A Guide to Vieques, Puerto Rico
Though I still think of myself as just skimming the surface, I have traveled to a few places. None of those places, however, (at least outside of the continental US) are tropical. I've found myself wrapped up in a thousand layers in London in December, or slugging around in my (beloved) bean boots in Iceland in February. So, basically doing the opposite of this collective island-in-the-sun dream vacation that I assume we all share. Finally, last December I happily traded in my hats and gloves for bathing suits and flip-flops as I packed my bags for Puerto Rico.
Last Christmas I was invited to my fiance's family trip (think: 11 people) to celebrate the holidays in Vieques, Puerto Rico. For obvious, and maybe not so obvious reasons, Vieques was unlike anywhere else I had ever been.
BEFORE YOU GO
Getting to Vieques: For about $220 round trip, you can fly directly from San Juan to Vieques in about 25 minutes. Make sure to have your camera ready as the views are incredible. This was our mode of transportation, and while it seemed to be just another day in the office for our pilot, we felt like we were flying over Jurassic Park. You can also take a ferry from Fajardo, a town on Puerto Rico's east coast. Should you choose this route, be sure to plan ahead as Fajardo is at minimum an hour drive from San Juan.
There are two main towns: Isabel ll, the island's capital, and Esperanza, a more touristic area on the south side. Both offer something different, and they're relatively close to each other. Isabel II gives you a real raw and exciting feel for Vieques, whereas Esperanza is a little bit more mellow. IMO Isabel wins for eating out/grocery shopping, and Esperanza wins for umm...everything else.
There are wild horses EVERYWHERE: And they will run in front of your car, and they will stick their heads in your car windows, and watching them gallop along the shoreline will never get old.
Vieques is home to a lot of expats: You know how each year when we're, like, one week into winter, you reach your winter quota and you're like 'okay I'm moving to a tropical island'? Well, Vieques is home to many people who weren't just talking the talk (me). There are a lot of English speakers on the island, and while it's always good to brush up on your language skills before visiting other countries, you'll get by just fine with your high school level Spanish.
WHERE TO EAT IN VIEQUES
Buen Provecho: Going into town meant two things were about to happen: We'd be making a stop at this little grocery store/cafe/bar, and we'd inevitably run into the same people we'd seen every day before. There's a very lively sense of community on Vieques. We would see the same people who served us coffee at the farmers market, at the beach, or out dancing.
Coqui Fire Cafe: The food here is drool-worthy. My niece got the burrito, and honestly, I'm still a little bitter because as a three-year-old I just don't think she fully appreciated the cheesy goodness of it all. I got the ahi tuna which was 10/10 and I'd eat it every day for the rest of my days if I could.
Make Your Own Meals: With eleven people, going out to eat for every meal was less than feasible. So, about half of our meals were home-cooked using mostly local and sustainable ingredients. One of my very favorite moments of the trip happened as we were making our way back from the dock where we watched schools of tarpon swim. We stopped as we saw a lobster boat coming into shore and watched as they moved the lobsters from boat to bucket. We ended up snagging a few for dinner that night, and needless to say, all 11 Mainers felt a little closer to home that night. ***(Although spiny lobster has nothing on Maine lobster).
WHAT TO DO IN VIEQUES
New Day, New Beach: Vieques has a beach for everyone, and they are all swoon-worthy. For the little ones: Media Luna. For my black sand beach affinity: Playa Negra. For any "hardcore" body surfers your group: Navio. For the crystal clear water (and potential of seeing horses along the beach!): La Chiva. And for everything in between, Sun Bay.
Discover the Bioluminescence: A major highlight of our trip was going on a Bioluminescent Tour in Mosquito Bay, the brightest bio bay in the world. Once you get set up and in the water, you'll feel like you've been dropped right into a scene from Fantasia. he bioluminescent organisms completely lit up any movement in the water. Every fish, stingray, and shark (yes, shark) that swam by was completely illuminated. It was so surreal, and in every sense of the word, LIT.
WHERE TO STAY IN VIEQUES
Vista Linda: The gorgeous villa is nestled on top of a hill in west-central Vieques, gated off from the main road, and set just high enough to see the sunrise over the Caribbean. For every palm tree, there are like 5 hibiscus trees, and we were literally greeted by the neighbors with a papaya from their garden. If you're visiting with a large group, and have access to a car this is definitely an amazing spot.
El Blok Hotel: Located in Esperanza, and nestled next to a strip of restaurants, El Blok sits in all of its swanky glory. This boutique hotel boasts beautiful architecture, a rooftop bar which overlooks the water, and excellent food. With its embrace of minimalism, you won't find any phones or t.v.'s in the rooms, making it an ideal place to disconnect.