Vieques Island is located just eight miles east of Puerto Rico and is definitely the place where you should head to get away from it all. Escape everyday life stressors to enjoy Vieques beauty, quiet, and pristine beaches. The whole island feels like it is your own. This would be a great wedding destination or an easy escape from the east coast for three days or more.
Christopher Columbus first spotted Vieques in 1493. Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, a little less than 10,000 people inhabit the island. The military controlled the ends of the island for over 60 years and soldiers would come for invasion practice and testing for weeks at a time. Since they left in the 1970s and the Navy passed control of the land in 2003 to the Department of the Interior, the Fish and Wildlife Administration have been cleaning and combing the eastern and western ends of the island while opening up more beaches to the public making Vieques the largest national refuge in the Caribbean. Today there are six elementary schools and one high school on Vieques and babies can now be born on the island.
Top 9 Reasons to Head to Vieques Island, Puerto Rico
1. Untouched Land
There are no crowds. The untouched land and beaches are how it should be when you go on vacation – peaceful! There are no miles of built-up hotels and people taking over your beach spot. There are many beaches that can be all yours. There are no massive cruise ships dropping off annoying people and no one to harass you on the beach. No theaters, fast food, malls, or traffic lights exist on the island. It is truly a recently discovered paradise. Real tropical sandy beaches surrounded by wild native flora should make this one of your top Caribbean destinations.
2. The W Hotel Retreat and Spa
This fabulous property, which is only one of several W Retreat and Spas (others include the Maldives Islands, Koh Samui, and Bali) opened on the north side of the island on the Atlantic Ocean two years ago and is the only major resort on the island. The property sits on a mini cliff with several beaches on the Atlantic so the beaches have some rough waves. One of the beaches is an adults-only beach, although I barely saw any children at the resort. Known for their luxe bars, gorgeous decor, impeccable amenities, this W Retreat property has an infinity pool, spa, several stores, numerous food options. There is also a spa, several stores, and an activity shop where one can can get complimentary tennis rackets and snorkel gear. You can also sign up for organized trips like the memorable kayaking snorkeling adventure we went on ($100) or a hiking excursion to a deserted beach.
Rooms a the W Retreat and Spa start at $400 and in hurricane season start at $189. The busiest time on Vieques Island is Thanksgiving through March.
3. Beaches and Marine Life
Many beaches on the other side of the island from the W property are just a 20-minute drive. The beaches are clean with soft white sand and crystal clear waters on the Caribbean Sea. There is little evidence of garbage anywhere. The farthest drive on the island takes 35 minutes to the Blue Beach (known for its exceptional snorkeling). Most roads to the beaches are unpaved. Some of my favorite beaches on the Caribbean side are Esperenza Beach, Sombe (Sun Bay), Playa Pata Prieta (at the end are numerous balanced rock statues), Caracas (Red Beach) and Orchid Beach where we kayaked a mile into open ocean waters to snorkel and delight in the spectacular sea creatures, like a four foot nurse shark, a black tip reef shark, a stingray and brightly colored fish.
Valuables should not be left in cars. The fancy clean new jeeps rentals let everyone on the island know you are a tourist. They are building a visitor center near the beaches where there is also a food truck called Sol Cafe nearby where you can grab food. Jeeps can be rented via Avis at the W Hotel Retreat at the Black Beard Sports Shop starting at $69 a day or independently at www.avis.com or by calling 800-230-4898 (reference code “V5S” or “Vieques, Puerto Rico).
4. Bioluminescent Bay
This special bay is the brightest one left in the world. It exists on Vieques because the island has not suffered light pollution or tourism effects. The natural phenomena of this blue-green light (which I have seen on the beaches of San Diego and in the ocean before) occurs because of 720,000 single-celled bioluminescent dinoflagellates per gallon of water. These half-plant, half-animal organisms emit a flash of bluish light when agitated at night. The high concentration of these creatures (Pyrodimium bahamense) can create enough light to read a book fromI heard originally you could swim in the bay at night making sure to have no sunscreen, no lotion, or other chemicals on your skin (which is dangerous to the bay), but someone was bitten by a fish. Now people can dip their hands and hair into the water via a boat or kayak to see the phosphorescent glow twinkle on their skin or hair in the nighttime. Unfortunately, this glow can not be captured by a camera. Make sure to use a licensed boat carrier (kayak, electric boat or fisherman’s boat) to see this natural wonder. Unfortunately, since there was a full moon we did not make the nighttime trek to the bay because the glow could not be observed.
