Vieques is a beautiful undiscovered rustic Caribbean island off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast, just a 20-minute plane journey out of San Juan. Though it’s not the easiest to access it’s an absolute must visit when dreaming of Caribbean sun and sea. It’s one of the only islands that’s left undeveloped and its remote location and boutique quality adds to its unique charm. Famous for the worlds brightest (as declared by Guinness World Records) Bioluminescent Bay where microorganisms give the water a blue-green glow, it also boasts numerous secluded beaches, in fact there’s a choice of more than 20 to choose from, including white and black sandy beaches no less. What else does one need!
We packed our bags in search of some winter sun in dreary January and headed out of Gatwick on the new Dreamliner by Norwegian Airlines, an award winning, low cost airline that we hadn’t travelled on before, but will from now on, as their Premium service and spacious seats are an essential for long haul flights.
Arriving in San Juan was far more comfortable than we imagined – the 9-hour flight flew by as we had good company, complimentary drinks and the odd movie to keep us occupied. Once in San Juan we boarded a very small (what felt like a toy) plane by Cape Air which took us directly to our destination – the island of Vieques.
As it took us much of the day to get to our destination we were relieved to finally arrive at boutique hotel and restaurant, El Blok. After checking in we settled our tired bodies down for a quick pre-bed snack. Carlos Perez (Executive Chef) must have read our minds, the pumpkin soup and salad made from local ingredients was heaven sent. Bellies full we headed straight to our rooms and crashed in our wonderfully comfy beds ready to face island life for the next few days.
First on the itinerary was a sailing excursion with Vieques Classic Charter on board Shalamar with two charming men, Captain Sebastian and his First Mate Paul (who also happened to be the bartender at our hotel). Having just left a very cold and rainy London we couldn’t be happier with the divine weather and our transportation. Originally from the UK, Sebastian had settled in Vieques via Baltimore and was more than content with his new life living on the island. Sebastian gave us a few pointers including the three-point rule (to help us keep steady on the boat) and Paul supplied us with much needed drinks including a delicious rum punch ahead of our sail. After a brief chat around the history of the boat and island living we set sail basking in the sunshine. Once at sea we were encouraged to walk up front and surf the waves from the boat and persuaded to take the wheel before stopping off for a swim in the sea or snorkel if we preferred. Whilst we were relaxing in the water Sebastian prepared lunch on the boat, homemade no less, which he had cooked earlier in the day and consisted of a delicious rice salad and chicken served with more rum punch. After lunch sadly it was time to head back.
We arrived back just in time to get back to our hotel and pick up some bicycles supplied by Tyler at Vieques Adventure Company who were conveniently based on the ground floor of our hotel. As we had a few hours before sunset we decided to make the most of our time and familiarise ourselves with our local surroundings. It’s on our ride that we discovered some of Vieques’s wildlife including; wild horses that roam the countryside, iguanas, dogs and even a hermit crab (our first, though we were later to learn it wouldn’t be the last of the trip). We stumbled across SunBay beach which is popular with the locals and Navio Beach which Sebastian had recommended earlier.
We stopped off for a quick insta shoot before heading back in time to catch the sunset from the roof terrace at El Blok. The whole experience here is beyond words and is one to be savoured and enjoyed in person; delicious cocktails, music and the view was simply ethereal – pictures just don’t do it justice. A few more cocktails in we decided it might be time to head downstairs for more of Carlo’s delicious and creative contemporary Puerto Rican food which we are told is centered around their bayahonda mesquite fired grill and Rotisol rotisserie that is always fresh and often wholly local. Carlos put together a 5 course tasting menu for us which included Spiny Croquettas local lobster, sofrito criollo, seaweed aioli, Ceviche locally caught fresh fish, Pork Links main island USDA certified Pork Farm links, Aji dulce relish, grilled toast and Blok Strip, wood fired signature cut 10oz strip, cheese aligot & roasted achiote cauliflower. For dessert we finished our culinary extravaganza with Churros served with three sauces. The food naturally put us into a food coma so we had a night cap at the bar and headed up to our rooms to rest up ahead of next days adventures…
After a healthy brekkie, we headed out for a beach day at Playa La Chiva which is a secluded beach in the Federal Wildlife Refuge. As it’s so secluded we grabbed some paddle boards from Tyler at the Vieques Adventure Company and stopped off at the local shop upon his recommendation to get some snacks and a bottle of bubbly to enjoy at the beach. We also took advantage of Made in the Shade – a local company offering a service to beach goers where they set up a cabana and provide all essentials such as a cool box, towels and beach loungers for you to fully relax and enjoy the surroundings without lifting a finger! This is not only super convenient but also a must for us city folk as the secluded beach really is secluded.
