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.