Vieques Puerto Rico is a Caribbean Treasure
We thought we might skip Vieques on our Puerto Rico itinerary to save some money on the trip cost, but everything I read and all the pictures I saw told me to visit the island. And I am sure glad we did. Vieques is an island paradise filled with history, wild horses, amazing beaches, and friendly people.
It’s a small island, and we felt comfortable driving between Isabel II, Esperanza, and the National Wildlife Refuge after only a few days. We snorkeled, swam, ate vegan burgers, explored historical sites, and watched some amazing sunsets.
Here’s how to enjoy Vieques, Puerto Rico in all its grandeur.
How to get to Vieques, Puerto Rico
Vieques is an island off Puerto Rico’s east coast that is not connected to the main island. What’s so great about visiting Vieques? Well first of all, you don’t need a passport to visit this tropical paradise. So it’s simple to travel there (and to Puerto Rico in general). Additionally, Vieques is full of stunning beaches, picturesque cliffs, and interesting history. There are two ways to reach Vieques: a ferry and an airplane.
Take the ferry from Puerto Rico to Vieques
The most popular way to reach Vieques is the ferry from Ceiba. As it’s only a ~40 minute ride, this is ideal for a day trip to the islands (you can also visit the popular island of Culebra from this terminal). You can also use the ferry for multiday trips (I recommend 4-5 days on Vieques), as Vieques Jeep Rental (and others, I’m sure) will pick you up and bring you to your rental. No rental? Fear not! The ferry drops visitors in Isabel II, on the north side of Vieques, where there are restaurants, hotels, and beaches (like Sea Glass Beach).
The ferry cost is inexpensive, and online booking lets you choose one-way or round-trip tickets. You can even bring a bicycle!
If you are taking a day trip to Vieques, ferry trips start early in the morning so you can maximize your time on the island.
Our flight from San Juan to Vieques. 5/30/23.
Flights to Vieques, Puerto Rico
If you’re staying in Vieques for more than a day (which I recommend), you might fly in to Vieques’ little airport. We started our 2 week Puerto Rico trip with a layover in San Juan before taking a tiny “puddle jumper” plane to Vieques. Why go straight to Vieques? Because it saved us the headache of arranging a ferry trip or returning to the airport later to fly to Vieques. In other words, if you make your trip start in Vieques, you save yourself time and headaches later trying to get back there!
We booked our flight to Vieques the same time we booked our flights to Puerto Rico, so it was all on one itinerary. No confusion, no extra planning, and one fun plane ride across the sea. Those planes are seriously small. It was a cool experience.
Obviously flying to Vieques will increase the cost of your trip, but if you can skip the popular ferry for a quick plane ride, it’s well worth it.
Car Rental in Vieques
What’s so great about renting a Jeep in Vieques?
There are so many secluded beaches (especially in the National Wildlife Refuge) that are inaccessible to vehicles that aren’t well-equipped for off-road driving (AKA 4×4). Sure, you can find off-road gold carts that can handle rough terrain, but we didn’t want to be limited by speed or range when visiting the beaches of Vieques.
If renting a Jeep is out of your comfort or price zone (we paid $524.49 for 5 days), or you can’t find any available, you’ll be fine. Vieques is a small island with beaches all over. You’ll still enjoy your time.
However, I recommend renting a Jeep from Vieques Car Rental. Their online reservation is straightforward, they stayed a bit late to pick us up from the airport, and the staff was always friendly. 10/10 experience with their rentals, and we got to see so much of Vieques.
These are the best things a 4×4 car rental allowed us to do…
- Drive to the farthest reaches of the National Wildlife Refuge, on some rough roads, to beaches like La Plata and La Chiva
- Visit Crab Island Rum Distillery, drive under their mango trees, and pick mangos
- Explore the tiny, secluded beaches accessible by dirt road at Crab Island Beach, near the famous Ceiba Tree
- Any vehicle will give you the freedom to explore the historical sites on Vieques such as the Ceiba Tree, Puerto Ferro Lighthouse (the most beautiful place in Vieques, I think), El Fortín Conde de Mirasol, and Hombre de Puerto Ferro.
