41 miles (66km) E of San Juan, 7 miles (11km) SE of Fajardo
It's hard to believe that this idyllic Caribbean island, home to 40 miles of pristine white-sand beaches, served as a U.S. Navy bombing range for more than 50 years. That occupation ended in 2003 after massive protests helped shutter thousands of acres of firing ranges -- now home to a protected wildlife refuge. An island municipality of Puerto Rico, just seven miles away, Vieques has long been one of the best-kept secrets of savvy travelers: The towns remain blissfully undeveloped and retain the laidback air of Puerto Rico from the 1950s.
Vieques is finally getting its due as an unspoiled beach destination. Touted as the "Spanish Virgin Islands," Vieques and its smaller sister island, Culebra, boast lovely crescents of sand, stylish inns, and breathtaking coastal waters. Picnic at Sun Bay, a panoramic beach lined with coconut palms, or at Red Beach or Blue Beach in the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. Shaded sand and shallow waters make Media Luna popular with families, while surfers prefer the strong waves at Navio Beach.
Things to Do
Mosquito Bay, also called Phosphorescent Bay, draws the curious with waters shimmering with tiny bioluminescent organisms. Take a boat tour on a cloudy, moonless night for ideal viewing. A visit to the Punta Mula lighthouse offers panoramic views of nearby islands and the sea. Guided snorkeling tours, via kayak, lead you to the gin-clear waters near Cayo de Afuera and reveal a stunning array of antler coral.
Eating and Drinking
The irreverent Chez Shack, near Esperanza, is the most bohemian spot on the island: a battered, wood-sided building where locals return repeatedly for baked crab or barbecued ribs. Caribbean flavors reign at idyllic bbh, home to the largest wine selection on Vieques, a tapas menu and seaside dining. The octagonal Blue Moon Bar at Carambola pours a hefty drink, and the restaurant serves a different iteration of an island favorite, mofongo (garlicky mashed plantains), every day.
Get lost in nature at the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, which is comprised of several ecologically distinct habitats, among them upland forests and mangrove wetlands -- the latter the habitat of endangered species such as the sea turtle, the manatee, and the brown pelican. Binocular-bearing bird-watchers also flock to the site. Book a seaside massage or session in reflexology, or take a yoga class to slow your pace to island time.