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PUERTO RICO HERALD
Fun And Sun In Vieques
By J.A. del Rosario
December 12, 2003
Chances are, no matter where you live, if you read the newspaper on a regular basis you have heard of Vieques. You probably know that until earlier this year the U.S. Navy carried out bombing maneuvers on the island, and you probably know that resident protests escalated into arrests and the Navy's eventual retreat from Vieques.
What most of these reports failed to mention was that those protests were being held on pristine beaches of turquoise water and clean sand. Or that practically every shore in Vieques seems to have been taken out of a Puerto Rico tourism book. Or even that this small island, off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, offers the backpacking crowd, and luggage set travelers, a perfect escape spot for just the right price.
In fact, when it comes to having a vacation in Puerto Rico, Vieques is the place where all the Caribbean stereotypes are true. A place where the beaches feel untouched, where the catch of the day is literally what the fisherman caught "that day," and where travelers find little use for their watches.
But first things first. The first decision to make, if you are going to Vieques, is whether you will get there by air or sea. The Puerto Rico government operates a ferry service from Fajardo (a town on the eastern coast) that makes the trip to the island three times a day. If you want to take your car, there is also a cargo ferry that makes that trip once a day. The price for the ride is absurdly low, less than $4 person, but there is a catch. There are no reservations, so to get on board you have to get there at least one hour and a half before the ferry leaves and still brave a long line. For backpackers who want to get a clear glimpse of the Vieques community, and the college-set that makes the trip to the island for camping fun on the weekends, the ferry is the perfect route.
For the rest, there are three words: Vieques Air Link.
This small, FAA certified, airline makes three flights to Vieques from the Fajardo airport, or San Juan. Your choice. Tickets are less than $100 one way. Although, this cannot compare to the bargain basement rates of the public ferry, it is still very affordable.
When it comes to hotels, the island offers something for every type of traveler. And just because the places are cheap does not mean they are bad. There is good guesthouse competition on the island, and most places take good care of the basics.
One of the more popular places to eat and stay is Bananas Guesthouse. This wooden-deck style restaurant, bar and guesthouse is a standard among locals and tourists alike. The rooms are simple and small, but have a screened deck that gives you a perfect place to enjoy the night temperature without the hassle of mosquitoes. Rates here are between $45 and $60 a night.
On the upper scale are Hacienda Tamarindo and Inn at the Blue Horizon, two great places about a mile from a rocky shore in the Esperanza sector of the island. Both hotels are on top of a hill overlooking the ocean. The staff will gladly take care of all your needs, whether it is renting a car or finding the live music on the island on a certain night.
Because Vieques is very small, and there are few cars, one of the more fun and cost-effective ways to get around is by scooter. You can easily ride from your hotel to the beach, as well as take a self-administered tour of some of the former land occupied by the Navy, which is now open to the public.
One fun rids is inside the old bunker area, a maze of narrow roads where the Navy installed rows and rows of storage bunkers into the landscape.
The bunkers are now empty, and the site of these grass-covered buildings, completely integrated into the untouched wilderness around them looks like an awesome art installation. For those of you nurturing your inner child, feel free to walk into the bunkers and play around with the echoes. It can be a lot of fun.
Most of the fun in Vieques happens outdoors. This is a tropical island, and the beaches are still the main attraction. The official local beach is Sun Bay. This beach has a wide shore and clean water. But while it is the official beach, it is hardly the best one. Some of the best accessible beaches are on the eastern coast of the island. This is where you have to go. These beaches were on Navy land, and were open to the general public until the Vieques protests forced the Navy to close access. But they are open again, so you have no excuse to miss out. Check out Bahia Corcho ( Red Beach), Bahia La Chiva (Blue Beach), or Playa Secreta (Secret Beach).
The three beaches are near each other, and they are featured in complimentary island maps available everywhere on the island.
After the beach, drop by Mamasonga's, on the Isabel II section of the island. This small eatery opened earlier this year and has soon become one of the favorite spots for locals and tourists alike. Proprietor Ute Hanna's cooking, which features some mean omelettes, burgers and soups, is bringing customers back and back and back. But while the cooking is great, it is the laid back atmosphere of the place that is fueling its popularity. There are plenty of magazines, and plenty of people taking their time to read and drink some coffee. A pleasant change in an island where the social life has been traditionally dominated by sun, beach, and beer.
For those who cannot get enough of nature, Vieques features a few bioluminescent bays. Imagine someone kicking up stardust from the bottom of the ocean, and you will get a fairly clear idea of what we are talking about here. This tour is well worth your time, so don't miss out. You will be talking about it for a good while afterwards. Golden Heron Kayak tours offers a night kayak spin through the bay, or for those with a lower energy level, there is also a motor boat tour.
After the tour, wash down the awe of the bay with a few beers and turn in for bed. Chances are the sun will be bright and high the next morning, and there is always another beach to go to.
Vieques Air Link
Golden Heron Kayaks
Extreme Scooter Rental
Inn on the Blue Horizon
J.A. del Rosario, a business reporter for The San Juan Star, is a remedial guitar player and an incorrigible nightcrawler. He can be contacted at: : email@example.com