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Vieques: Land Of The Jimmy Buffets Or Untapped Cash Cow?

By Brenda A. Mari

September 10, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Some say Vieques is on the verge of a major boom (whether eco-friendly or mega resort-like is to be seen). Others say it’s going downhill, what with the latest episodes of weeks without water, lack of gasoline, unreliable ferry service and finicky power lines…

Plus, then there’s the upcoming elections. Which one will it be? Popular Democratic Party’s Damaso, the current mayor who saw Vieques through its standoff with the U.S. Navy, or the popular and independent Gardo whose name is spray-painted all over town? Now that the Navy is gone, what awaits Vieques as a paradisiacal travel destination is a true test of the mettle of the government, the Vieques Wildlife Reserve and its hodgepodge of residents. We all hope it becomes the next eco-tourism mecca, like Costa Rica. That McDonald’s never sets foot on that blessed soil, that it stays the breezy, easy place that it is and that it keeps the rural, grassroots magic that envelops it.

I say Vieques is still one of the best kept secrets in Puerto Rico. One that holds many possibilities in tow. Certainly one of them is a healing, soothing vacation away from the gimmicky and hyper effective. This is no ordinary vacation place. If you’re looking for Club Med, this ain’t it. Here people take their time, the most you’ll do is kayak or snorkel your day away, and the overworked look silly. So, if wasting away in Margaritaville sounds good to you, then hop on over to La Isla Nena.

First off, to arrive in style, go by air if you can spare. If you don’t mind the lines, the boat rocking, and you’re on a budget, then come by sea in the Ferry from Fajardo. Chartering a boat with a captain to take you beach hopping also sounds like a winner, albeit expensive.

Next up is figuring out where to stay. Top choice is, of course, the new big boy in town, the Wyndham Martineau Bay Resort & Spa. But if you want character and a slice of sheer heaven, then get yourself a room at Casa La Lanchita in the Los Bravos de Boston area (mid north ). The suites come with comfy queen-sized beds, clean bathrooms, plenty of dolphin décor and a kitchen complete with dining area, perfect for when you don’t want to spend it all on dining out. You get the jovial service right from the owners themselves, Doug and Marikay McHoul. It boasts many secluded nooks to hang out in and look out into the mother of all beautiful horizons. Sunsets are spectacular. There is also access to a hidden rocky beach that’s not bad for snorkeling and peppered with lovely jade-colored stones. The cherry on top is the pool. It flanks the wall that bounders the inn and faces the open Atlantic Ocean, plus it changes colors at night. The place is definitely on the "come back" list.

One of those Jeeps will do you good, too. Try Vieques Car Rental or Martineau Car Rental. Or if you prefer being driven around, take your bikes with you and let Don Vitín, one of the nicest taxi men on the face of the earth (now with a newer, more luxurious van), drop you off in a remote beach and pedal your way back to your home away from home.

And now for the activities. A must, and Vieques’ biggest attraction, is the bioluminescent bay night tour. The pros in this circuit are Island Adventures Biobay Eco-tours. First you get a small bilingual intro into the wonderful world of one-celled dinoflagellates, featuring Snoopy, the lovable mutt that knows how to pray. Then everyone gets on the magic Biobay Bus, past the very bumpy road (lights off so you can see the fireflies on the way) and then hops on the Biobay Boat. Tour guides Sharon, Carlos or Mark will give you an engaging tour of The Phosphorescent Mosquito Bay. You’ll learn why these little glow-in-the-dark organisms huddle in these parts, how they gleam and how many are there per gallon of water. Later, everyone gets to splash about in the phosphorescent dreamwater where your body mirrors the magnificent starry sky above. The experience is truly a once in a lifetime must. Here you play with the stuff of heaven. And to finish it off you get a star tour with the amazing laser, where you can see the dolphin constellation.

You can learn more about the island’s fragile ecosystem, by visiting the small museum and learning area for kids at the Fideicomiso de Conservación e Historia de Vieques, where they have rescued wildlife and a small aquarium.

When it comes to kayaking in Vieques, the guys at Blue Caribe Kayaks know their stuff. Here you can rent kayaks and snorkeling gear from friendly folk. They offer guided tours every day. Go ‘round Cayo Afuera, a rocky cay just south of Esperanza where you can park your canoe and snorkel around the reef to say hello to the angel fish, octopus, turtles, manta rays, red snapper, puffer fish, fan corals and green-tipped anemones. The more daring can check out nearby Cayo Tierra, where the surf is rolling during the summer. If fly fishing is your thing, then call the good people at Caribe Fly Fishing Co.

Vieques is teeming with gastronomic jewels. Here you’ll find everything from the best "alcapurrias" (plantain fritters) in the van near the Muelle de los Pescadores in Esperanza to the revered Conde Nast chichiness of the Blue Macaw; from the reliable all-American fare at Tradewinds Café to the yummy smoothies and veggie offerings at Café Arena Mar at Sun Bay Beach; from the great hamburgers in Bananas to the delicacies offered by renowned chef Eva Bolivar at Bili, Sabor de Aqui. If pizza’s your game, head to La Dulce Esperanza, bakery by day, pizzeria by night. When you’re done, land in one of the bars in the Malecón strip in Esperanza. My best bet is to go check out the good music and cute bartenders at La Sirena’s open air bar.

And after all that exercise, food and spirits, wind down with a Swedish massage right in your own room by Ingrid Bergman. (Yes, that is her real name.) She’s got the down-to-earth healing touch to soothe whatever kinks you might have lurking about.

So, enough about the advertising plugs. Let’s just say I was impressed by all of these people and how they love Vieques for what it is today, not for what it will or might become in the future. Vieques is where Jimmy Buffet meets the gentle jíbaro. A slice of the Puerto Rico that might have been if industrialization hadn’t taken hold. It is clean, green, cooky, dolphin-loving and alcoholic all rolled up into one. Hell, it even has town transvestites. But its future will be well decided by its people and its mighty feisty legacy, not by mega hotel chains. So that leaves us with the ferry issue… Nevermind.

The Lowdown

Wyndham Martineau Bay Resort & Spa

State Road 200, Km 3.4
Vieques, Puerto Rico

Casa La Lanchita
Douglas and Marikay McHoul, owners

(800) 774-4717, (787) 741-8449

Vieques Car Rental

(787) 741-1037; toll-free (US only) (866) 887-9485

Martineau Car Rental

(787) 741-0087

Don Vitín, Taxi Man

(787) 380-8903

Island Adventures Biobay Eco-tours

(787) 741-0720

Blue Caribe Kayaks

On the strip of the Malecón in Esperanza.

(787) 741- 2522

Caribe Fly Fishing Co.

(787) 450-3744, (787) 741-1332

Fideicomiso de Conservación e Historia de Vieques

(787) 741- 8850

Open Mon. - Sun., 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.

The Blue Macaw

Inn on the Blue Horizon, Esperanza

Closed during Sept. & Oct!

(787) 741-3318

Trade Winds Resturant

(787) 741-8666

Restaurante Bili, Sabor de Aqui

Amapola Inn

144 Flamboyan St., Esperanza

(787) 741-1382

La Dulce Esperanza Bakery & Pizza

(787) 741-0085

La Sirena Bar & Restaurant

(787) 741-4462

Ingrid Bergman

Swedish, Neuromuscular Therapy

(787) 741-1037

Brenda A. Mari is an editor/reporter for The San Juan Star, an accomplished web copywriter and a fan of everything unusual. She can be reached at

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