Travel With Bender

Uncovering the best family holidays

Puerto Rico

Vieques, Puerto Rico:
Caribbean Island Postcard Perfection… But No “Life of Pi” at the Bio Bay

Getting there

We left Rincon at 9am with all intent to get to Farajado for 1pm ferry. That was before we discovered the freeway had a massive blockage and we were not going anywhere fast.

Anyway by the time we reached the ferry it was 2pm and we decided to just go and buy our tickets for the 4:30pm ferry. When Josh arrived at the window they let us know there was a ferry leaving at 2:30pm if we wanted to get on that.

All of a sudden I was parking the car and passing the bags out to my husband for a mad dash to the port to catch the 2:30pm ferry.

Tickets were $5 for 2 adults and 1 child; my 3 year old was free.

The floating cinema

The 2:30pm is not the regular ferry that makes the pass at 4:30pm. Instead it was like a death trap. We were locked into a tiny room where everyone had to be seated. A smallish box of a room holding perhaps 80 seats with no windows and only one door. They put on a movie on two LCD TVs at the front (in Spanish), turned off the lights and we were left to sit in darkness for an hour with only the terrible movie shining it’s light through the room.

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It was sickening.

Josh had taken his new anti seasickness tablets and fell off to sleep quickly. I decided to do some writing, but soon started to feel that familiar lurch in my tummy and dryness at the back of my throat.

I tried standing up and was told I had to sit down. I said I couldn’t and I need to go outside. They weren’t happy about that, but they let me out for a little while. After 5 minutes they asked me to go back inside the dark, locked box.  Thankfully it wasn’t too much longer before we arrived in Vieques, the doors were opened and we were allowed out of the darkness.

Vieques

Vieques is a small island 8 miles (13 km) east of the Puerto Rico, and measures about 21 miles (34 km) long by 4 miles (6 km) wide. We stayed in Esperanza on the southern side. The population is around 10,000. Vieques is part of the USA, but retains strong influences from 400 years of Spanish ownership, much like Puerto Rico.

Publico

When we stepped out we had no idea what to do, but soon a publico stopped next to us and asked where we were headed. These run as a kind of taxi shuttle picking up people and dropping them where they want to go. The price is officially $3 per person, however they will often (and did) try and charge $5 per person. If paying $3, give a tip, if more – no tip.

They are also open to  negotiations. We managed to take one to the beach for 4 adults, 2 kids for $14 and then from the beach to our hotel and our hotel to the ferry for $20. Of course we had a Spanish-speaking friend so negotiations were a lot friendlier.

TradeWinds

We arrived at our guesthouse directly on the beach. It was in the most amazing location, but perhaps not the prettiest hotel. It still had a cute quaintness to it and was clean.

Our room was $98 for tiled floors, queen bed and a single bed, aircon and bathroom. A delicious breakfast was also included with choices of eggs, pancakes, french toast or omelet plus juice and coffee.

The wifi never worked, but with views like this from breakfast who could be on a computer?

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Duffy’s & bumping into the legendary Anna

We decided to head to dinner before our bioluminescent bay tour. As we wandered down the street passing numerous restaurants I noticed a young girl getting in or out of a car. She looked familiar, but I kept on walking.

Once we were seated in a restaurant she wandered in, “Erin?”

“I thought it was you,” I exclaimed. It was Anna from the Legendary Adventures of Anna. Wow!

We had planned to meet during the trip sometime cause I knew she was in Puerto Rico, but what a coincidence! She invited us to a restaurant next door to have dinner with her and her boyfriend, which we excitedly accepted.

The taco salad I had at Duffy’s was awesome and I was so excited to have such delicious food. The conversation was interesting and it was great to meet such a brave young woman.

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Bioluminescent Bay

We raced from dinner back to our guesthouse just as the yellow school bus from Island Adventures rocked up. It was a quick ride to their headquarters where we paid our $120 ($40 per adult, $20 per child), put the kids in their life vests and jumped back on the bus with a bunch of other tourists.

The drive was not too far, but it was fairly bumpy and rickety in that old bus as we traversed unpaved dirt roads filled with potholes. Tiny fireflies passed the trees on either side and we enthusiastically pointed them out to the kids. It was our first time seeing the glowing creatures.

At the end of the bus ride an electric pontoon was waiting for us, we all boarded and headed out into Mosquito Bay.

