are the least expensive. (Officially, the airport is known as José Aponte De La Torre Airport, with the code RVR.) This is especially helpful because you’ll be returning to Ceiba on the ferry and can take a short taxi ride to pick up your rental car back at the airport.
However you choose to get there, make sure you don’t miss the incredible island of Vieques. It’s truly a gem, and you won’t regret the trip!
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These tips for the Vieques ferry were originally published on July 7, 2020, and last updated on July 8, 2021.