3 Days* in VIEQUES
Never has a former bomb-testing site been this appealing. Eight miles off the coast of Puerto Rico, Vieques is bursting with the unexpected. My husband and I spent a spectacular long weekend there one summer and have been dying to go back ever since. Here’s what we loved most:
Day 1* in Vieques
Vieques is dangerously accessible from the U.S. East Coast. From San Juan you can either take a ferry (2-3 hours, $10) or hop on a puddle jumper (15 minutes, $80). We chose the latter and spent the whole flight with our jaws on the ground. The plane was a 9-seater, and the pilot actually let one of us (ME!) sit in the copilot seat. I did not waste time wondering where the copilot was or if I would be called on to perform piloting duties in a pinch. Instead I pressed my nose to the window and slobbered like a golden retriever as we soared over the lush curling coastline and clear Caribbean Sea toward the ‘little sister’ island.
Rent a 4WD vehicle. There are many bumpy dirt roads you’ll want to drive down and the cheaper compact options will not suffice. Once you’ve secured your wheels, take a drive up and down the 12-mile island to get a lay of the land. Vieques is lousy with flowering trees, rolling green fields and wild horses loitering on the streets and beaches. 45 minutes will give you a decent idea of what you’re dealing with.
When it comes to accommodations, there are the cool minimalists (Hix Island House), the trendy tourist hotspots (W Vieques), and the friendly local joints (Hacienda Tamarindo). We opted for Hacienda Tamarindo and were patting ourselves on the back all weekend. Set on a hilltop overlooking the sea, this charming plantation-style inn has big generous rooms with wrought iron balconies and an excellent breakfast (I met a juevo ranchero that changed my life). A help-yourself bar downstairs fueled many a spectacular tipsy sunset, and the staff was always on point.
After your journey you can relax by the pool or catch some shuteye before heading out to dinner to check out Vieques’s surprisingly progressive culinary scene. The Tin Box is a very hip and delicious BBQ spot that serves up super-fresh veggies grown in their backyard garden.
Day 2* in Vieques
So, yes. Breakfast. There are a few daily options from which you can choose, all served on a lovely bougainvillea-lined outdoor dining area. Do ask to try the homemade tamarind hot sauce – it’s also available for purchase if you want to bring some home.
One of our favorite things about Hacienda Tamarindo ended up being the beach provisions they provide: umbrellas, chairs, snorkel gear, yummy packed lunches (I dare you to leave it untouched until noon) and a cooler full of beer.
Once your car is packed, head into the National Wildlife Reserve that occupies the eastern half of the island. The US Navy used this area as a training ground and bomb testing zone from 1941-2003. Do not let this deter you. It’s been incredibly restored and maintained, home to numerous beaches, tucked away down dirt roads, behind thick forest. We definitely had an Alex Garland moment when we stumbled onto Playa Pata Prieta. The sandy beach carves into the forest in a perfect (seriously, perfect) crescent shape and we were the only people there… All day. Swimsuits become optional. We found ourselves alternating between stunned silence and manic giggling. It was quite possibly the best beach day I’ve ever had.
When you've torn yourself away from the beach, seek out a food truck called Sol Food. It was parked conveniently right outside of the reserve when we were there. We sampled the beef and portabello empanadas (excellent) and the outrageously delicious carnitas tacos. It was a challenge not to swallow these whole, juices running down our fingers, gobbling silently.
After you've hosed the salt, sand and pork juice off yourself, proceed to the W Hotel where you can lounge by the fire pit and enjoy the evening breeze with some pricey frozen cocktails.
Day 3* in Vieques
Your last day will be much of the same. You can charter a boat and get to the otherwise unreachable beaches on the eastern side of the island (also a good place for snorkeling and scuba). There is a famous 400-year old Ceiba tree that's worth checking out. Considered sacred by the native Taino people, it has an incredible root system and provides a great spot for a picnic lunch.
For the afternoon set out on a mini gallery hop, first hitting up Galleria de Arte Deda then moving on to the Vieques Museum of Art and History where you can learn a bit about the island’s colonial history.
Catch an early dinner at Next Course a global fusion restaurant on 201 that serves fantastic seafood and comfort dishes like gooey risotto and homemade ice cream sandwiches.
After night has fallen, paddle out into the famed Mosquito Bay. Packed with photosensitive plankton, this bioluminescent bay is considered one of the brightest in the world and is certainly the most dazzling natural wonder on the island. Choose a tour operator who will give you your own kayak and do wear bug repellent – the bay’s name is not incidental.
- Bug repellent
- Light sensitive camera
- Light, breathable clothing
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