5. Plant Life and Animals
Rhododendrons grow wild. They start out green, then turn red. Who would’ve thought our beloved Christmas plant grows wild in the Caribbean? The Flamboyan trees with their orchid-like bright red flower clusters are in full bloom during the rainy season and summer months. Mongoose and iguanas can be seen all over the island. I heard the joyful tunes of the coqui tree frogs each night, which is the national symbol of Puerto Rico. It was neat to see wild horses with white little white egrets surrounding them everywhere around the island. Be careful while driving since the cattle, horses, roosters, and dogs roam free. I also saw in town a sign for cockfighting. For an excellent informative island tour experience, contact Letty Perez, a native who left and spent many years in Connecticut and came back to her home. You can also email her at LettyPerez@KianiTours.com
Not only does the W offer room service, an amazing breakfast buffet (eggs, bacon, French toast, homemade juices, granola, cereals, yogurt, cheese, fruits, pastries, and everything else you can imagine) and breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes of your choice, but the island also offers some great local cuisine.
The W Cafe has an impressive array of delicious gourmet meals from healthy sandwiches, wraps, salads, and fresh fruit smoothies. Their picnic baskets to go are perfect for an island that is not going to have restaurants, bars, or facilities on the beach. The signature restaurant at the W is called miX on the beach boasts the first chef (Ducasse) in 60 years to win six of the coveted Michelin stars at once. Open for breakfast and dinner, miX on the beach includes indoor and outdoor dining that offers guests a colorful twist on Latin Caribbean and French cuisine. Light and sexy dishes including grilled fish and imported meats visually reveal pure and local flavors. The restaurant’s wine cellar is stellar, boasting a selection of premium wines from around the world. There is also a lovely firepit area overlooking the ocean to enjoy food and drinks.
La Pescadora is another incredible W Retreat dining option that Features a fresh-catch seafood menu updated daily where guests can gather on the Retreat’s secluded beach for breezy al fresco dining atop a wooden deck surrounded by an over-sized bonfire and Caribbean-inspired tiki torches. While enjoying views of the Atlantic Ocean, exotic dishes are prepared at on-site grills, while signature cocktails, specially-selecting samplings of rum and tequila and the Retreat’s homemade sangria are served.
One restaurant I recommend you try if you plan to leave the W Retreat is El Quenepo in the tiny town Esperanza where every dish that came out was incredible.
7. AWAY Spa at W Retreat
Revive your sanity by heading to the 6,000 square foot separate spa pavilion on the ocean. After my massage, I took a private outdoor shower that is part of each massage room, then sat by the calming crashing sea and had a cup of tea in my robe. Manicures and pedicures are offered in a sunken room. The spa itself is designed in a way so guests feel secluded and calmed with gardens, pools, and eight private indoor/outdoor treatment rooms.
8. Mini 30 minute breathtaking flight over from Puerto Rico
One must take a “puddle jumper” or small airplane with breathtaking views to get to Vieques Island from San Juan International Airport. The Cape Air flight was about 30 minutes and a 5-minute drive to the W Retreat. The Cape Air plane we flew over held about 8 people. The aerial views over the ocean were heart pumping. I learned that there is also a ferry for $4 that will take you over from eastern Puerto Rico that takes about one hour, which the locals use.
Major carriers, including American Airlines, Jet Blue and Continental, provide interline service with transfer of luggage all the way through to Vieques. When booking travel on American Airlines (www.aa.com), select “all carriers” under the “more flight search options” section on the homepage to view available Cape Air flight segments. For travel on Jet Blue (www.JetBlue.com) and Continental (www.continental.com), search “Vieques, PR (VQS)” for available connections. To book flight segments separately, contact Cape Air directly at www.flycapeair.com or 866-227-3247/ 508-771-6944. Travel arrangements can also be made through Expedia and Orbitz.
The daytime temperatures year-round range from 80-90 degrees. The rainy season occurs during two periods of roughly October – November and May – June.
It was said that St. Bart’s was once like this island a few decades ago before the trendsetters discovered it. There are not many places left in the world like Vieques Island. Hopefully, its charm will be preserved for years to come.