Green Beach, Vieques: Snorkeling with Salty Spirit
After breakfast at Café del Mar, we wandered down Calle Flamboyan, looking for Salty Spirit, who we’d booked our snorkeling tour with. We’d booked the night before, paying $275.60 for a private tour for two (you can also check out my total Puerto Rico trip cost).
We found Chewy, a layback, smiling local who would be our guide. Chewy showed us to his bus, and we climbed in. Surely the bus was accustomed to a full tour group, but Chewy didn’t seem to mind having just us two. He talked the whole drive, and when he found out we love mangos, he detoured to his friend’s house to pick some right from a tree.
This wasn’t our first time witnessing the friendliness of locals on Vieques, but it was very special.
Chewy taught us a lot about Vieques and Puerto Rico on our drive to Punta Arenas (“sandy point,” formerly called Green Beach). He told us there were 32 species of mango on Vieques, mongooses weren’t brought here for snakes but to keep pests off the sugar cane, and that there are caves and treasures south of the airport road. Chewy taught us about different types of crabs and mangroves on the long dirt road to Punta Arenas, and he told us about island life: free diving for lobster and cooking it in seagrape leaves; cooking rice inside a coconut over a beach fire; and visiting inaccessible beaches on Vieques’ bomb-riddled east side in his boat.
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Sea Glass Beach is one of the best beginner snorkeling spots in Vieques.
The Best Snorkeling in Vieques (According to Chewy)
You can snorkel right off most Vieques beaches, but some are better than others. According to our tour guide, these are the beaches with the best snorkeling in Vieques:
- Punta Arenas (formerly Green Beach)
- Mosquito Pier
- Sea Glass Beach
- Playa La Chiva (Blue Beach)
Vieques is an island ringed with amazing, picturesque beaches. And most of them are good for snorkeling. The waters around the island are calm and filled with sea life. One of our first stops on Vieques was Playa Caracas, and there were a few people who showed up to snorkel (you’ll need a 4X4 vehicle to reach many of the best beaches on Vieques–we used Vieques Car Rental with great success).
Chewy first took us past the famous Ceiba Tree at Crab Island Beach to Mosquito Pier to assess the waters. Too rough, he said. So we kept driving to the northwest corner of the island, Punta Arenas.
The road to Punta Arenas (Green Beach) is rough, and our jeep rental forbade us from taking the rental down that road. Chewy’s small bus did just fine, and I heard the jeep rental restrictions were a bit outdated. Still, we waddled slowly down the road, crabs dancing alongside in the mangroves.
Arriving at the beach, we saw one other small group of eager snorkelers. It was quiet, the water was calm, and Chewy told us where we’d see sea turtles: a bit past the reef in an undersea pasture of grasses. He wondered what else we might spot, and led us into the ocean.
Punta Arenas has the most accessible snorkeling in Vieques. After rubbing some baby shampoo on our goggles, we waded out, eventually floating our way gently to the left. A current runs left to right at Green Beach, so our reef adventure required very little effort. After reaching a depth of 15-20 feet, we turned and let the current push us to the right, floating above the grasses and reef. Before the current carried us into an old railroad pier, we turned back to shore.
Critters and Such: What We Saw Snorkeling on Vieques 🐢
The best part of our Vieques snorkeling excursion was the sea turtles. They were right where our guide, Chewy, said they’d be: just past a reef in a grassy undersea pasture. The turtles would munch for a few minutes before surfacing for a breath, within arms reach of us a couple times. We saw two different species of sea turtle, the hawksbill and green sea turtle.
You can learn all about the different types of sea turtles around Puerto Rico right here. And did you know SEE Turtles offers volunteer vacations and conservation expeditions where anyone can join hands-on efforts to save sea turtles, while enjoying beautiful beaches and destinations? Learn more right here.
We also saw plenty of conch shells, beautiful underwater flowers, and skittering fish. We saw an octopus and a stingray, too. The stingray was pretty neat: it lay just beneath the sand with only its eyes (and a faint outline) showing through the sand.
For history lovers, see if you can spot the ruins of train tracks on the seafloor at Punta Arenas. The island was once a producer of sugar cane (that’s why there’re mongooses all over–to protect the crops. You won’t see many snakes on Vieques) and the tracks were a small port where it was exported. Still visible are the remnants of a railroad pier where the sugarcane was loaded off the island.
