The island of Vieques belongs to the territory of Puerto Rico, and sits as a buoyant landmass just eight miles off the coast of the PR mainland. In fact, the name Vieques is a translation of a translation (Spanish spelling of a Native American word) that is thought to mean "small island." And it's nickname "Isla Nina," meaning "Little Girl Island" in Spanish, refers to its relationship to Puerto Rico. But if you've spent any time there, you know that the island's rightful owners are the wild horses that fill in for the lack of traffic lights on the 21-mile-wide by four-mile-long island. These Paso Fino horses were brought over by the Spanish, and though many of them are owned by locals, they're free to roam about the tree-shaded streets that cover less than half of the island--the rest is virtually untouched by modern construction.
Vieques, once used as a Navy testing site, started to boom for other reasons in 2003, when all military operations ceased and left the island to the locals. It's then that the full potential of the white-sand beaches and near-constant sunny days was realized. Now the island resembles more a barefoot beach resort than a nuclear waste ground, being triumphantly led by the addition of the W Hotel on the island's east side.
Though the W is certainly the largest resort on the island, the charm lies with the smaller boutique hotels that showcase what living on island time is all about. Hacienda Tamarindo is a star among the lot. It features 16 guest rooms, each decorated by Linda Vail, a former interior designer and the female half of the inn's husband and wife team. The hacienda is named after the tree that runs through the center of the inn, and you can expect to feel equally as encased once you settle in for the night. Some rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows, other have private patios with 180-degree views, but each come with access to the inn's amenities: a library, tree-strung hammocks, a fresh-water pool, and some of the best views on the island. The entire place runs off the honor system. If you need a drink, take it. Snorkel gear? That's there, too. Eat a home-cooked breakfast and head out for a day to explore Vieques' secluded spots, where you'll feel like you're in on the secret.
On the Atlantic side, Glass Beach is a gem if you're looking for a getaway from the conventional. It's tiny, but expect to spend your day hunched over gathering glossy-smooth stones, seashells, and sea glass. Sun Bay Beach is one of the largest, though you'll never feel packed in. And Navio is one of the hardest to reach with the roughest waters, though it's a thrill for more adventurous travelers.
Once the stars come out, the best way to see Vieques is via kayak. The bioluminescent bay on the Caribbean side is a great way to glimpse a world outside your own. Miniscule microorganisms glow when disturbed, staring in a light show unlike any other. In fact, it's the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world. There are several outfitters that can take you out, however Vieques Adventures features a fleet of translucent kayaks.
To get to Vieques, your best bet is to fly into San Juan. From there, you can take a puddle jumper or taxi over to nearby Fajardo, where a ferry connects island to mainland. The ferry can be crowded, and getting bumped to the next ferry isn't uncommon, as locals get priority, but the $2 price tag is a budget-friendly alternative to a puddle-jumper flight that can cost upwards of $200.
Once on land, there is no real way to get around without renting a car. You'll need one, as the island is too big for walking. Maritza's Car Rental is a friendly option, and they're happy to pick you up/drop you off at the airport or ferry dock. Their Jeeps are new and roomy, and some come with soft tops you can let down, plus others feature four-wheel drive if you plan on getting into the island's interior.
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