Promises, promises. I promised you all a little to-do list for visiting Vieques last week, then I flaked. But now it’s here. Magic. Forgive me, please.
After having had a taste of Caribbean beaches, I’ve become a bit of a beach snob. (Um, excuse me, why is your water not all unholy gorgeous shades of aqua? Why does your sand not feel like baby powder?) After having a taste of the uncomfortable side of tourism on various islands, I’ve also become pretty picky as to where I feel comfortable spending my money. Watching scores of American tourists waddle off a gigantic cruise ship and onto a tourist designated walk filled with flip flip magnets and glittery sunglasses makes me cringe. Rows of pale, pale people lined up like sardines in a can on slivers of beaches surrounded by huge buildings isn’t my idea of awesome. Driving around and seeing how stark and uneasy the differences between how the island inhabitants live and the walled, pristine resorts makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Topped with the idea of going to another place and pretending that it’s the same as the place you left (but with more fruity beverages), well…I’m just going to say no.
And now, my rant is over.
Let’s talk pretty things.
My favorite thing about Vieques is its complete and utter lack of pretension. Strewn with gorgeous and uncrowded beaches, its low key, “it is what it is” vibe has made me a little obsessed.
Getting there involves the ferry (more time, pain in the ass to get to in Fajardo, and sort of stressful) or a very short flight on a very small plane from San Juan International or the local Isla Grande Airport. Opt for Isla Grande, the flights are $66 vs $108 and more frequently scheduled. A cab between the two airports is about $20 and a 15-25 drive depending on how nutty your driver is. My last driver definitely took the dashed line between lanes as a mild suggestion.
THE LAY OF THE LAND
The two main towns on the island are Esperanza and Isabel Segundo. I have a very strong preference for Isabel II for three reasons – Coconuts, Casa de Amistad, and the lack of spring break feel. It’s a slightly longer drive to the beaches, but then again, on a small island, it doesn’t completely matter. Also, there’s something particularly amusing and reassuring about waking up to the sounds of crowing roosters, chirping insects, and the occasional cat or dog fight. We are not in Kansas anymore.
WHERE TO STAY
The fanciest joint on the island is the W, which actually seems to have done a really nice job to staying with the casual, low-key vibe of its surroundings, even if there is a wall. On my last trip, we spent a rainy day in their spacious lobby, scarfing up free soup and coffee, having a snack or two and playing a vicious round of Monopoly. (Don’t they always turn vicious?) My preference has been Casa de Amistad, overseen by a pair of incredibly helpful and friendly transplants from Wisconsin.
For someone who loves food, my first two trips were definitely a steep learning curve. Avoiding most places on the Malecon was one of them. Fried is not a food group. Three places that have never disappointed are as follows:
Coconuts - more upscale, very good. Awesome rum punch.
Sol Food Truck - perfect for getting lunch while you’re at the beaches. Healthy, fresh – includes vegetables unlike a lot of the other places on the island. And sun tea. Yes to sun tea.
Panaderia/Deli La Viequense - in Isabel Segunda on Calle Antonio G. Mellado. Lovely breakfast sandwiches with egg, ham and cheese, squished flat and toasted.
The best beaches are all the in the US Fish and Wildlife area down the one road where Sol Food is. Sun Bay/Sombe and Media Luna are boring except for the wild horses that hang out there.
Bahia de la Chiva / Blue Beach is one of my top two favorites. This particular beach has a super long, very calm shallow portion, along with some good snorkeling to the west of Chiva.
Caracas/Red Beach is the other favorite, with slightly stronger waves, palm trees, and a nice wide beach.
Secret Beach - Follow the sign for Pata Prieta, and take a right. Not so secret anymore, it’s a lot like Caracas but on a smaller scale.
Renting a Jeep to have at your disposal is a great way to get around to all the beaches. It also marks you as a tourist. Deal with it. Checking out the Bio Bay is a must. Bring a stash of cash if you can, the ATMs sometimes run out of cash on the weekend.
There’s much more, but who can read this much on a Friday afternoon? Have a lovely weekend, would you?