vieques

My dad and stepmom started going visit Vieques, a small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico, a couple of years back. When they first told me about it, I was pretty lukewarm about the place. I have never really had any desire to visit the Caribbean. The Turkey-Iraq border, yes. The turquoise and white sandy beaches of the Caribbean, no thanks. I guess I just always associated them with all inclusive resorts, which are my personal hell. Plus, I am really just not that much of a beach person. But when my dad invited my sister and I to join him in Vieques, I was open to the idea, mostly because he had been singing its praises for so long and he promised there was not a Club Med in site. Wow that was the understatement of the century. Tourism is still in its nascent phase in Vieques. After all, the US Navy used the island for target practice until 2003.

To get to Vieques you can either take a boat from the mainland ($3) or a puddle jumper from San Juan (around $180 round trip). When you land, you will need to pick up your jeep (the only recommended way to get around; the main roads on he island are paved, but those cutting through the wildlife refuges and heading to the beaches are not). There are a few car rental agencies near the airport and someone will come pick you up in the rental, drive you to the agency, do your paperwork, then send you on your way.

For accommodations, there are a few choices. There are plenty of small hotels and B&Bs in Isabella Segunda and Esperanza. I love Villa Uno on the edge of Isabella Segunda. It is an art deco villa turned boutique hotel with two suites served by its own private chef. Another interesting option is the Hix Island House, a very zen place immersed in a botanical garden with daily yoga classes in the pagoda. Alternatively, you can rent a house. I think the best location is in the hills between Isabella Segunda and Esperanza for the sea views and breezes. There are literally dozens of agencies that handle properties all over the island, though the management can be quite flakey.

Aside from exploring the nature reserve and gorgeous beaches, there are plenty of other activities to keep you busy for a week. In the evenings, there are visits to the bioluminescent bay. It is best to time your visit to coincide with the new moon so you get the most out of the glowing bay experience. For a bit of local flavor, there is a cockfighting ring between the airport and Isabella Segunda, closed winters. And, of course, there is plenty of hiking around the nature reserve. This is best done with an experienced guide to avoid undetonated bombs left by our fair Navy.

Last, but not least, the food. Both towns have restaurants. For a splurge, El Quenepo in Esperanza is where it’s at. Bananas nearby prepares good burgers and pub food. Chef Chris Ellis (formerly of the Bravo Beach Hotel) does special dinners in special venues throughout the island. For events, drop into his shop in Isabella Segunda (also a great place to shop for cheese, meats, and produce from the mainland). All this fancy stuff is well and good, but don’t miss out on the roasted chickens sold roadside for $5. They will blow your mind and are the perfect thing to bring to the beach for a picnic.