Vieques, Puerto Rico (2022 Guide) – All You Need To Know

Vieques is an island located off the coast of Puerto Rico.

It is home to the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world.

I lived in Vieques for several years and explored every corner of this magical island.

In this article I will share:

What is Vieques?
Where is Vieques located?
Do you need a passport to go to Vieques?
Why is Vieques famous?
How much does it cost to visit Vieques?
Can you visit Vieques without a tour?
How much time do you need in Vieques?
Is Vieques worth visiting?
Which is better: Culebra or Vieques?

 

What is Vieques?

Vieques is a small island located off the east-coast of Puerto Rico’s main island.

Puerto Rico is made up of more than one island. The main island is the largest. However, there are smaller islands such as Vieques and Culebra

Vieques is known for its undeveloped beaches, wild horses and the world’s brightest bioluminescent bay

image of a group of horses in Vieques
Many of the wild horses you see on Vieques do in fact have caretakers.

Known locally as “La Isla Nena,” this nickname refers to Vieques as the little sister of Puerto Rico’s main island. Vieques island is only 21 miles long and 3 miles wide.

There are two towns you need to know about when you visit Vieques. One is Isabela II on the north shore, where the ferry will drop you off, and the other is Esperanza on the south shore. 

There is very little development taking place on Vieques each year. 

A visit to the island transports you back in time, and its slow pace makes it easy to relax.

Below is a video tour of Vieques:

 

Where is Vieques located?

Vieques is located less than ten miles off the coast of Puerto Rico’s main island. 

A map of Vieques showing its relationship to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The island is close to the US Virgin Islands, so you are likely to meet people from St. Thomas or St. Croix on your trip. The islands of Vieques and Culebra are sometimes referred to as the “Spanish Virgin Islands.”

The only way to get to Vieques is by air or sea.

Air carriers include Cape Air, Seaborne Airlines, and Vieques Air Link. 

If you take the ferry, reserve your tickets before your trip to guarantee your spot.

Below is a Google Map that shows the location of Vieques:

 

Do you need a passport to go to Vieques?

Vieques is a part of the United States. Residents do not need a passport. For international travelers, it is required.

image of Vieques aerial view
La Chiva beach, located in the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, is one of the top destinations on the island for snorkeling.

The currency is the United States Dollar. 

The first language of the island is Spanish. Many residents are bilingual, especially the younger generation and people working in tourism.

 

Why is Vieques famous?

People travel to Vieques from all over the world for the opportunity to visit the world’s brightest bioluminescent bay.

image of a hand dipped in the lagoon
When the dinoflagellate plankton are agitated in water, the pressure causes a chemical reaction which emits light (bioluminescence).

Mosquito Bay holds the title in the Guinness Book of World Records as the brightest bio bay in the world, as the bay contains an astonishing 700,000 dinoflagellates per gallon of water.

Dinoflagellates are the type of bioluminescent algae found in the bio bay that emits the famous glow when agitated by motion.

image of two people in a kayak in the water with bioluminescence glowing around them
Dinoflagellates produce light only when they are moved, which is why when kayaking the bio bay your paddles seem to glow.

Mosquito Bay has a very narrow opening to the ocean, so many of these organisms have a hard time escaping.

This fact combined with the bay being surrounded by mangroves that act as a nursery for the organisms results in the largest concentration of bioluminescence in the world.

You can only visit Mosquito Bay via a guided tour so be sure read up on When The Best Time Is To See Bioluminescence and plan your trip accordingly.

image of Vieques island
Over half of the island of Vieques is a National Wildlife Refuge, the largest in the Caribbean. The area was formerly occupied by the US Navy.

The other reason Vieques is famous worldwide, is now an important part of Puerto Rico’s history.

From the 1940s to 2003, the US Military used the island for training and bomb testing.

Vieques made headlines in 1999 when a military jet dropped a bomb on the island during training that resulted in the death of David Sanes.

Protests amplified and arrests were made, including many celebrities from the US mainland and Puerto Rico who joined the efforts.

Following intense community pushback and international attention, the military left the island after over 60 years of occupation.

 

How much does it cost to visit Vieques?

Typically, the most economic way to visit the island is by ferry, which costs less than $5 per person.

image of Ceiba Ferry Terminal
You can catch the ferry to Vieques from the town of Ceiba on the main island of Puerto Rico.

The ferry departs from Ceiba, which is a one hour drive from San Juan. Parking near the docks costs under $15 per day.

The average cost for a small public flight hovers around $100 round trip per person from San Juan. You can also charter a boat from Ceiba or take a private aircraft. 

If you don’t have a rental car, you can still get to Ceiba from San Juan, via the public van depot in Rio Piedras. 

Learn more about the public vans and the ferry in the video below:

 

Ground transportation 

Scooters are a great option if you don’t want to rent a jeep or take public vans.

