Vieques, the biggest of two island-municipalities located 8 miles East of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, is a beautiful island with a lush history and pristine beauty. Being violently conquered by the Spaniards in the 15th Century, bruised by the American Military bombing practices in the 1950’s, and recently beaten by fierce storms and raging hurricanes, the “small island”, as its native name says, maintains its strength and is considered a world class tourist destination today.
Back in 1,000AD, Vieques’ first inhabitants, the Taíno Indians, flourished in the region and occupied those lands until the arrival of the Spaniards in 1492. The conquest brought disease and slavery with it and sadly, Taínos didn’t survive. However, Spaniards abandoned the island for the next 300 years and it wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th century, Spain took steps to permanently settle and secure the island with José Jaime María Le Guillou as the “founder” and governor of Vieques. He was responsible for the social and economic improvement in the island due to the establishment of large sugarcane plantations.
In 1898, Spain lost the Spanish-American War and ceded Vieques along with the mainland to the United States. Years later, the sugar industry went into decline and many locals were forced to move to the mainland to look for work. It was in 1941 that the United States Navy purchased, or seized, about 2/3 of Vieques and established their troops in the island and started carrying out military exercises. With the death of a Vieques native civilian in 1999, local protests came to a turning point. The issue became a “cause célèbre” for which local and mainland USA political and community leaders as well as celebrities joined forces and pressured the government to withdraw their troops. Finally, in May 2003, the Navy withdrew from Vieques.
Today, those occupied lands are protected and considered a National Wildlife Refuge. Visitors experience nature at its finest as wild horses roam free on the beaches as well as the streets of the island. Many secluded and picture-perfect beaches such as “Caracas”, “Blue Beach/La Chiva”, “Sun Bay”, “Playa La Plata”, “Media Luna” and “Playa Negra” among many others offer unspoiled and tranquil environments for nature lovers to enjoy. Other remote beaches are off limits to the public due to the unexploded devices ordinance where “NO Trespassing” signs are clearly labeled.
Fishing in Vieques is an outdoor activity enjoyed by many. Local guides and experienced fishermen can take you either out to sea or a day full of fly-fishing adventures. If you are not into fishing, you could enjoy a tour of a history and art museum with exhibits on the history of Vieques in the last Spanish fort built in the Americas - the Fortín Conde de Mirasol. The Punta Mulas Lighthouse is also located in the town of Isabel II. Views are excellent and there is a small museum inside.
The nights in Vieques are full of options too. You can choose accommodations from luxurious to budget friendly. Restaurants in the town of Esperanza, located in the South West part of the island, offer delicious typical and international cuisine just walking distance from the “Malecón” – the stone-built esplanade along the waterfront.
The Bioluminescent Bay is another fascinating evening attraction in Vieques that visitors should not miss. Its red mangrove trees, the lack of development around the bay, and the water conditions makes it ideal for a specific microorganism, the Pyrodinium bahamense, to strive in this environment. At night, as the water is disturbed, it glows, leaving a trail of a neon blue light.
A year and a half has passed now since the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and María. Back then buildings were damaged as well as the natural scenery, but time has healed the landscape and resiliency has brought back to their feet the people of Vieques. Business is up and running as usual. Even the bioluminescent bay is now brighter than ever.
We invite you to visit Vieques and explore this Caribbean jewel. Travel by sky or sea to “la Isla Nena” and enjoy this idyllic hideaway.
Written by Ana Soldevila
LARM Puerto Rico Country Director