Vieques is a small island about seven miles off the coast of Puerto Rico on the edge of the Caribbean Sea. It is about 20 miles long and five miles or so wide at its widest. The center of the island is hills going up to about 300ft, falling off on either side to a coastal plain. There are many beautiful and uncrowded beaches.
The climate is warm and subtropical year round. The sea is warm and inviting. Coconut palms grace the beaches, inland Mangoes and Banana plants grow everywhere. White Brahma cows and horses are often seen wandering in the roads – even in town. At night you will hear choirs of tree frogs, the distant sound of the sea, wind rustling in the banana trees, and dawn choruses of Roosters!
About two thirds of Vieques is unoccupied and given over to park and nature reserves, a very rare thing in the Caribbean. This is due to a long and difficult history that Vieques has had with the US Navy. However, in 2001 the US Navy relinquished the western end of the island, and in May 2003 they gave up the eastern end of the island, creating a unique reserve.
Vieques has about 9000 occupants. There is one large town on the north side of the island, Isabella Secunda (named after Queen Isabella II who was the sponsor of Columbus). On the south side there is the fishing village of Esperanza, and then there are various other small “Barrios” (townships) scattered in the hills. About 8,000 of the population are Puerto Ricans, the rest mostly expatriate Americans and a few Europeans. Spanish is the main language spoken, though most locals speak some English.
Our house is located in the village of Esperanza, situated in a bay on the south side of the island. Most of the shops and restaurants are concentrated in a strip along the sea front, know as the Malecon (which loosely translates as a Broadwalk or Promenade). It is about five minutes walk from the house. There are half a dozen restaurants and bars of different sorts, a couple of different gift and clothing shops, the town museum, and a dive shop/school. You can swim from the town beach or the nearby Coco Beach. There are various fishing boats moored out in the water, and it is also possible to take tours out to the nearby Bioluminescent Bay which is reputed to be one of the best in the world. Diving and snorkeling trips are possible through the dive shop.
Isabella II has additional shops, a couple of supermarkets, a US Post Office, and restaurants. Above the town can be found Fort Count Mirasol, which has been converted to a museum explaining the history of Vieques, from the Taino Indians who lived here when Columbus landed in 1493, through the booming days of the sugar plantations to the present day. Afterwards head for Mar Azul’s bar near the ferry port for a lunch snack or a Pina Colada whilst you watch the sun go down over the sea.