In search of rum induced relaxation and pristine Caribbean beaches, we found ourselves on the island of Vieques, off the coast of Puerto Rico. As we quickly discovered, the island does not wake up until noon if at all, which was nice change of pace. Being April, we just missed the high season, gifting us a nice relaxed version of Vieques, and how local life is without the tourists. With little information online, we made a couple rookie mistakes and stumbled upon some true travelers gems, thus, below is a my mini guide to the experiencing the best of Vieques, balanced backpacker style of course!
Getting There –To get to Vieques you have two options, take the ferry or fly. If you have a long time in Puerto Rico and or are looking for some a adventure, the ferry is a cheap way to get to and from Vieques. Costly only $4 roundtrip, the ferry leaves three times a day from the port in Fajardo, which is about 90 minutes outside San Juan. However, the taxi from San Juan to Fajardo costs about $80 USD, so unless you are sharing with a large group of friends the transportation to the ferry can cancel out your savings. You can also take a public bus for under $5 but the bus takes 3 hrs and is known for being unreliable. We took the second option and flew. Vieques Air Link (viequesairlink.com) offers multiple flights per day from San Juan and cost $70 each way. If you have limited time, this option is the worth the extra cost so you do not waste your limited days in route.
Also, this plane only seats up to 10 passengers, and lucky for us, we were the only ones onboard! The pilot offered one of us to sit up front with him. In addition to being a time saver, the plane ride was also extremely fun. It might have had something to do with the complimentary licorice flavored shots at the airport bar, but the flight was a blast. It felt like a private tour of the island and was worth every penny just based on the excitement factor.
Accommodation –Accommodation on Vieques is slightly challenging if you are on a backpacker budget but this is one of those times where the balance theory kicks in. If you stay in cheaper places in San Juan, then you can splurge a bit in Vieques. As we were only here for 2 days, we opted for Bananas Guesthouse on Esperanza Beach. For $110 per night, we stayed in room #11, which was their best room. We had our own jungle view patio, a refrigerator, air conditioning, and a comfortable bed, no to mention great artsy décor, which we loved. Another popular option down the road was Trade Winds Guesthouse at $99 per night and although they do include continental breakfast, the ambiance and décor at Bananas I found to be far superior.
Where to Eat- A pleasant surprise, all the food we had on Vieques was delicious and reasonably priced. Remember, Puerto Rico is still the United States so “reasonable” ranged from $2-$6 for street food, or $7-$15 at the local restaurants. My top recommendations are as follows. The pastelillos (similar to empanadas) at Marcos Pizza Papas Pollos silver Food Truck were delicious and only $2.50 a piece. Delicious Comida Columbian blue Food Truck was my favorite of the trip with fried chorizo, pork, plantains, and yellow potatoes for $6. Sol Food is a bit of a drive at the exit to red beach but is worth if your headed that way for their oversized, spicy jerk chicken sandwich for $9. And if you just want to stick to a restaurant, at Bananas Guesthouses you can get a cold beer and the BEST coconut crushed fish sandwich and fries for $13.
Transportation –Transporation on the island is slightly challenging. You can rent a car for $60 a day, or for experienced riders, a motorcycle will cost you $30 per day (pending you have closed toed shoes and long pants and sleeves upon renting by island law). Now our trip to Vieques was fantastic largely due to the driver recommendation we received from travelers at our San Juan Hostel. The man will go unnamed to preserve his identity and keep the magic in tact, but just call
787-435-3886 and tell him Caitie from balancedbackpacker.com sent you. The local perspective, relaxed vibe and a great price will not disappoint.
* He also appreciates tips in the form of Heineken beer, and Heineken beer only!