It can be hard to get to Vieques, but so very worth the trouble. We knew that the journey might be difficult in advance, and expected delays and stress at the ferry terminal at Ceiba. (We could have opted for a flight from San Juan, or a puddle jumper from Ceiba, but we chose the much more affordable $7 each way option.) The transportation authority just changed providers, and the check-in process was very slow. We arrived three hours early and were able to secure tickets on the 1pm ferry, but then waited in line for over an hour to add bags to our order. Residents understandably get priority boarding (the island’s population is nearly 8,000 and they must travel off the island for many of their needs, including shopping and medical appointments), so even with a ticket it is possible to not be admitted if more residents arrive before non-residents board.
An hour before departure we were admitted into a larger waiting area, and finally boarded the Ferry at 1pm. There are both 90 minute and 30 minute lengths of travel, and we were thankful to be on an Express Ferry. We chose outdoor shady seats on the second row over the indoor or third floor outdoor full sun options.
The Malecon House & Esperanza
The rental cars and golf carts were fully booked on the island, so we relied on public transportation and taxis, which were $5 per person each ride. Our hotel, the Malecon House Boutique Hotel, was located about 5 miles from the ferry terminal, in Esperanza.
The Malecon House is located directly across from Esperanza beach. Our Deluxe King room had an ocean-view balcony that felt like its own island destination. Alice swam in the small pool, and tree frogs, birds, and at least one softball size hermit crab visited the gardens around the property. With so few guests, the staff were able to provide concierge-level service, offering to make dining reservations and securing taxi rides.
During our visit, the island experienced a water outage. Most residences got water back within 24 hours, but restaurants without reserve water were unable to open. It was eye-opening to be on an Island that was filled with American citizens who were without water, and speaking to locals we learned they often felt last to have their needs met over the main island. Their hospital was flooded during Hurricane Maria, and never reopened. Tourism now makes up a huge portion of their economy, which took a big hit when the island was closed to outsiders until May due to Covid. Today, the island is nearly fully vaccinated and tourism is booming (as evidenced by every car and golf cart on the island being sold out).
For dining we chose two ends of the spectrum, from the lively bar scene at Lazy Jack’s to the fine dining at El Quenepo. If we had longer we wouldn’t have run out of options, with four other restaurants within walking distance.
We knew that horses roamed Vieques freely, but we had no idea that they would be casually strolling up and down the streets. The horses aren’t wild; they are all owned by residents who care for them when needed, but generally the horses meet their needs by drinking from puddles and eating natural vegetation. We did have to be sure to keep our hotel gate closed, as horses have been known to try to go for a dip in the property’s pool. After a short time, we easily began to recognize the same groups of horses that would walk by our hotel through the day.
Vieques is known for its Bio-Bay kayak tours to see the bioluminescent lighting of Mosquito Bay, as small organisms light up around the touch of the kayaks. We booked a tour with Jak’s, one of the many options, costing us $165 for a 2-hour excursion. After a 10 minute bus ride to the Bay, our tour group of 20 people kayaked into the water with three guides. The lead guide shared the history of the island and the ecological highlights, and pointed out constellations in one of the clearest skies I’ve ever seen. Photos really wouldn’t have done any of the experience justice (also we didn’t want to lose a device to Mosquito Bay, polluted with many the smart phone dropped by a tourist.)
Esperanza Riding Tours was a 20 minute walk from our hotel, and offers two-hour guided horseback tours along the beach. Because Alice hadn’t been on her own on a horse, we were required to do the shorter 30-minute “farm tour” around the pasture. We were pleasantly surprised to realize the pasture was along a ridge overlooking the ocean and Black Sand Beach. We were the only family booked, and the tour was a highlight of the trip for all of us.
With more time and a vehicle, we would have had the option to explore more of the remote beaches, considered by some to be as beautiful as any others in the Caribbean. Within walking distance, we found Black Sand Beach and Sun Beach. Black Sand Beach is filled with volcanic rock sand that has come to the surface. To get to the beach we walked for 15 minutes through a forest, seeing crabs, birds, and lizards.
In the afternoon, we walked from our hotel to Sun Beach, one of the most visited on the island. There were few beachgoers when we were there, though, and we parked our gear under a palm and spent two hours swimming and sunbathing.
Our return trip to Ceiba was much smoother on the ferry. Arriving into the main town three hours in advance gave us time for a delicious brunch at Rising Roost before heading back to the ticket counter one hour before departure.