If you’re like me, you didn’t even realize that Puerto Rico consists of more than one island. Guess what? It’s actually several islands, but three are inhabited and easily accessible to tourists. Vieques and Culebra are both accessible by ferry or air taxi from Ceiba. It’s about a 30-minute trip on the passenger ferry, but you can also ride the cargo ferry which takes a little longer. You can buy your tickets the day of your trip or the day before, but you will want to check the schedule and be present at least 30 minutes prior to your scheduled departure. If your stay is during a holiday, buy your tickets a day in advance to be safe. The best news is that this ferry won’t break the bank. It’s $2 per person! For $2, you don’t want to miss out! We’ve been to some stellar beaches and amazing snorkeling spots in the Caribbean and South Pacific, and Vieques ranks among our favorites. Check out my post about the beaches and snorkeling in Vieques here.
Why Vieques and not Culebra? Unfortunately, there is no ferry from Vieques to Culebra, so we didn’t want to spend a day taking the ferry back to Ceiba and then waiting on a second ferry to Culebra and then doing it all again in reverse to get back to Vieques. We were told Vieques is less touristy and therefore, less crowded, so that’s why we chose Vieques. After seeing Vieques’ beaches, I don’t think they can be topped! It was incredibly relaxing but also packed with fun. Plus, Vieques has a bioluminiscent bay which is argued to be the brightest in the world! If you really want to get between the islands, you can take a short flight. It will have to be booked in advance, but it’s not outrageously expensive either.
Vieques island is made up of two “towns” or sides: Isabel II and Esperanza. We stayed in an airbnb in Isabel II which was wonderful! I will forewarn you. If you come in to Isabel II by ferry, boat, or plane, you are not going to be impressed at first. Just wait! Isabel II is not stunning as far as beaches, landscapes, and restaurants go, but Vieques will blow your mind! We walked from the ferry dock to our airbnb with suitcases in hand and we were a little disillusioned by the island, but thankfully, we were within walking distance. The houses all had bars over the windows and looked run down and worse for wear. Our place was lovely though with bright blue, fresh paint, and beautiful on the inside as well. Before you nix Isabel II, read my short comparison of Isabel II and Esperanza, with the pros and cons for staying on either side.
Transportation (Must Read!) – We hadn’t booked transportation. We kind of fly by the seat of our pants and it worked for us this time, but I don’t recommend this on Vieques. The island is not crowded, but the number of rentals are extremely limited and we called multiple places that were fully booked up through the next two months. We had no clue we would need transportation or that it would be in such high demand on such a tiny, peaceful island. Learn from us and book your transportation in advance (at least from Puerto Rico before arriving in Vieques). You could hire a driver and schedule pick up and drop off times but that won’t be very budget friendly if you plan to stay in Vieques a few days.
We rented a golf cart and had a blast driving in the open air. We got very lucky finding something available, so don’t push your luck. Golf carts run about $50-60 / day, which is about the same as a car, but you must have some kind of transportation. It is impossible to walk as most of the beaches are tucked way back into the wildlife reserve. I don’t recommend bicycling. It is very hot and dry in Vieques and if you get out into the reserve (where all the pretty beaches are) you could go many hours without seeing anyone. We weren’t in a hurry since we had several days, but if you have a limited amount of time on the island, I would rent a car because the golf carts might go 20 mph at their fastest speed which feels really slow if you don’t have much time and and all you are seeing is dried up grass, brush, and thirsty wild horses. They market jeep rentals heavily on the island. Unless you want to drive a jeep it’s really not necessary. The roads that you will be taking are nicely paved or gravel without many potholes.
Eating – We also didn’t know where to eat the first night. We wandered aimlessly Sunday night in the dark because we didn’t have a clue where to eat (and a lot of places are closed on Sunday!) We finally ate at the Mexican restaurant near the ferry dock. It was good but not great and really overpriced in my opinion. When we walked back to our apartment after dark, we saw lights about four houses up the road from us and realized that we were staying less than a block from the two best restaurants in Isabel II, Bieke’s Bistro and Mama Mia. We felt a little foolish, but the following three evenings, we enjoyed our dinner at Biekes Biestro, and it was so delicious. I highly recommend the mofongo, but I actually preferred the mofongito as a side rather than the mofongo entree. The final evening we made it over to the Esperanza side which is very lovely and the restaurants are beautiful as they all face the sea. As you would expect, the Esperanza side has a lovely view of the sailboats in the harbor and more populated by tourists, therefore, the restaurants are a little more expensive, but for one meal, go for it! We ate at Duffy’s and the spicy tuna wrap with fries was the bomb!! It came recommended to us by a worker at Scallywag’s who said that he used to be a professional chef and Duffy’s was his restaurant of choice. So, Bieke’s and Duffy’s are the winners for me on that island!
The BioBay – This is such an incredible experience that you may be moved to tears by the wonder of it! You can’t go during a full moon but even if it’s almost a full moon, you will be fine! I was worried we wouldn’t be able to see anything since the moon had been big and bright the last couple nights. The tours generally go before the moon rises, so it will still be dark enough to see see a myriad of stars above and the magical glowing water under you. Nothing can prepare you for this spectacular phenomenon! Pictures don’t take so you have to soak in the experience and memorize the moment! We reserved our tour with Scallywag’s. Don’t dillydally with reserving your spot in a tour either. Most people come to the island just for this, so spots are limited. You shouldn’t get wet so lightweight clothes and sandals are fine. And bug spray! I didn’t really notice mosquitos (probably because I was so mesmerized), but it is called mosquito bay. I highly recommend Scallywag’s tour because our tour guide was so knowledgeable and friendly and taught us all about the bioluminecents and the constellations. In fact, everyone who helped us out at Scallywag’s was super friendly! One worker offered to take us snorkeling and another actually loaned my husband a life vest for two whole days. The tours all pretty much offer the same thing, so just get a spot! For the BioBay tour, be ready at your pickup location on time but be prepared for your driver to be very late! (It’s island time!) Our driver was a little confused about the tours, came close to an hour late and was EXTREMELY talkative. By the time we got to the bay, we ended up getting a private tour since our group had already gone. I have no idea how they all got their wires crossed, but a private tour of the bay was awesome and when on vacation, we try not to let these things frazzle us!
Beaches and Snorkeling – Some people come to the island just for the Bio Bay, but they are sorely missing out! The beaches out in the reserve are picturesque and there are no hotels, condos, highways, restaurants, or even people to interrupt the view! Its you, the sand, the sea, the fish, the trees, and the wind, so relax and wear LOTS of sunscreen. Check out my article on all the beaches and snorkeling hot spots here!