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This Caribbean Island Has Secluded White-sand Beaches and a Bioluminescent Bay — No Passport Required

Here’s everything you need to know to plan a trip to Vieques.

<p>Merrill Images/Getty Images</p>

Merrill Images/Getty Images

On the island of Vieques, not a single stoplight stands between leafy, tropical hillsides and some of the best beaches in the Caribbean. Wild horses roam free, waves glimmer with bioluminescence, and dramatic black sands welcome visitors to a Caribbean island that has escaped the test of time.

It's no wonder why Vieques has earned spots on Travel + Leisure readers' annual list of the best Caribbean islands for several years running.



  • Stay at 14-room boutique hotel Finca Victoria — or book a retreat for a wellness-focused vacation.

  • Kayak around Mosquito Bay, known as one of the most vibrant bioluminescent bays in the world.

  • Explore the expansive and ecologically diverse Vieques National Wildlife Refuge.

  • Get a taste of modern Puerto Rican cuisine at Placita.

  • Visit between December and April for pleasant weather and a lively atmosphere.





Vieques is located just six miles off the coast of Puerto Rico and is a part of this U.S. territory, but in many ways, these islands couldn't be more different. "Puerto Rico has an infectious energy and vibrancy. But there's nothing like the deep connection to nature and profound relaxation you'll find in Vieques," says Sylvia DeMarco, the founder of the boutique hotel Finca Victoria located in the lush heart of the island.

<p>John and Tina Reid/Getty Images</p>

John and Tina Reid/Getty Images

An increased flight lift to the Caribbean is making reaching Vieques easier than ever - no passport required for U.S. travelers. Read on for the insider guidance you'll need to plan a trip to the island that feels a world away.



Sylvia DeMarco is the founder of the boutique hotel Finca Victoria in Vieques. 



Related: T+ L's Guide to Visiting Puerto Rico

Best Hotels and Resorts

Vieques has none of the chain hotels or beach resorts found in Puerto Rico, and it's all the better for it. Instead, tiny guesthouses and a slew of new boutique properties offer travelers an intimate connection to the island.

<p>Courtesy of Finca Victoria</p>

Courtesy of Finca Victoria

Finca Victoria

Perched on a lush hilltop in the center of Vieques, Finca Victoria is a modern retreat intimately intertwined with nature. This 14-room boutique hotel offers accommodations ranging from tree houses and cabins to a vintage airstream, all with a healthy dose of breezy Caribbean style and available for short stays or longer ayurvedic retreat experiences. This property made T+L's list of the best new hotels in the world the year it debuted.

El Blok

El Blok has the laid-back attitude of a Caribbean resort with all the style of a modern, design-forward city hotel. Steps from the beach and the oceanfront walkway in the heart of the lively town of Esperanza, El Blok is in the center of all the island's action. The hotel's rooftop pool and bar offer panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea, making it one of the best places in Vieques to watch the sunset with a cocktail in hand.

Hacienda Tamarindo

Sweeping ocean vistas and tropical breezes await at Hacienda Tamarindo, a small but mighty bed-and-breakfast lifted above the shores of southern Vieques. A swimming pool and hearty tropical breakfast are some of the perks of a stay, but the friendly service at this family-focused accommodation is the true highlight.

Things to Do

Kayak in bioluminescent Mosquito Bay.

The most famous attraction in Vieques is Mosquito Bay, where phosphorescent plankton turn the waves into a sea of blue light at what is considered the most vibrant bioluminescent bay in the world. Local tour operators guide visitors by kayak through the glowing waters for an experience that can only be described as magical. Many travelers visit Vieques just to experience this phenomenon, though it's just the start of the island's natural wonders.

Sail, swim, and snorkel.

Getting out on the water is the best way to experience the island of Vieques. Many of the island's most impressive beaches are only accessible by boat, making day trips around the island particularly appealing for beachgoers and snorkelers alike. Vieques is also home to numerous unique diving sites, making it a haven for PADI-certified travelers. Local insiders from PADI recommend visiting Angel Reef, home to nearly pristine coral where divers can spot old Spanish anchors wedged among the rocks.

<p>Bo Shen/Getty Images</p>

Bo Shen/Getty Images

Hit the beach.

Even the island’s most idyllic shorelines are nearly empty during the high season. DeMarco recommends Punta Arenas on the island's northwest coast, as well as Caracas Beach, which landed a spot on T+L's list of the best beaches in the Caribbean. Visitors can't come to Vieques without visiting the aptly named Playa Negra, where jet-black sand sets it apart from the rest of the island's powdery white shores.

Taste local rum.

No trip to the Caribbean is complete without sipping the local rum. Sample the local spirits at Crab Island Rum Distillery, the small yet impressive operation that was the first-ever artisan rum distillery on Vieques. Take a tour or pop into the distillery's shop from Thursday through Saturday between 12 and 8 p.m. The party really gets started on Saturdays, when live music is also on tap.

Reset on a wellness retreat.

Finca Victoria is home to more than just beautiful boutique accommodations; it's also the first and only ayurvedic retreat space in the Caribbean. The hotel's bespoke panchakarma retreats last for a transformative 7-10 days, but the spa is open for massages, herbal baths, and Chinese medicine treatments even for those who aren't staying there.

Best Restaurants

El Quenepo

Located on the beachfront in Esperanza, El Quenepo offers one of the few fine dining experiences on Vieques. An insistence on using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients and the breezy, open-air dining space with Caribbean Sea views keeps it friendly and tropical. El Quenepo is open from Tuesday through Saturday, and reservations are required.