Vieques is best seen by 4×4 Jeep, and our rental reservation was a (Caribbean) breeze.
Where to stay in Vieques, Puerto Rico
Alright, maybe you’ve got your Jeep rental booked. Now it’s time to find a place to stay. I highly recommend staying on the south side of Vieques, in Esperanza. Both the north and south sides have restaurants and beaches, but the south side is much more charming.
Esperanza is a little strip of low-lying bars, restaurants, tour companies, and the “world’s smallest aquarium” overlooking the Caribbean. You can book bio bay and snorkel tours and walk to beautiful Esperanza Beach. In fact, Esperanza Beach is the only beach in Vieques with hotels and restaurants within walking distance! My favorite part about Esperanza was the walkability and friendly people. We made a few friends during our short stay.
Esperanza has a lovely boardwalk (El Malecon) close enough to the water to dip your toes. In the evenings, the sun sets over low mountains to the west, painting the sky.
The Caribbean view from our balcony (5/31/23) above Duffy’s and a nighttime bio bay tour booth (5/30/23).
Our Vieques Airbnb: Flamboyan Guest House at Duffy’s
Above a tropical, open air bar called Duffy’s is a little guesthouse called Flamboyan. There are multiple rooms in this seaside guesthouse, so if your dates aren’t available, message Alyssa (who was quite helpful during our stay–even providing free snorkel gear and beach chairs!).
While the Esperanza strip can be a little noisy at night, the bars all close pretty early. That doesn’t take care of the roosters, but good luck avoiding roosters in Puerto Rico! There’s enough sunshine and good food in Esperanza to make sure you get a good night’s sleep.
We’re not heavy drinkers, but walking down a staircase to Duffy’s every day for a vegan burger and piña colada made me never want to leave Vieques. The Flamboyan Guesthouse and Duffy’s were memorable and I’m sure to return. Best of all, there’s free parking at the back of the building for your 4×4.
Play Shut The Box With Mike
There’s a guy named Mike we met at Duffy’s one night. He works down the road at Lazy Jack’s, a local hotspot. He was a good friend to make. Mike bought us some (strong) drinks at Lazy Jack’s and showed us how to play Shut The Box. I won’t bore you with the details, but we could’ve played that game all night.
If you stay in Esperanza (which you should), ask at Lazy Jack’s for a guy named Mike.
Hotels in Vieques
If sleeping above a beach bar with Caribbean views and vegan burgers isn’t your thing (huh?), there are some other options in Esperanza. Check these out when you’re planning your trip…
- Finca Victoria: nestled in the lush hills 10 minutes from the beach, La Finca is a wellness-minded retreat with amazing views, vegetarian breakfasts, and Coqui frogs to sing you to sleep at night. We drove past Finca Victoria and, peering through trees, saw how quiet and calm it appeared.
- El Blok: a stone’s throw from Esperanza Beach, El Blok is an upscale hotel perfect for those who want to be right on the beach, but may want more peace than sleeping right on El Malecon, like we did. It’s the first building you’ll notice when driving into Esperanza. We had a round of delicious cocktails here with some friends we met in Vieques.
- Malecón House: at the western end of the boardwalk, this boutique hotel has a clear view of the bay. Walk to Esperanza beaches, activities, and nightlife. Malecón House is lush with avocado, mango, papaya, banana and almond trees, plus tons of flowering plants. A beautiful, serene destination right on the Caribbean Sea.
Things to do in Vieques, Puerto Rico
There is a lot to do and see on this beautiful Caribbean island. There are cliffs and sea turtles to see, lighthouses to visit, a rum distillery, and the best bioluminescent bay tours in the world!
