Not far from the mainland of Puerto Rico, lies a sister island where you can go to disconnect. Vieques, also known as La Isla Nena, “Little Girl Island,” is a 52-square-mile island where the pace of life is a leisurely dream.

The island only recently began welcoming tourists over the last few decades. The natives of Vieques are forthcoming with stories of the island’s history, both good and bad. Despite the lingering impact of its history, Viequense people are proud of their home and filled with stories of its transformation. Vieques is one of two neighboring islands that make up the territory of Puerto Rico. This beautiful island rivals any idyllic paradise.

You won’t find any major chain hotels or restaurants anywhere on Vieques. In fact, during the low season months of September and October, some businesses close for an annual holiday. Calling ahead during this season is a major key. If you’re looking for a less crowded domestic beach getaway, consider these top activities to do while in Vieques.

Experience Bioluminescent Waters

Mosquito Bay is a magical site where nature’s beauty is on full display from the waters to the sky. Located on the southern shore, Mosquito Bay holds the record for being the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world. Nighttime kayaking tours are the best way to experience the microscopic organisms lighting up shades of bright blue when agitated. You’ll set off into the night on glass-bottomed boats, noticing sparkles beneath you as you paddle into darkness. 

Companies, like Black Beard Sports, are skilled in safely guiding visitors to bioluminescent hotspots in the bay. Motion, such as darting fish or hand gestures across the water, prompts the water to light up a magical blue. This nighttime activity is best experienced during a new moon phase. Plan ahead because full moon nights make it harder to experience one of Puerto Rico’s most magnificent natural wonders.

Enjoy a Day at Sunset Bay

If thoughts of a near-empty beach have you daydreaming at work, then Sun Bay Beach may be what you’re envisioning. This public beach, with its occasional roaming horse spotting, is a picture-perfect one-mile stretch of coastline. Coconut trees line the shore, providing respite from Vieques’ signature humid and hot temperatures.

On its more populated days, Sun Bay Beach rarely sees crowds like other major tourist destinations. You can enjoy a sizeable part of the beach and its swim-friendly clear waters without a stranger in earshot.

Go Horseback Riding on The Beach

horeback riding on the beach in Vieques
Photo credit: Simone Cheri

Another way to experience Vieques’ lush nature and beautiful beaches is to take the journey by horse. Horseback riding experiences safely guide you and your friendly companion through nature’s bounty and across two beaches. 

From the cliffside sprawling property, you’ll venture out through nature trails before landing at Coconut Beach. A short stretch of seaside views brings you to the next set of nature trails that connect to the second beach: Playa Negra. This black sand beach on Vieques, which is not the most ideal for swimming, is even more scenic during a horse ride. The ride concludes with a trot through the herd’s home property, overlooking the Caribbean Sea for a gorgeous sunset view. This is the perfect outdoor activity for couples, friend groups and families.

Relax at a Boutique Island Stay

Since the island is devoid of major hotel chains, accommodations naturally deliver a more personalized touch. Private rentals and cozy guesthouses are the primary sources of lodging for visitors.

Casa de Amistad and Blue Horizon Boutique Resort are two of the island’s best recommendations for places to call home away from home. Casa de Amistad is a top-ranked, LGBT-friendly guesthouse with the perks of a hotel stay and the comforts of having an island home. The property features a pool, shared kitchen, several lounge spaces and a plush in-room decor aesthetic. Casa de Amistad is also within walking distance of Vieques’s main plaza, where you’ll find several restaurants and bars with local cuisine favorites and handcrafted cocktails.

For a more traditional stay, Blue Horizon Boutique Resort sits along the shore. The property’s amenities include those of a typical hotel room, but the views and attentive service leave a lasting impression. On-site, there’s also Carambola Restuarant and Blue Moon Bar, which are open seven days a week year-round. Wellness services, such as massages, also are available for booking in-room, cliffside or near the pool.

Try Locally Distilled Spirits at Crab Island Rum Distillery

rum bottle display at Crab Island Rum Distillery
Photo credit: Simone Cheri

As the rum capital of the world, owner and co-founder Iván Torres felt like the representation of Puerto Rico’s rum was missing an artisanal flair. While major brands export from the mainland, Torres decided to create the first distillery of artisanal rum on Vieques.

Currently offering four products, the line consists of two infusions: orange and coffee. There’s also a Classic Rum and 3-Year Aged Rum. Try their fun spin on classic cocktails made with Crab Island rum for a twist on your favorite libation.