Vieques is full of historical curiosities (and atrocities), and our snorkeling trip only added to the allure.
Out of the Water: Mangos on the Beach
It didn’t matter that the mango skin was bitter, he assured us.
Tasting fresh picked mango after an hour floating on the salty sea at Punta Arenas was the sweetest treat I’d ever tasted. Don’t go snorkeling without a mango in your beach tote bag. Sun ripened (us and the mangos) sweetness ended a perfect Vieques snorkeling adventure with Salty Spirit.
Snorkeling Green Beach was my favorite part of our stay on Vieques (and even of our entire Puerto Rico trip). Don’t visit Puerto Rico without going to Vieques, and don’t visit Vieques without taking a snorkeling excursion. And if you’re going to snorkel on Vieques, take a private tour with a friendly local named Chewy.
My only regret is not taking a photo with him, though I’m sure to go back and see him again.
There is snorkeling all around Esperanza, Vieques.
Do I Need Experience to Snorkel in Vieques?
Absolutely not! My wife did not consider herself a strong swimmer when we landed in Vieques. Snorkeling with a guide actually gave her more confidence in the water. Even youngsters and inexperienced swimmers will be safe in 15+ feet of water (which is about the depth we saw sea turtles). Lifejackets and a confident guide will make you feel safe. She loved snorkeling!
Essential Snorkeling Gear
You don’t need to bring snorkeling gear from home on your trip to Vieques, or to anywhere in Puerto Rico for that matter. If you’ve got favorite a favorite swim mask, snorkel, and fins, sure! bring them. But our guide provided all the needed gear, and every Airbnb we stayed at during our 2 week trip offered snorkeling gear. Also, most stores near the beach sell gear.
That being said, there’re some things I wouldn’t go on a snorkeling adventure without.
- A mango. Seriously, a mango after swimming in the Caribbean was one of the greatest things I’ve ever tasted. Plus, the ocean is right there so you can wash your face and hands clean of the mango juice. Bite right into that bitter skin for the amazing sweetness beneath.
- A well-fitting, athletic swimsuit. I will never use another swimsuit other than Bearbottom Stretch Swim Shorts. I’d never worn them before our trip to Puerto Rico, and I’d almost bought Chubbies instead. My Bearbottom’s are amazing (I wear them for much more than beach-going now) and are very reasonably priced.
- Sunscreen! You’ll be floating on your stomach for an hour staring at all the critters on the seafloor, so cover your whole body in sunscreen, with special attention to your back and shoulders. Get something reef-friendly like Blue Lizard Mineral Sunscreen, which is free of harmful chemicals and fragrances.
- Sunglasses. You might not bring them with you into the water, but always keep a good pair of inexpensive, quality sunglasses in your bag for before and after snorkeling. Protect your eyes! Goodr makes quality polarized sunglasses meant for sweat and sunshine that don’t break the bank. Tap here to check out their best-sellers on Amazon.
- A booney hat. This tip is especially for the bald gentlemen like me. Bring a bucket hat when you’re traveling to any beach! A nice sun hat protects your ears, neck, head, and eyes. Get something like this one from Columbia. A five panel hat is great at the beach, too, but I prefer the full coverage of a booney hat.
- Good walking sandals. Many of the beaches on Vieques are pretty remote and rugged to get to. We drove right up to Punta Arenas and didn’t need to do much walking, but throughout our stay on Vieques we were glad to have our Teva sandals (shop mens | shop womens) which love water and walking around as much as we do. Water and dirt friendly sandals came in handy when hiking and exploring waterfalls in El Yunque. These are the ONLY shoes my wife wore on the whole trip.
- A 4X4 vehicle. If you’re visiting Vieques, rent a 4X4 vehicle like a Jeep. There are so many beaches down rough, rugged roads inside the National Wildlife Refuge you’ll want to visit, including Playa Chiva (Blue Beach) and Punta Arenas (Green Beach).
- A tour guide. A tour guide will point out the camouflaged octopus, hiding stingrays, and interactive seafloor plants. Plus, there’s no better to way to ensure you spot sea turtles.
After you visit Vieques, let me know where you enjoyed snorkeling.
Finally, before you go, read my guide to visiting Vieques.