Here are all the things to do in Vieques…
1. Bio bay tours
Another great reason to stay in Esperanza is that it’s where the bio bay tours gather and leave from. So you can just wander across the street for your tour. There are other places in Puerto Rico to do a bio bay tour, but none of famous as Vieques.
Snorkeling in Vieques was a lifetime favorite experience of mine. Now, you can snorkel pretty much every beach in Vieques, but hiring a tour guide can be well worth the cost. They know where to find sea turtles, will point out octopus and stingrays and other critters, and can read the water to give you the best experience. We booked a private tour with Salty Spirit. Ask for Chewy!
For more snorkeling info, read my Vieques Snorkeling Guide right here
3. Go to the beach!
Spend plenty of time relaxing and soaking up the sun. Vieques is for beach bums, and there are a few famous ones you won’t want to miss. The entire island is ringed with amazing, turquoise water and white sand. Some are harder to reach, and others are packed every day with locals and tourists.
One of the reasons I recommend staying in Esperanza is the proximity to great beaches, including all those in the National Wildlife Refuge.
One thing we learned while visiting Vieques is that it experiences a heavy influx of seaweed. Don’t worry, it’s all natural! But it can stink. And it can cover entire beaches. Here’s the secret: if there’s tons of seaweed on the south side of the island, head to the beaches up north. Likewise, heavy seaweed on the north side of Vieques means the south-facing beaches should be less affected. This was true for us: when we first ventured into the wildlife refuge to see some of the secluded beaches, they were mostly covered in seaweed. Up north, however, we discovered our favorite of them all.
My favorite beaches in Vieques
These are the best beaches in Vieques:
- Esperanza Beach. If you’re staying in Esperanza, this amazing beach is right across the street, on the east end of El Malecón (again, the boardwalk). Watch the sunset from the pier, or walk out around the bay to the rocky mangrove forest. The water is crystal clear; you’ll see plenty of little fish. I think this is one of the best beaches in Vieques ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ because it’s so close to the amazing little town of Esperanza, and it’s a fun, pleasant walk from where we stayed.
- Playa El Gallito. Gallito (right here on Google Maps) was the last beach we’d visited in Vieques, but it turned out to be our favorite. The water was flat, the sand was white, and there were only a few locals at the end of the day, as the sun set. It’s a small beach with limited parking along a main road, so it might also suit you to visit at the end of the day, when it’s clearing out. But we were quite smitten with Gallito Beach ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐.
Sea Glass Beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico. 5/31/23
- Sea Glass Beach. Sea Glass Beach is hidden in Isabel II. It’s known for the unusual amounts of sea glass that wash ashore here, and even at the end of the day, the completely empty beach gave us our own little treasure trove. The homes alongside Sea Glass Beach are beautiful. We found a parking spot right here, but I’m not sure where a visitor might park when the beach is busy. Get there early in the day and fill your pockets with sea glass! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
- Playa Caracas (formerly “Red Beach”). The first beach you’ll pass in the wildlife refuge is Playa Caracas ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐. It’s a wide beach with plenty of parking, gazebos, and white sand. It’s also easy to access, not requiring a 4×4 vehicle. This was the first beach we hung out at, and even while the south side of the island was covered in seaweed, Caracas was not. We got there super early and didn’t see anyone else till around 9am.
Playa Caracas, Puerto Rico. 5/31/23
- Black Sand Beach (PLaya Negra). To reach Black Sand Beach, park right here across the street from a nice little art gallery that’s worth checking out. To the left of this art gallery, you’ll see a big sign and a trailhead (right here). A pretty trail leads down to the sea, rainforest walls climbing on each side. At the bottom, the walls open onto Playa Negra ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐. The black sand might be hiding under the surface, but kick it aside to see the natural wonder. Just down the road from Playa Negra is a very rough road that leads to an overlook of the sea. We saw wild horses in the water and climbing the cliffs. Majestic! If you have a 4×4 vehicle, that overlook is right here.