Placita

Hotel El Blok's restaurant Placita is among the most well-respected kitchens in Vieques. Executive chef Alex Espinal offers a menu of modern Puerto Rican cuisine that changes frequently based on the daily catch and ingredients available from local suppliers. The restaurant is open from Thursdays to Mondays, and reservations are recommended.

Tin Box

Hidden behind an unassuming corrugated steel facade, Tin Box is an island favorite serving up the odd combination of delicious barbeque and fresh sushi. It's a formula that somehow works perfectly to keep a packed house at this roadside staple. Calypso nights — on Mondays during high season — are among Vieques' best live music events.

Bananas

Located along the seaside walkway in Esperanza, Bananas feels like the casual beach restaurant every traveler is looking for in a Caribbean vacation. Classic Puerto Rican dishes like mofongo shine, while fresh favorites like fish tacos and coconut flan are menu highlights.

Related: 6 Traditional Foods You Must Try in Puerto Rico

Areas To Visit

"It's impossible to understand the island's unique makeup and geography without understanding its past," shares DeMarco. In the 1940s, the U.S. Navy transformed almost half of the island into a naval base, leaving locals with just a small section of land in the central third of the island. "This led to a more vibrant and populated section of Vieques, and two undeveloped but beautiful ends on either side, which is a makeup that remains today."

Vieques National Wildlife Refuge

When the U.S. Navy began to abandon operations on Vieques in 2001, the lands they left behind became the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. Occupying almost half of the island, the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge is considered the most ecologically diverse wildlife refuge in the Caribbean. "The beaches here remain quite untouched and very pristine, a small benefit of a dark history," says DeMarco. You'll find few amenities along the refuge's undeveloped shores, but fine white sands, nearly devoid of other visitors, make this the best beach destination on the island.

<p>Merrill Images/Getty Images</p>

Merrill Images/Getty Images

Esperanza

Located on the southern coast of Vieques, Esperanza is a small town with lots to see and do. The oceanfront walkway, known as the malecón, is the heart of Esperanza, home to some of the best beachfront restaurants on the island and a smattering of small guesthouses and cool hotels like El Blok. Proximity to many of the island's best beaches and the bioluminescent Mosquito Bay makes Esperanza an appealing base for travelers.

Isabel Segunda

The administrative center of Vieques, Isabel Segunda is located on the northern coast of the island. Home to the island's airport and ferry terminal, Isabel Segunda is most visitors' point of arrival on Vieques. While Isabel Segunda has plenty in the way of shops and conveniences, most travelers tend to pass through on their way to Esperanza and the beaches of the island's southern coast.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Vieques is between December and April, when the days are relatively breezier and sunny skies and clear waters are the norm. Though this is the high tourism season on the island, locals affirm that Vieques never feels crowded like some neighboring Caribbean islands do. Prices are higher at this time of year, but the lively atmosphere and perfect weather are well worth it.

While May through August have a higher chance of wet weather, it is an affordable and peaceful shoulder season worth considering for a trip. During these months, you'll find mostly locals from the main island of Puerto Rico who know what a lovely season this can be for exploring Vieques.

September and October are the island’s low season; these months are also the height of the Atlantic hurricane season. Prices will be at their lowest, but many restaurants and hotels shutter for renovation, upkeep, or a much-deserved break during these quiet months.

Related: Best Times to Visit Puerto Rico 

<p>sdrshn/Getty Images</p>

sdrshn/Getty Images

How to Get There

All transportation to Vieques starts in Puerto Rico, whether you'd prefer to reach the island by water or air.

Ferries to Vieques depart Puerto Rico from the small town of Ceiba, located about an hour and a half east of San Juan. The ferry makes the 35-45 minute journey between the islands several times a day.

Vieques also has a small airport, offering a more hassle-free travel option via quick flights from San Juan. Cape Air flies directly from San Juan's Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport, making these flights the best choice for travelers heading straight to Vieques upon arrival in Puerto Rico. Or, take a Vieques Air Link flight from San Juan's smaller Isla Grande Airport, about a 10-minute drive from San Juan's international airport.

Alternatively, book a catamaran or yacht for a private trip to the island, be it from Puerto Rico or neighboring Caribbean islands. Dream Yacht Worldwide offers charters to Vieques from nearby St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Spend your days leisurely exploring the best beaches and pristine waters of Vieques before heading to other destinations like nearby Culebra with its world-famous Flamenco Beach.

<p>Alberto Coto/Getty Images</p>

Alberto Coto/Getty Images

How to Get Around

There are no Ubers and few taxis on Vieques, meaning visitors should plan on renting a car to explore the island properly. Drivers share the road with golf carts and bicycles, also available for rent (but more challenging for navigating the hilly terrain in the center of Vieques).

More than just any rental car, locals recommend booking a 4x4 vehicle to properly access the island's more remote destinations. Reaching some of the island's best beaches, especially those in the Vieques National Wildlife Reserve, can be a treacherous endeavor without a proper four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Martiza's Car Rental and Vieques Car Rental are among the island's reliable car rental companies. Locals recommend booking a rental car far in advance of your stay, even as soon as you book your accommodations. This is especially true if you're traveling during high season, as it's not uncommon for car rental companies to be entirely sold out during the busiest months in Vieques.

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