Oaxaca mural

Oaxaca mural

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Island of Vieques

A couple posts ago I wrote that I was not a "beach person".  But today's entry is going to include more pictures of beaches.  Go figure!

Just eight miles off the eastern shore of Puerto Rico is the little island of Vieques.  Just twenty one miles long by four miles wide, Vieques is Puerto Rican territory.  During World War II, the United States Navy took over two thirds of the island and established a base here.  After the war the Navy continued using the island as a firing range and a testing ground for bombs and missiles.  The local population protested the expropriation of their land, and the protests intensified and gained national attention after a civilian employee of the Navy was killed by a misfired bomb in 1999.  Under pressure, in 2003 the Navy closed the base.  The former military area was designated a national wildlife refuge. Most of it is open to the public except for a portion which is deemed as contaminated due to weapons testing. Since the Navy's withdrawal, the island has become a destination for tourists seeking an undeveloped tropical island of beautiful beaches.

In 2008 when a friend and I visited Puerto Rico, we included a couple days on Vieques.  The island is accessible by ferry boat or by small plane from San Juan.  We flew to the island, and it was quite an experience.  The plane carried perhaps a dozen passengers, and my friend sat next to the pilot.

There are two towns on the island.  We stayed at the smaller of the two, Esperanza, which is located on the southern shore.  It was the complete antithesis of over-developed resorts like Cancun.  There were no high-rise hotels; just small guest houses.  There were a few restaurants and even fewer tourist shops.

Along the shore at Esperanza

To explore the island it's necessary to rent a jeep since the roads into the wildlife refuge are unpaved.

This was one of the better stretches of road.
The most accessible and most "crowded" of the beaches is Sun Bay Beach.
Heading further out along the shore, we came to this beautiful beach.  We were the only people there!
However, the beaches of Vieques were not our reason for coming to this island.  Unfortunately, I have no photos of its most unique attraction, the Bioluminescent Bay.  The waters of this inlet are the home of a micro-organism known as a dinoflagellate.  At night these tiny creatures glow when the water is disturbed.
We had scheduled our visit to Vieques to coincide with the new moon because the darker the night, the better the luminescence.  We signed up for a tour to the bay.  An old school bus took us over a deeply rutted road to the shore where we boarded a small boat.  In the middle of the bay we were allowed to jump into the water.  As I would lift my arms out of the water the drops of water glowed like sparkling gems.  It was a truly magical experience.
I hope in the years since then that this little island has remained relatively undeveloped. 


  1. Your photos from Vieques don't look too different from mine--in fact, I have a photo of the shore in Esperanza that looks almost exactly like yours--so the island hasn't changed much yet. (I was there this year, in February.) We stayed in Isabel Segunda, but we probably visited every major beach on the island while we were there. It was amazing to have beaches all to ourselves at times!

    I am a bit jealous that you got to swim in the water during your bio bay tour. No one's allowed to do that anymore. But we did get to stick our hands in while we kayaked, so we enjoyed splashing ourselves with "light droplets." I also don't have any pictures of that, and it was certainly the highlight of our trip. It really was a magical experience!

    1. Hi Meredith,
      I remembered that you went to Vieques last winter, and I was thinking of you while I wrote the post. Glad to hear that the island still has not become overdeveloped, but sorry to hear that you didn't get to swim in the bay. But, if it protects the environment, I suppose it's a good thing. How were the roads to the more remote beaches? We didn't get to all of them because the roads were so bad.

    2. The roads to the beaches were still awful. We rented a Jeep, but we still had a tough time navigating some of the roads. The worst one was to Green Beach on the western side of the island. But we managed to get to every one we wanted to visit. It helps that it was very dry while we were visiting. If it had rained much, it would have been impossible to get down some roads.

    3. We had a jeep also. Even though it was the dry season, there was one spot where the road was like a lake. That's when we turned back.