Location: Vieques, Puerto Rico
Vieques island is one of those truly magical, untouched gems of the world. As a United States citizen, it still baffles me that you don’t need a passport to travel there. Only eight miles east of the mainland, it is accessible by ferry or small plane. It’s commonly referred to as “Puerto Rico’s little sister.” Unlike its crowded neighbor Culebra (home of Flamingo Beach- the most photographed beach in the world), Vieques is primarily visited by Puerto Ricans and only 9,000 people call the island home. As you might expect, this makes the place quite serene.
Getting there, however, is anything but. The ferry is by far the cheaper option, but especially on holiday weekends, the queue at the mainland terminal in Fajardo is often so long that it can take days to get tickets. Since my best friend and I were traveling on Memorial Day Weekend, we opted for the slightly pricier but more secure option of flying. What an experience!
The puddle jumpers only have room for about 10 passengers and their luggage, so the weight of everything is carefully monitored and cell phone service is prohibited. Any slight disturbance outside the cabin is felt by all the passengers. For someone who is afraid of heights, it was a doozy.
One we arrived, we were guests on the island for just short of a week. We stayed at a unique Airbnb- a 600 sq. foot cottage nicknamed Casa Sin Nombre (the house with no name). Ernest Hemingway would’ve been proud of this place. High atop Mount Carmello, the Casa had two balconies equipped with hammocks and porch swings that overlooked the island’s vast wildlife refuge—a hotbed of adventuring. Banana, papaya and other fruit trees occupy much of the property, and we happily partook. We quickly learned that it can be difficult to bring food into Vieques, so much of it is grown or raised locally.
We also shared the abode with A LOT of animal compatriots and it seemed to be live and let live. Aside from the rampant mosquitos (don’t worry, we had nets!), the friendliest were the geckos. We also encountered some rather large spiders, scorpions, and centipedes- particularly in the pitch dark night.
That being said, the animals of the island are what make it truly spectacular. In addition to all the crawlers and fish and lizards and snails and crabs, Vieques is home to wild horses (feral paso fino). Descended from stock originally brought by European colonizers, these beauties roam free across the entire island and large groups can frequently been seen swimming at Sun Bay.
The locals consider them pests, but we felt them captivating. They are friendly and gentle in nature and so used to humans that you could get extremely close and ride them. They are so intelligent that they’ve even learned to move to the opposite side of the road to allow cars to pass. There are many places on the island that offer horseback riding lessons with a guide.
There are two different areas on the island for shopping and eating: Esperanza and Isla Grande. Although there are lots of cute little shops in both these areas, the island is still overrun with vegetation (which I love). We did have some spectacular dining experiences, though, including: Bananas and La Noche. We also loved drinks at Espresso Bar, part magic shop and part coffee house. La Nasa is a great place to dance and have drinks alongside locals at night on the pier.
Although small in area, Vieques possesses several different types of deserted beaches in addition to the larger beaches like Sun Bay Beach and La Playa Grande. We tried to visit all of them including Blue Beach (Playa de la China), Black Sand Beach (Playa de la Negra) and the infamous Sea Glass Beach (Playa Cofi). Each was gorgeous in its own way.
Snorkeling can be done in crystal clear waters at the Blue Beach. The Black Sand Beach consists of contrasting shades of deep golden sand with dark black sand from broken down volcanic rock. Unfortunately, the sea glass beach was not as it was advertised- overflowing with colorful polished sea glass. Although many local artisans visit this beach to collect, the spoils were picked over and we found very little when we visited.
Another magical experience was visiting the Tree of Life, the oldest tree on the island. A Ceiba tree over 300 years old, with roots big enough to sit on.
The biggest showstopper of Vieques is one that (ironically) could not be captured on film. Honestly, I’m not sure a photograph could do it justice: the bioluminescent bay.
Vieques is home to Mosquito Bay, the best preserved bioluminescent bay in the world. We were able to kayak through it at night in a rainstorm under bright constellations and a new moon (the most perfect time). The bay is indescribably magical. The water sparkles with emerald light every time something interacts with it. The sparkles trickle across your hands and arms and create glowing pools of fairy dust in the bottom of the kayak. Since it was raining, we felt a glowing mist as the water lit up with every droplet.
These sparkles are created by dinoflagellates, plankton that live in the water and light up as a defense mechanism. The rules at Mosquito Bay don’t allow people to swim, despite the fact that dinoflagellates pose no harm to humans. This is because things that contain perfumes and dyes can kill the plankton, and not allowing swimming helps preserve the natural ecosystem.
If you are intensely curious, here are some photos of the bay online.
I also highly recommend Abe’s for to lead you on the kayaking tour.
Truly one of my top ten adventure experiences to date.
Can’t wait to share our next adventure coming up in September!