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Fort Conde de Mirasol Museum, Barriada Fuerte at Magnolia 471 (tel. 787/741-1717), is the major man-made attraction on the island. In the 1840s, Count Mirasol convinced the Spanish government to build a defensive fortress here. Today the carefully restored fort houses a museum of art and history celebrating the story of Vieques. There are Indian relics, displays of the Spanish conquest, and old flags of the Danes, British, and French. The French sugar-cane planters and their African slaves are depicted, and there's even a bust of the great liberator Simón Bolivar, who once visited Puerto Rico. A unique collection of maps shows how the world's cartographers envisioned Vieques.The museum and fort are open Wednesday through Sunday 10am to 4pm. Admission is $3 suggested donation for adults.

Beaches & Other Natural Treasures

The Vieques National Wildlife Refuge is comprised of 15,500 acres (6,273 hectares) -- much of it awesome beachfront property -- relinquished by the U.S. Navy to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service when the Navy abandoned its Vieques training ground in 2003. This is now the largest landmass of its kind in the Caribbean. Refuge lands lie on both the eastern and western ends of Vieques. In 2001, 3,100 acres (1,255 hectares) on the western end were already turned over to the refuge. These tracts of virgin landscape contain several ecologically distinct habitats, including the island's best white-sand beaches along with upland forests and mangrove wetlands, the latter the habitat of some endangered species such as the sea turtle, the manatee, and the brown pelican. Binocular-bearing bird-watchers also flock to the site. The coastal area of the refuge is characterized by coral reef and sea-grass beds, and there are scores of beautiful beaches. The refuge is open to the public and also contains a Visitor Center at Vieques Office Park, Rd. 200, Km 0.4 (tel. 787/741-2138). The refuge is open 7 days a week during daylight hours.

Aficionados of Vieques praise the island for its wide profusion of sandy beaches. Since the pullout of the U.S. Navy, some of the sites that were formerly off-limits have been made accessible to hikers, cyclists, bird-watchers, beachcombers, and other members of the public. There are 40 beaches on this small island! That's a whole lot of endless afternoons of exploring.

Along the eastern end, the best beaches are Red Beach (Bahia Corcha), Blue Beach (Bahia de la Chiva), and Playa Plata. To reach these, take the tarmac-covered road that juts eastward from a point near the southern third of Rte. 997. Entrance to this part of the island, formerly occupied by the Navy, will be identified as Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre de Vieques, with warnings near its entrance that camping and littering are not allowed. Drive for about a mile (1.6km) along this road, turning right at the sign pointing to Red Beach (Bahia Corcha). En route, you'll have one of the few opportunities in the world to gun your rented car along the battered tarmac of what used to be a landing strip (a very long one). Pretend, if you like, however briefly, that you're on a test track for the Indianapolis 500, naturally exercising all due caution. The Fish & Wildlife Service has been doing improvement work at many of the beaches within the reserve and periodically closes off public access while work is ongoing.

The crescent-shaped Red Beach, with wide-open views of the ocean, and Blue Beach, protected by mangroves and scrub trees, are two of the more beautiful east end beaches. There are signs, within the park, to minor beaches, Playa Caracas, Caya Melones, and even Playuela, but the access roads are blocked off by the Park Service.

Myriad coves, such as Playa Chiva, pepper the coastline between Blue Beach and the end of the line, Playa Plata, which is covered with sea grapes, scrub trees, and palmettos.

Also near the border of the former eastern Navy holdings, is Sun Bay Beach, or Balneario Público Sun Bay. Its entrance lies off the southern stretch of Rte. 997. You'll recognize it by a metal sign. Just beyond, you'll see a park dotted with trees, an absurdly large number of parking spaces (which no one uses), and a formal entryway to the park, which virtually everybody ignores. Locals, as a means of getting closer to the water and the sands, drive along the access road stretching to the left. It parallels a 3/4-mile (1.2km) stretch of tree-dotted beachfront, and they park wherever they find a spot that appeals to them. If you continue to drive past the very last parking spot along Sun Bay Beach, a rutted and winding and very hilly road will lead, after a right-hand fork, to Media Luna Beach and Navio Beach, two beautiful and isolated beaches, perfect for snorkeling and evening barbecues. A left-hand fork leads to the muddy and rutted parking lot that services Mosquito Bay (or Phosphorescent Bay). Right beside Esperanza village is Playa Esperanza, which is a great place for snorkeling.

Take a drive to the west end of the island to visit more beaches. The former Navy base and ammunition storage post has two fine beaches: Green Beach, in the northwest corner of the island beside a nature reserve and a south coast beach beside the ruins of the Playa Grande sugar plantation; and the eerie Navy radar facility, a field of antennas. Much of the land is run through with rows and rows of cement munitions bunkers, and the military also left a huge pier, which originally was to form a bridge to the main island of Puerto Rico. (The attack on Pearl Harbor put a stop to the original plans.)

The beaches are beautiful, but the western end is more physically haunted by the island's military past. Most of the eastern end remains off limits to people, as decades of bombardment from aircraft and offshore carriers have left it littered with unexploded ordnance.

The Luminous Waters of Phosphorescent Bay

One of the major attractions on the island is Mosquito Bay, also called Phosphorescent Bay, with its glowing waters produced by tiny bioluminescent organisms. These organisms dart away from boats, leaving eerie blue-white trails of phosphorescence. The Vieques Times wrote: "By any name, the bay can be a magical, psychedelic experience, and few places in the world can even come close to the intensity of concentration of the dinoflagellates called pyrodiniums (whirling fire). They are tiny ( 1/500-in./.13cm) swimming creatures that light up like fireflies when disturbed, but nowhere are there so many fireflies. Here a gallon of bay water may contain almost three-quarters of a million." The ideal time to tour is on a cloudy, moonless night. If the moon is shining on a cloudless night, you can save your money, as you'll see almost nothing. Some boats go, full moon or not. You should wear a bathing suit because it's possible to swim in these glowing waters.

Island Adventures (tel. 787/741-0720; www.biobay.com) operates trips in Phosphorescent Bay aboard Luminosa. These 2-hour trips are not offered around the time of the full moon. Similar tours are also offered on kayaks by Blue Caribe Kayak (tel. 787/741-2522), Abe’s Snorkeling & Bio-Bay Tours (tel. 787/741-2134; www.abessnorkeling.com), and Blackbeard Sports (tel. 787/741-1892; www.blackbeardsports.com). Prices range from $45 to $65.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.