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Vieques is the perfect holiday destination. Just 15-20 nm from the US and British Virgin Islands, six nm from the east coast of Puerto Rico, Vieques is one of the Spanish Virgin Islands, also referred to as the "Passage Islands”. Less crowded then their southern counterparts and ringed with white sand beaches, the islands are still relatively untouched by developers and tourists alike.
Take the ferry from Fajardo for $2. Schedules available online: http://www.vieques-island.com/viequesferry.shtml or fly from San Juan, PR for about $180 RT.
Both Spanish and English are the official languages, the U.S. dollar is the local currency and no visas or passports are required to enter Puerto Rico from the United States.
1. The Bioluminescent Bay
The Bio-Bay (Puerto Mosquito) is a ‘Must See’ when you are on Vieques. The bioluminescence is caused by a microscopic one-celled organism called a dinoflagellate, (Pyrodinium bahamense) that emit a bright glow whenever they are agitated, causing a literal micro fireworks display. Due to the narrow opening to the sea, the “dinos” congregate in huge numbers, making the Bio-Bay the best in the Western Hemisphere.
Take the kayak tour with Blue Caribe Kayaks (located on the Malecon just across from the Fishermen’s dock. They provide transportation to the Bay and all the gear. Be prepared for the bumpy ride to the waters’ edge and don’t forget your mosquito repellent! With two guides leading the group, you paddle out into the middle of the wide bay at dusk and if you like, you can swim as well and see as many stars shining around you as above. Best to time your excursion close to the new moon. The tour lasts two hours, enough time to get your fill of this amazing natural phenomenon.
2. BEACHES, BEACHES, BEACHES
Vieques is known as "Isla del Encanto" or enchanted isle and the name is well-deserved due to the many beautiful beaches alone! Here are some favorites:
-Blue Beach, Known for privacy and the little cabanas where you can truly set up your own bit of paradise. Go early to grab one of the cabanas and stay late and take in the view and the tranquil waters.
-Orchid Beach, this is a great beach for exploring. A great spot to watch the nature show unfold. Awesome waves, swaying trees and even the crabs get in the picture as they scurry about.
-Sun Bay, Often written about because it is the only “public” beach on the island. Some days, usually on the weekend there is a $2 per car fee to enter but it’sone of the easiest to get to if you don’t have the time or the proper vehicle to get to some of the more remote beaches. There are food wagons out front so you can buy your meal instead of preparing ahead of time and the unobstructed views are wonderful.
-Green Beach, Not as accessible unless you rent a car, but worth the trip because you have to go through some of the most densely populated vegetation on the island. See how many of the tropical plants and trees you can identify, slow down for the family of paso fino ponies, the prancing descendants of conquistador mounts. At this beach you can create your own adventure as there are many palm and coconut trees to shade you and give you that sense of being “mas afuera”. It’s also a great location for yacht watching.
-Black Sand Beach, yes, Vieques has one of those too. Lay on the sand and soak up the rays in a truly private setting because what makes this beach special to me, is the hunt to find it. First one must find the “secret” path, then you must maneuver around the ancient boulders that look like sleeping sea mammals and then behold gradually the sand changes from white to gray to all black. Gentle warm waters will greet you as a curtain of foliage perched atop the surrounding hills guarantees your privacy.
3. ISLAND HOP
Because of its central location, Vieques is an ideal place to have as your anchor as you explore other nearby islands. Take a day trip to the Puerto Rico and visit the largest rain forest in America. El Yunque rain forest in Fajardo is only a $2 ferry ride or a 10-minute plane ride from Vieques.
Also take a day to visit Vieques' sister island of Culebra, with miles and miles of stunning beaches and the snorkeling and dive sites are possibly some of the Caribbean’s best. Flamingo beach provides the perfect setting for soaking up the rays or camping overnight. Everyone from Puerto Rico with a fast powerboat (known affectionately as the “Puerto Rican Navy”) makes Culebra the weekend party destination of choice. Both Islands are a haven for families from PR, making the atmosphere friendly and safe, yet crowded on weekends.
-For old salts, take a bareboat cruise on a luxurious Lagoon catamaran from Fajardo, PR with SailCaribe Yacht Charters. Experience the unspoiled beauty and quality sailing of the Spanish Virgin Islands.
