Vieques Island along with the neighboring Culebra Island make up what is oftentimes referred to as the Spanish Virgin Islands. Measuring 21 miles long by 5 miles wide, Vieques is substantially bigger than Culebra and distinctly different in ambience.
Vieques is an island-municipality of Puerto Rico, located six miles east of the main island. The name ‘Vieques’ is a 17th-century Spanish colonial corruption of the Taíno name bieque (small island). Over the years, residents and visitors who share affection for this place have come to call Vieques ‘Isla Nena’ – a term of endearment meaning ‘Little Girl Island’.
For over five decades the US Navy used more than two-thirds of this lusciously endowed Spanish Virgin Island for military target practice. The war games ended in 1999 after a misplaced 500lb bomb caused the death of a Puerto Rican civilian and set in motion a protest campaign that led to the navy’s long-awaited withdrawal.
Since the official military withdrawal in 2003, Vieques has regularly been touted as the Caribbean’s next ‘big thing’ with a pristine coastline ripe for the developer’s bulldozer. Fortunately, environmental authorities swept in quickly after the handover and promptly declared all of the former military land (which consists of 70% of the island’s total area) a US Fish & Wildlife Refuge. The measure has meant that the bulk of the island remain virgin territory to be explored and enjoyed by all.
Development has been slow and low-key. Although many guesthouses and restaurants have expanded their business since 2003, much of this growth has centered on eco adventures and small but luxurious boutique hotels. The only real ‘resort’ was closed for a period of time and has just re-opened as a “W” Resort.
The island, having remained undeveloped is now its key attraction. The sleepy, unspoiled island with its deserted beaches, is rapidly becoming a popular destination.
Since much of the island is now part of the U.S. Park Service. The U.S. Park Service maintains the roads that lead to isolated beaches with crystal-clear, blue waters.
Vieques is perhaps best known for Mosquito Bay, a pristine bio-luminescent bay filled with dinoflagellates (organisms that make the water glow) that is magical to witness.
Visitors can fly to Vieques from San Juan or Ceiba airports or take the ferry from Fajardo which takes about an hour and a half.