Rent a scooter if you are going to explore the island’s back roads or visit the Sugar Mill & abandoned military bunkers.

A Jeep can cost up to $100 per day. You can not bring the car you rented on the main island to Vieques on the ferry.

If you don’t have car rental arrangements on Vieques, don’t worry, there will be a public van waiting for you at the ferry dock. It typically costs less than $15 to ride from Isabel II, the town on the north shore, to Esperanza, the town on the south shore.

image of town of Esperanza in Vieques
Esperanza is the town on Vieques’s south shore. You can walk everywhere in Esperanza and the Malecón is the main area.

If you don’t have a car, I recommend staying in Esperanza. The town sits directly on the Caribbean Sea and from here, it’s easy to access the main bars and restaurants of the Malecón (boardwalk), or meet your guide for a bio bay tour. Sun Bay is within walking distance.

 

Accommodation

The average night’s stay on Vieques costs under $200.

Hostels or camping on Sun Bay is a great way to save on your trip.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Finca Victoria (@finca_victoria)

Photo credit: @finca_victoria

If you are camping, just show up at Sun Bay (pictured above). At their on-site office, you can reserve a spot within the grassy area next to the beach.

Check out our list of the 50 Best Vacation Rentals in Puerto Rico, where Vieques made the list a few times.

 

Food

Vieques has no shortage of amazing restaurants to choose from.

El Quenepo, located on boardwalk in Esperanza, is perfect for an elegant date night.

The Green Store in Esperanza has all your basic needs. Near Isabel II, you can find Morales, a larger grocery store. 

When eating out, plates range from $8.00-$18.00 on average.

 

Tours

Of course, you can’t miss the world’s brightest bio bay.

image of 2 people kayaking at night in Bio Bay
You should not leave Vieques without visiting the bio bay, so be sure to factor this tour into your budget.

 

Can you visit Vieques without a tour?

You do not need a tour to visit Vieques.

The only tour you need to invest in is if you want to see the bioluminescent bay

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Jurutungo Farm, Vieques (@jurutungofarm)

Photo Credit: @jurutungofarm

Once you are on the island, you have the opportunity to choose from a wide variety of tours from snorkeling to horseback riding and private boat charters.

You will have an easy time navigating the island on your own whether you rent a car or use public transport.

Use the Google Map below for your Vieques bucket list:

Learn more about popular tours by reading our article The 13 Best Tours in Vieques.

 

How much time do you need in Vieques?

Two days is my recommended minimum. 

image of Playa Negra in Vieques
Playa Negra (Black Sand Beach) on Vieques has black magnetic sand from Vieques’s volcanic areas.

Different things can happen along the way, like a delayed flight or ferry ride. 

You want to allow enough time for surprise delays and some time to relax and enjoy the island’s slower pace of life.

 

Is Vieques worth visiting?

Absolutely! If you are looking for memories to last a lifetime, Vieques has it all. 

Vieques’s most secluded beaches are in the nature preserve. You will need a vehicle to access these beaches as they are not within walking distance from either town.

La Chiva is located in the nature preserve. Parking spots #8-10 have great snorkeling.

Sun Bay is the most accessible beach on Vieques.

The Sun Bay coastline hosts three different beaches. Media Luna is great for children that are scared of waves, while Navio offers a surfing and bodyboarding experience on occasion.

Media Luna offers a serene waveless experience, perfect for children and relaxing.

The beaches on the northern shores of the island have a bit more waves in the winter, but you likely won’t find any waves like you would on the main island at Steps or Maria’s Beach.

Some important things to consider when planning your trip are that if you want to have a vehicle, rent a car with Avis or Maritza’s well in advance as they book out quickly. 

The island does not have a hospital that is equipped to handle medical emergencies, so if something happens you will be transported back to the main island of Puerto Rico. 

There is a small clinic in the town of Isabel Segunda.

 

Which is better: Culebra or Vieques?

This answer depends on what you are looking for in a vacation. 

image of Sun Bay beach
Sun Bay offers three different beach coves, camping, and areas to have a cook out.

Culebra is quieter, with not as much nightlife. 

Vieques is serene but offers a handful of bars on a walkable strip to visitors wanting to explore the island after dark. 

Both have stunning beaches, but Culebra does not have a bio bay.

 

Final thoughts

Vieques is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves nature and connecting with a more relaxed way of living. 

The island holds a special place in the heart of many travelers, including myself.

I recommend that you visit the bioluminescent bay in Vieques, this is a once in a lifetime experience that you can’t miss.

Before your trip, be sure to check out our articles: When Is The Best Time To See Bioluminescence and How To Get To Vieques From San Juan.

Article by

Brittany Ashford

Writer at PuertoRico.com. After living in Puerto Rico for seven years, I opened a guesthouse in Rincón and welcomed over 400 guests to the island from around the world. When I’m not writing about travel or spending time with my dog, I’m working towards becoming a pilot with dreams of flying around the islands.

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