-First-Timers may want to enjoy a sunset sail onboard Willo with Captain Bill (or on the sailing vessel Marauder (787 435-4858) for a two-hour sail that includes snacks and an open bar for $45/person.787-508-SAIL(7245) or email@example.com).
5. SNORKEL or DIVE
In Vieques two worlds co-exist, one above ground and one below the seas. The island boasts a healthy reef system fed by both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. There is no telling what truly unique experience you will encounter. Don the snorkel gear and prepare to be amazed. The waters around the Vieques are home to an abundance of corals, fishes, sharks, dolphins, turtles, crustaceans and a multitude of other marine life. Key locations include the waters off Cayo Afuera, a small island just off the Malecon in Esperanza; Red Beach and Gringo Beach. If you are visiting by boat, don’t miss Bahia Icacos Island, on the north shore where you’ll find fewer tourists and an abundance of sea life. Once here, you feel mas afuera - far out.
Hiking will get you to gain an appreciation of the voluminous green flora of the island and the ample natural wildlife in Vieques.
Be amazed with the sights and sounds of 140 species of birds on the island. Walk by beautiful wild horses, mongoose, iguanas and watch playful pelicans in the waters.
Go ahead and get lost…it’s a small island, trust me, you won’t be lost for long and you’ll probably make some really great discoveries off the beaten path. Driving must be one of the attractions in Vieques. Many roads lead you to beautiful beach coves, narrow roads with roaming ponies (one of the highlights of Vieques) and the best part of driving - no traffic jams, no traffic lights, just the beautiful surroundings to enjoy. Wander off into neighborhoods and end up on roads where locals sit on their "balcon" (house porch), where “Viequenses” tend to wave their hands, and give you a smile that says "Hola, Bienvenido a Vieques", (Hello, welcome to Vieques!). Be sure to visit the north coast where you will see the old Navy barracks and the man-made caves overgrown with vegetation and disguised as grassy knolls used by the Navy for storage. Go ahead take a peek. Rent a Jeep from Martineau Car Rental near the airport. Take in the nature trails via bike or scooter and discover hidden virgin beaches with clear blue water. (Xtreme Scooter Rental (787) 435-9395, La Dulce Vida (787) 435-3557).
8. EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY
On Vieques there are plenty of local watering holes and eateries where you can enjoy fresh caught seafood or succulent steaks.
-For cheap eats, visit any of the local road-side vendors, such as the ones located outside the gates to Sun Bay beach or along the Malecon at Esperanza. For a quick lunch be sure to stop by Bananas for the best burgers on the island.
-For that special occasion don’t miss the Island Steakhouse where you can enjoy the aromatic outdoor ambiance of the treehouse with panoramic views of the Caribbean shoreline. Go for Happy Hour –Tuesdays from 5-7pm and you may win drinks on the house!
-On weekends you can entertain yourself while amazing your friends at the Mar Azul where the Karaoke machine rules. Join in the fun or be an enthusiastic audience member, either way you won’t be disappointed. And where there is music there is usually dancing. Be sure to get up and shake your groove thing so you can do it all again the next day.
- Don't forget that sunsets are south side these days of winter. Bili, Bananas, Duffys, Lazy Jacks and Tradewinds are all good spots for taking in this spectacular sight.
9. ARTS & CULTURE
Take time to visit some of the galleries owned by local artist or visit the Malecon on the weekend and see what the island has to offer. You’ll be surprised to find some world renowned artists have made Vieques home. Check out the new artist-in-residence program at W Retreat and Spa
10. DO NOTHING
Sometimes you have to force yourself to unplug and for many of us this is truly a challenge. Being, just being requires turning off the cell phone, leaving the computer behind, remembering how to just breathe and be at one with the universe. Give thanks for the opportunity to visit such a truly special island, unload your stress and be reinvigorated for your life back home. Try an Eco-Hip stay at Hix Island House, a luxurious retreat amid the rustic Zen-like architecture of John Hix. (Rates as of November 2010: $140-445).
Article and Photography by Nancy Birnbaum - http://yourcruisingeditor.wordpress.com/