FTF gives you the inside details to the Spanish Virgin Island of Vieques, a little known Caribbean treasure neighboring Puerto Rico.
For many years, Vieques was considered the inexpensive and un-touristy “sister” of Puerto Rico, just eight miles off the much larger island’s east coast. Development of the island’s lovely Caribbean beaches had been stalled since 1947 by the U. S. Navy’s training, testing and base facilities which covered more than half the available land. Thought of as another oddball, shoestring-budget destination, it lured primarily young couples and students. After the millennium, Vieques’ fortune began to change.
The opening of the island’s first luxury resort on the northwest coast in 2003 followed the closing of the U. S. Navy’s Camp Garcia Base and the cessation of all military training and bombing exercises on the island.
So far, you’ve heard that Vieques is quiet, little known, scenically pristine and a good value for the Caribbean. But it’s the large Bioluminescent Bay (in Spanish la Bahia Fosforescente) at Puerto Mosquito which put the island on the tourist map. This body of water houses millions of dinoflagellata
protozoa, microorganisms which glow in the dark as you paddle by. Your children can visit their website to read more about the science behind this phenomenon, and find information on conservation efforts to save the bay’s unique character and native fish. Although there are other phosforescent bays on Puerto Rico, Vieques’ is considered more pristine environmentally.
Despite development, its gregarious locals, hip ex-pat community, the proximity of horseback riding, off-road biking, fishing, good snorkeling, and limited dive sites continue to make Vieques a favorite among eco-adventure travelers. Companies such as Blue Caribe Kayaks (787/741-2522, 149 Calle Flamboyan, Esperanza, Vieques, PR 00765), which runs fishing trips and kayak tours, and Island Adventures (787/741-0720), which has nightly excursions to the Bioluminescent Bay, offer pick-ups from various hotels and B&Bs.
In addition to its bays and beaches, families can also spend a day touring the island’s historic Spanish Fort and the Punta Mulas Lighthouse Museum, then take in a few of Vieques’ ceramics and painting galleries.
Lodging for Adventurous Families
The former Martineau Bay Resort was taken over by Starwood properties in 2005 and began a multi-million dollar renovation in April 2007 in preperation for a relaunch, as an even more upscale property – the W Vieques Martineau Bay – in April of 2009. The old resort had very large deluxe guestrooms in three-story, plantation-style buildings on 42 acres. Each room had all the expected luxury amenities, plus balconies or terraces, with suites available. Within the resort itself was a small business and extensive fitness center, two tennis courts, and two private beaches stocked with free sailing, kayaking or snorkeling gear. The resort also had a pool with two infinity edges, a pool-side cafe, two restaurants and a 5000-square-foot spa. The 138-guestroom, 20 villa suites property will remained opened until April 2007 when it closed for its transition to the W brand. Upon reopening the staff will be retrained, concierge and spa services will be upgraded so make sure to check the website for details as the date approaches.
Among the small, simple B&Bs which traditionally housed students, FTF member Steven Masur recommends Hacienda Tamarindo ( 787/741-0420, Vieques, PR 00765), for “pleasant rooms with private baths, good service, very nice staff and wonderful views of the bay, at reasonable rates including breakfast.” This 16-room inn does not accept guests under 15 years, so Mr. Masur suggests families with younger children look at www.vieques-island.com/hotels.shtml for other suggestions.
A recent write-up in the New York Times recommended La Finca Caribe ( 787/741-0495, Rte. 995, km 1.2 00765 Puerto Rico), a few miles outside of Esperanza, with six guest rooms sleeping one to three in a central inn, plus two cottages (one sleeping three to four rents for $800-$1,050/week, the other sleeps up to five.) The main inn has shared bathrooms, an outdoor shower, communal kitchen and a large deck with hammocks to admire the view, with rates about $105-$135/N per room.
Another recommended choice is the Posada Vistamar ( 787/436-0933, Vieques, PR 00765) notable for its gourmet restaurant serving nueva latina fare. Here, small rooms sleep up to two and have private facilities, but lack a crucial Vieques accessory: mosquito netting. Note also that some of the beaches, including the secluded Green Beach, attract sand flies during cooler times of day.
Getting There and Getting Around
Vieques is south of Culebra off Puerto Rico’s east coast. It is easily reached by ferry from Fajardo (about one-hour drive from Puerto Rico’s San Juan Airport) or by a new high speed ferry. The Island HiSpeed Ferry Company (866/783 7996) vessel (they also operate in Rhode Island) departs twice daily in season from the Acuaexpreso Pier 2 in Old San Juan and takes one hour, 45 minutes to get to Culebras, before continuing on to Vieques. The roundtrip adult fare for 2008 is US$78; for children 4-12 years it’s US$63. Of the small planes, Vieques Air Link is the oldest of the companies flying. Check out The Vieques Travel Guide for current transportation options and schedules.
To take advantage of the island’s fine beaches, try the small restaurants in Esperanza or the seaside cafes of Isabel Segunda, where the Puerto Rico ferry docks. Families may want to rent a car and a few companies are available on island.
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