A Guide to Vieques, Puerto Rico | Part I: Logistics
Vieques is a 21-mile wide island off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico with unspoiled, Caribbean shoreline. It’s an ideal destination for independent travelers seeking a tropical escape sans the gaudy resorts. Secluded white sand beaches? Check. A magical bio-luminescent bay? Check. Laid-back towns with diverse food options, affordable inns, and boutique guest houses? Check.
For over 50 years, Vieques was used by the US Navy as a training and bombing range. After much controversy and major protests by environmentalists and Puerto Ricans, the operations finally ceased in 2001. Although the five-decade occupation displaced many local residents, it also prevented the land from being overdeveloped. The military land was returned to the Puerto Rican government and was designated as the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, a protected area that covers 70% of the island. Admission to the refuge is free and with over 30 beaches on the island, visitors are sure to find an idyllic slice of paradise.
When to Go
With temperatures consistently in the mid-70s and 80s, almost any time is a good time to visit the island. Peak season, also the dry season, lasts mid-December through April. The busiest periods are from Christmas to New Year and during spring break. February is a quiet time to visit between these holidays. May and early June are part of the wet season, but a good time to find affordable deals and avoid the winder crowd. There are increased chances of showers though that can last anywhere from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours.
Hurricane season runs from June through the end of November. The weather during August and September is most unpredictable – they are prime times for tropical storms, high temperatures and humidity, and stagnant heat that attracts bugs. Many of the hotels and tourist-based businesses close during this period since tourism is slow.
Those wanting to take a nighttime tour of the bioluminescent bay should refer to a lunar calendar to determine the best time to visit. The glow of the bay is best experienced in dark conditions when the moon is in its new or waning phase. Avoid the moon when it is at its brightest: five days before it becomes full. Reputable tour operators should not be booking tours during this period anyway. Another important factor is the amount of sunlight the bay receives during the day; the microorganisms draw on the sun’s energy to recharge.
US citizens don’t need a passport to travel to Puerto Rico, only a valid ID. There are two airlines that fly regularly between Vieques and the main island: Vieques Air Link and Cape Air. Cape Air is known for having a more modern fleet, but Vieques Air Link is still friendly and reliable.
Flights leave multiple times daily from San Juan and the town of Ceiba in 8-12 passenger planes. Leaving from San Juan’s Isla Grande Aiport will run about 40% cheaper than departing from nearby Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. Fare cost even less from Ceiba, but it is over an hour-long drive from the capital and can add up in taxi and car rental fees unless you’re already staying nearby.
Flights from San Juan are under half-an-hour and offer spectacular views of the shoreline and island landscape. There is also a 1-hour ferry that runs between Fajardo and Vieques for $2, but it is unreliable and not recommended if you’re traveling on a sensitive timeline.
If you want to explore the beaches on the refuge, it’s imperative to rent a 4WD—expect to face unpaved roads laden with potholes, puddles, and even wild horses. The most popular and practical options are Jeeps. They can be rented from Maritza’s Car Rental or Avis, both have a good reputation and are the only agencies that arrange pick-ups and drop-offs at the airport. Jeep rentals on the island are limited and in high demand, so it is strongly recommended that you reserve a vehicle well in advance.
It is possible to arrange taxi rides in Vieques and there is also a local shuttle system of vans called públicos. Públicos can be identified by yellow license plates ending in “P” or “PD” and are a budget way to travel at $3 per passenger. Keep in mind that they make frequent stops and won’t get you to the remote beaches. If you stay in Esperanza, there are a couple of beautiful public beaches like Esperanza Beach and Sun Bay that are a 5-10 minute walk from town.
There are two main towns on the island: Isabel Segunda and Esperanza. Isabel Segunda is on the northern coast that faces the main island and is closest to the airport and ferry terminal. It is the capital of Vieques and a working town that is home to many businesses, restaurants, and shops. Esperanza is located on the southern Caribbean side with a laid-back vibe reminiscent of Key West. This small town has an ocean-side main street called El Malecón that is dotted with funky inns and restaurants. The wildlife refuge flanks the eastern and western sides of Vieques with some areas that are still closed to the public due to environmental damage. The interior of the island is hilly and dense. Here, you’ll discover smaller barrios, property rentals, and winding roads that lead through lush forest.
- En Route Traveler Google Map: Our favorite spots on the island (see below)
- Vieques.com: In-depth tourist information that covers transportation, sites, and activities
- Vieques National Wildlife Refuge: Visitor information on the park
- Vieques-island.com: Detailed lodging listings (beware a busy site design )
Lara was instilled with the travel bug at an early age and has visited over 25 countries. Her mother’s job as a flight attendant enabled a childhood of seeing the world. In addition to being the founding editor of En Route Traveler, Lara also works as the Art Director for the branding firm, Belmont Inc., in Alexandria, VA. In her spare time, she instructs high-energy Zumba dance classes, contributes as a Local Expert to AFAR, enjoys vegetarian cuisine, dabbles in photography and, of course, travels as much as possible.