After a wonderful beach day paddle boarding, sunbathing, drinking champagne and playing dominos (well we were in the Caribbean) we headed back early evening to get changed before dinner at a local restaurant before getting a taxi back in time for our Bio Bay Tour with Taino Aqua Adventures. As the island is world famous for its Bioluminescent Bay we were super excited to see what this looked like up close and personal. We got into our clear bottom kayaks in the dark and tried our hand at kayaking for the first time to see the tiny microorganisms glow. The experience on some level is truly magical, not only do you see the glow from the bay with every ripple and the movement you make when directly touching the water but the stars in the sky were unbelievably bright too. We learned that the mangrove mud has beauty benefits so that was an added bonus – plus we left feeling healthier.
Quick brekkie and another day of adventure awaits – at this stage our trip is speeding past and we don’t want to waste a minute. We took a tour with our friends Vieques Adventure Company who we’d now been calling upon sporadically for all our active needs and who were always more than accommodating – typical of island folk. This time we were going to be given a guided tour of the island and some of its best kept secrets. Rick was our fun and knowledgeable guide, he took us to some of his favourite beaches including Playa Negra (the black sand beach) and some secret beaches that were so secluded we couldn’t find their name or spot them on the map. He also factored in some time for us to snorkel at the Old Pier, personally having never snorkeled before and as someone who is claustrophobic and a tiny bit scared of water this was a huge challenge ahead. Nevertheless, I dived straight in and though it wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences because of said issues I knew I was in good hands with Rick who was patient and helpful and as a result we ended up swimming with a turtle so that’s something that we’ll never forget.
After our wonderful tour of the island with Rick, we headed off to partake in another must, horse riding with Vieques Cowgirl and owner of Esperanza Riding Company (ERC) Elizabeth Buyrn. The two or so hour tour is magical, we ventured around the island with our horsey friends and saw the sunset at Playa Negra which was a divine sight in itself. Elizabeth was fun and pointed out various fruits and plant trees and dropped interesting nuggets of information about the island en-route. Exhausted after our excursions we realised in all the excitement we hadn’t eaten since brekkie so headed straight to El Blok for a few drinks and food which now had become our go to not just for convenience but because we knew it was always going to be a winner. We especially love the local ingredients salad. After dinner we went to the only bar open after a certain time (Lazy Jacks) for a night cap before heading back to catch some sleep.
Sadly, it’s our last day. Usual brekkie, then a final trip to the beach. As cabs are rare and not always trustworthy (something we learnt quite early on – everything is on island time) we decided to cycle to the Federal Wildlife Refuge for our final beach day (Rick had recommended we try his favourite beach Playa Plata before we went). The beach like many others on the island was secluded and beautiful, the final hours of our trip were bittersweet – happy to be on the beach, sad to be leaving…
Other things we learnt; island time is a real thing and you can’t always prepare for it. Our recommendation is to book transportation at least a day ahead (even then there’s no guarantee). Failing that befriend the locals, we called upon a few to help us out a few times as taxi’s are so in demand they didn’t always turn up. Locals are super friendly and always willing to help. Wildlife here is off the charts, chances of you seeing animals or creatures are pretty high. We definitely felt like we had visited paradise for a few days. The people, the island, our hotel, tour guides have all been charming and are genuinely helpful. We were truly sad to leave it behind but we’re confident we’ll be back.
El Blok Hotel & Restaurant is unique gem and the epitome of understated luxury, it’s accessible, quirky and fits in beautifully with the islands aesthetics. With only 22 rooms it has a certain simplicity and uncompromising comfort that is true to its low environmental impact philosophy.
To book visit www.norwegian.com/uk or call 0330 828 0854
- Norwegian operates a twice weekly seasonal flight (only until March 2017) direct from Gatwick to Puerto Rico
- Norwegian is the only airline in the UK to offer a direct service between London Gatwick and Puerto Rico
- Alternatively, indirect flights are available via NYC or Fort Lauderdale
- All flights are operated by a fleet of brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft with two cabins – Premium and economy.
Fares start from £139 one-way in economy and £499 one-way in Premium including all taxes and charges.