Headed to Vieques for the first time? These Vieques travel tips will help you have a great first experience in one of the Caribbean’s best-kept secrets!
Oh, Vieques. You little hidden gem.
Blessed with beautiful Caribbean weather, the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world, and a coast lined with pristine and protected beaches, Vieques is the tropical getaway you didn’t know you needed. Despite its many charms, however, it’s still relatively undiscovered by tourists.
Although no Puerto Rico itinerary is complete without a journey to Vieques, the island isn’t without its quirks and challenges. This post aims to help you navigate some of the more unique aspects of traveling to Vieques so that you can focus on enjoying this amazing place.
And if you want even more Vieques content, make sure to check out the following blog posts for lots of additional tips, inspiration, and advice!
Vieques Travel Tips for First-Time Visitors
DO: Consider splurging on a flight, at least one way.
There are two ways to get to Vieques: by air or by sea. The cost difference is significant; the ferry to Vieques costs less than $15 per adult per way (including luggage, taxes, and fees), while flying will set you back anywhere $150-$400.
While that price difference alone may be enough to have you headed for the ferry terminal, there are a lot of benefits to spending the money to fly to Vieques. First is convenience: the ferry terminal is over an hour from San Juan, so you’d need to rent a car to even access the boat. Another is that the ferry is notoriously unreliable and chaotic, with ticketed passengers frequently getting bumped off of departures and a seemingly complete disregard for order and process when embarking and disembarking.
Flying directly from San Juan allows you to bypass all the drama and head straight to your island paradise.
PS: If you do decide to take the ferry, don’t miss my list of Vieques ferry tips!
DON'T: Visit Vieques during or close to the full moon.
Perhaps the biggest reason to put Vieques on your Puerto Rico itinerary is the island’s incredible bioluminescent bay, which is the brightest in the world. If you want to be able to appreciate the phenomenon of millions of tiny organisms lighting up Mosquito Bay with a blueish glow, you’ll need to make sure the night will be dark enough to see it.
If you can, try to plan your Vieques trip as close as possible to the new moon, the phase when the moon is invisible and gives off no light. At the very least, avoid the week around the full moon, when the moon is brightest. Many tour operators won’t even offer trips to the bio bay during this time.
DO: Reserve your rental vehicle well in advance.
While you can certainly use publicos – shared vans or cars that operate as taxis – to get around Vieques, it’s much better to rent your own vehicle. Not only will you have the flexibility of going where you want to go when you want to go there, but publicos don’t travel to the more remote beaches on the island… which are some of the ones most worth visiting!
I suggest reserving your rental car as soon as you know you’ll be traveling to Vieques, as availability is scarce and they frequently sell out. (Please note that you’re not allowed to bring a rental car from the mainland.) I also recommend springing for a four-wheel drive vehicle over a sedan, as the dirt roads to some of the farther-flung beaches can get pretty rough. You won’t want anything to hold you back from exploring!
DON'T: Rent a golf cart unless you have no other choice.
You may be tempted to rent a golf cart on Vieques, as they’re less expensive and more plentiful than rental cars and seem super convenient and fun for buzzing around the island. Resist! Golf carts are fine if you have limited mobility and need some help getting around the tourist hub of Esperanza, but they’re entirely unsuited to the rougher roads of the rest of the island. This is especially true for the roads you most want to travel: those on the way to the gorgeous beaches in the nature preserve!
We heard lots of stories from locals about what a nuisance golf carts are on Vieques, including a publico driver who spent the entire drive from Isabel Segunda to Esperanza regaling us with horror stories of the many recent golf cart crashes by tourists across the island. Do yourself a favor and just rent a car or use publicos.
DO: Arrange transportation to your hotel before you arrive.
This is especially true if you’re arriving by ferry. The terminal area can be a bit chaotic after a boat arrives, and the street in front of the terminal is narrow and congested. Make sure to arrange pickup before you arrive so that you don’t end up waiting forever for transportation.
One of the most popular and reliable services for public vans and private taxis is 741-TAXI (787-741-8294).
DON'T: Go into the wildlife preserve unprepared.
One of the absolute best things to do on Vieques is to spend a day (or more) exploring the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. This wonderland of pristine, secluded beaches provides the ultimate opportunity to relax and get away from it all. And for those who seek a more active vacation, there are plenty of hiking, biking, kayaking, horseback riding, fishing, snorkeling, and other opportunities available, as well.
No trip to Vieques is complete without spending some time in the preserve, but it’s not to be done lightly. It doesn’t take long to lose cell reception, and other services – food, bathrooms, etc. – are extremely limited or nonexistent. Make sure to bring plenty of water, food and snacks, reef-safe sunscreen, and anything else you’ll need for your time. Unless you’re driving yourself, you also need to pre-arrange pickup, as you likely won’t be able to call for a publico inside the preserve.
DO: Stay more than one night.
Many people come to Vieques, take in the bio bay that night, and then head back to mainland Puerto Rico the very next day. While Mosquito Bay is certainly worth the trip, it’s such a waste not to spend at least one more day on the island! There are so many gorgeous beaches, great restaurants, fun hikes, lush mangrove forests, and lovely places to stay that you’re selling yourself short with just an overnight visit.
I suggest spending at least two full days on the island, which not only allows you time to take in more of Vieques’s many fun things to do but also gives you a backup night if your bio bay tour gets canceled due to weather.
DON'T: Ignore warning signs.
For decades, the United States used the island of Vieques for military training and exercises as well as weapons testing. While most of the island has been cleared of unexploded ordnance and other evidence of the US military occupation, there are still some spots where you could possibly encounter leftover munitions. (A large portion of the eastern side of the refuge, for example, is closed to the public for this reason.)
Always obey posted signs and never venture into restricted areas. If you happen to spot an unexploded ordnance, or even have a suspicion, leave the area immediately and report your find.
All of this sounds very serious – and it is – but there’s no need to be fearful in coming to Vieques. Unsafe areas are clearly marked, and there’s no need for concern in the towns and populated areas and open beaches.
I hope these Vieques travel tips help make your first visit to this underrated Caribbean gem one of your best vacations yet!
Have questions about planning your trip? Have you been to Vieques and want to share some tips of your own? Let me know in the comments!
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