- Punta Arenas. Formerly called “Green Beach,” Punta Arenas ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ is the best place to snorkel in Vieques, according to our local guide. After going, we agree! We saw sea turtles, octopus, a stingray, and the underwater ruins of train tracks. If you’re looking for a beach with snorkeling, Punta Arenas is perfect. However, our Jeep rental agreement prevented us from going to two beaches, and this was one of them. Our Salty Spirit tour took us here for snorkeling, though, and I recommend visiting it.
- Every beach in Vieques National Wildlife Refuge! The best way to experience all the beaches in the wildlife refuge (of which there are quite a few good ones), is to rent a 4×4 vehicle. With an off road vehicle, you can enter the refuge here and drive along the main road. Every beach you could care to check out will be on your righthand side. Drive all the way to Playa La Plata, a well-loved Vieques beach. On your way back, hit the other popular beaches like Playa La Chiva, Blue Beach, and Caracas. THIS is a day well spent.
- Puerto Ferro Lighthouse. While not on many lists of best Vieques beaches I’ve read, Puerto Ferros Beach (below this lighthouse) was the most beautiful beach we visited in Puerto Rico. It wasn’t swimmable because of seaweed (and the water was rougher than other beaches), but just look at the below pictures and tell me you don’t want to check it out. You can hit this scenic lighthouse and beach on your way out of the wildlife refuge, too. Just make a turn right here.
Puerto Ferro Lighthouse & Beach, Vieques. 6/1/23
4. Visit Lighthouses
We visited two beautiful lighthouses in Vieques. The first I mentioned above: Puerto Ferro Lighthouse. It’s perched right here on massive cliffs over the Caribbean with a narrow path leading to a scenic, rugged beach. Puerto Ferro Lighthouse is one of my favorite places in all of Puerto Rico.
Another lighthouse is on the north side of Vieques: Punta Mulas Lighthouse. This lighthouse (located right here) is closed, but a guy washing his motorcycle told us to sneak through a gap in the fence. And I’m glad we did. The lighthouse is on a large parcel of land that looks over the Atlantic. Just like Puerto Ferro, it’s high above the sea on cliffs. On the west side of the property, a grassy terrace overlooks the Vieques ferry. A beautiful spot!
Be warned, the inside of Punta Mulas Lighthouse is a bit nightmarish. You’ll see what I mean when you get there. Are you brave enough to climb the inside stairs to the top?
5. Learn the History of Vieques
El Hombre de Puerto Ferro
Did you know Vieques has its own Stonehenge? And that a 4,000 year old skeleton was unearthed in the center of these massive stones? It’s a 10-15 minute stop off a main road, so you don’t have to set aside a whole day to see this archaeological site. The boulders are quite unusual for the area, indicating they may have been placed there. The dirt road turns off of 997 right here. Check it out! It’s just a few minutes drive down a bumpy dirt road.
Fortin Conde de Mirasol
“The Last Spanish Fort Built in the Americas” watches over Vieques, and should be visited by every tourist in Vieques. It tells the history of the island through art in a restored Colonial style fort. There are cannons, old walls, ocean views, and a lovely garden perfect for pictures.
The fort is small enough to explore inside an hour, though we spent longer. Most of our time was inside, learning about the fight to remove the American military from the island. This fort was a very well-spent afternoon.
Fortin Conde de Mirasol is free, so make it a stop on your stay in Vieques.
The Ceiba Tree
Between 300 and 400 years old, the sacred Ceiba Tree lives near Crab Island Beach on the north side of Vieques. It’s a famous site for tourists and is generally a grazing area for wild horses. It’s huge and has shady benches to relax.
Sugar Cane Industry Ruins
Before the United States Navy occupied and dropped thousands of bombs on Vieques, there was sugar cane. You can see remnants of this industry in various ruins around the island. For example, there is a damaged pier and sunken train tracks on the seafloor at Punta Arenas. Playa Grande Sugar Plantation ruins are on the west side of the island. You can explore them yourself by following a trail near Playa Grande Beach.