We had chosen the darkest night with a new moon (no moon). As you splash through the water you think at first that the waves are really white in the moonlight. But there is no moonlight, just tiny organisms in the water lighting the way.

The boat stopped in the water and with every shake or stomp you could see the water light up in several spots. The guides brought water in buckets onto the boat where you could dip your hands in and splash the water around watching it light up with the light of thousands of sparkling stars.

When I cupped the water in my hands it glittered like the night sky and I told my children to, “Come see. I’m holding stars in my hands.”

The only time you couldn’t see it was when God was filling the sky with lightning and the whole bay lit up.

The kids loved splashing the water in the bucket, over the deck and watching the “stars”. I was also able to descend the ladder at the back of the boat and have a small splash around with my feet in the water.

Photos were near impossible and I was not keen to get too far in as I have heard a rumour of sharks.  Legendary Anna, had, the previous night, gone swimming in the bay with no such sightings of sharks.

Finally the pontoons engines restarted and we made our way back through the bay.

I have to admit a little disappointment. Damn Life of PI had given me high expectations. Not that I was hoping to see a whale swimming underneath me or anything, but some fish or something swimming through it would have been cool. It wasn’t a full-on glowing body of water like the movie depicts, but more like seeing the bay under a giant black light.

The bus ride home was fairly slow as the rain started to pour. I thank God it stared when we were on the bus, not on the boat. We raced our sleeping kids through the rain to our room and all jumped into our warm beds.

Breakfast & plans

The next morning the kids were awake early so we decided to make the most of it and headed to breakfast. Beautiful views and delicious breakfast. Not too long in Anna and her boyfriend showed up and we made plans for the day. Deciding on a relaxing day at the beach before heading back to Puerto Rico on the 3pm ferry.

La Merida beach

As mentioned previously our publico took us to La Merida for $14. La Merida is a gorgeous beach, perfect for children. The water was still, barely a ripple. The sand was white and extremely fine, perfect for sandcastles and swimming in the shallow water. I don’t know how many times I can describe crystal blue water, but this one was completely translucent and not very deep at all. You could wade out all the way to the rope and not even wet your chest.

Towards shore it was warm and bath-like, easy to enter and further out it got a little cooler. Nice enough to be refreshing, but not too cool to be cold.

We spent a good 3 hours or so on that beach with our new friends and it was everything a perfect day could be. Including trying the Puerto Rican Gasolina. 

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Finally it was time to go. Our taxi came back to collect us and then our bags from the hotel before dropping us off at the ferry terminal.

We brought our tickets (again only $5) had lunch at café nearby, which was delicious, and got on our ferry.

Ferry ride home

The ferry ride home was very different to the ride to the island. The ferry was 2 story and very large with big windows and no rules. It was a much more pleasant ride with no sickness because the windows allowed constant views of the horizon, and the sea was in a fairly good mood.

Back at the port we loaded our belongings back in the car, which had been parked in a security lot for $10 ($5 per day) and started the drive to the rainforest. 

Vieques is a gorgeous asset to Puerto Rico. We never witnessed any of the reported crimes from the island, however we did witness a lot of police in the backstreets while dropping off an old lady on the way to our hotel.

Our friends actually slept on the beach in a tent and were never bothered, except by the wild horses that roam quite freely around.

Would I go again? Positively. The beaches were warm and pretty, the hotels were directly on the beach and the food was pretty good. It’s great for either a day trip or a short holiday for a few days. All in all, my kind of island. 

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"I respond to every comment by private email. So please leave me comments, I love chatting to you" -
Posted by Michele {Malaysian Meanders} on
The island of Vieques sounds quite lovely. I also really like that you're such a friendly extrovert that you make friends wherever you go. Too bad that the Bio Bay was a disappointment. When we went to the bioluminescent bay in Fajardo, there weren't any motorized boats. Everyone had to kayak in, so we were able to be really close to the water and even see fish dart through the water below us. No whales, though. In the Fajardo bio bay, people aren't allowed to swim in the water because they realized that the skin oils and sunscreen getting into the water were beginning to kill off the bioluminescent plankton that make it so famous.
Posted by Charli | Wanderlusters on
What a fab trip! I love the photos of you all jumping about on the beach! Happy family time!
Posted by Louie on
Thanks for posting! Now I know where my next vacation will be. Puerto Rico/Vieques, here I come!
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