6. Visit the World’s Smallest Aquarium (and Gift Shop).
The Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust is a tiny museum, aquarium, and gift shop in Esperanza, on the south side of the island. It’s a quick stop to make after lunch and was right next to Flamboyan Guesthouse, where we stayed. There’s a great map on the outside wall that shows many points of interest in Vieques.
Crab Island Rum Distillery, Vieques. 6/2/23
7. Taste Local Rum at Crab Island Distillery
Buy a flight of rum samples, get some food, and check out their small gift shop. We’re not big drinkers, so we were just as excited for the large field with mango trees and wild horses at the entrance. But if you like rum, check it out! It’s a short drive from The Ceiba Tree and Crab Island Beach.
How Long to Stay in Vieques
Stay in Vieques for 4-7 days. If you stay less than four days, I don’t think you get to hang out on the beach enough. And while I could have stayed more than seven days, you can see and do it all in seven days.
Vieques is perfect for beach bums. If you’re a beach bum, you could probably live on Vieques. But in seven days you can visit the best beaches like Sea Glass, Playa Negra, Esperanza, and Playa Gallito (and all the others), while still taking in some sights, food, and history.
Some people might think 7 days is too long, but I disagree. At the end of our 2 week Puerto Rico trip, I felt like we didn’t spend as much time as expected just laying on the beach. So maximize your beach time in paradise on Vieques.
Vieques Budget: What We Spent in 5 Days
We flew straight in to Vieques from San Juan, saving some time and planning, but increasing our cost. Our round-trip flights from Raleigh, NC to Vieques cost $1,682.60. By using the ferry, you can save a good amount of money. This does require some extra planning and travel, though, and any car you rent on the main island of Puerto Rico can’t come with you on the ferry. My recommendation: pay the extra money and fly in.
Here are some of our other Vieques costs:
- Flights: $1,682.60
- Jeep Rental: $524.49 (plus $15 spent on gas)
- Private Snorkeling Tour: $315.60
- Flamboyan Guesthouse Airbnb, Esperanza: $617.70
- Souvenirs & Museum Donation: $102.98
- Food and Drinks: $930.04 (this included one expensive $463.87 dinner with friends at delicious El Quenepo)
- Total: $4,188.41
Our food and drinks expenses were doubled by one dinner, so obviously you can save some money there. Here are a few more ways to save money on your Vieques trip:
- Travel during off-season
- Take the ferry to Vieques instead of flying
- Book group snorkeling instead of private
- Rent an off road golf cart instead of a Jeep, or skip the vehicle rental
- Skip souvenirs for friends and family, they’ll be ok
- Drink less piña coladas
- Avoid upscale restaurants like El Quenepo
Poems From Vieques
White sand curves around the bay
and like the sea I’m smiling
salt water in my ears and nose
reasons to spend all night
in a tiki bar
for me the sun
Tourists marvel and snap
old men and bartenders
laugh at the sea
but you and I
front row seats
we’ll always be
The evening view from Esperanza Beach in Vieques.
lapping at white sand
the birds and breeze and sea
Creation’s sun-soaked band
I don’t feel like I’m on vacation
I feel like I’m right at home
Vieques never felt foreign
two seas sitting beside me
I’m not alone
Sunset is Creation’s crescendo
building and building
to the pinnacle of awe
Grey clouds lit purple and pink
golden light without flaw
and the sea foam champagne
I toast the sea and all her wonder
every perfect oil canvas
a seaside sunset puts asunder
Sunset on Vieques
in the rocks and mangroves we stir
fiddling in our shells
distant blenders purr
And the hum of Esperanza
hasn’t yet climbed its throne
the sun it setting now
and over the Caribbean
it never sets alone