Vieques, one of the Spanish Virgin Islands of Puerto Rico, located just seven miles off the eastern tip of Puerto Rico.
It is entirely surrounded by more than 50 miles of pristine, nearly-deserted beach and crystal blue waters. Wild Paso Fino horses, descendents of the original horses brought by the Spanish hundreds of years ago, roam the interior of the island. There are no stoplights, no fast food restaurants and no crowds on the beaches. It’s a part of the United States, so you don’t need a passport to get here. And it was voted “Best Island in the Caribbean” by the 2009 readers of Travel & Leisure magazine.
Vieques Island is home to the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world, one of only seven remaining in the world. The bio-bay is a “wonder of the world” that must be experienced to be believed. All tours permit you to jump in and swim in the glowing water. Tourists of all ages rave about the experience!
The Viequenses people are friendly and welcoming to the tourists who visit their island. And because Vieques, Puerto Rico is a part of the United States, it’s easy to get married, unlike other non-U.S. Virgin Islands where you have to jump through hoops to get your marriage license. U.S. dollars are the accepted currency, and most of the people you encounter speak English.
The popularity of Vieques began to grow dramatically after 1999, when a political battle to end the U.S. Navy’s occupation of two-thirds of the island brought the tiny paradise into the media limelight. Despite the many articles that have been written about it in the world’s biggest travel publications, it remains largely unchanged from the way it was 10 years ago, if you don’t count the Wi-Fi and geocaches.
You can still find virtually empty beaches almost any day of the week. The local restaurants serve tantalizing fresh seafood and local specialties. And the island offers a wide variety of accommodations to suit every size group and every budget.
Vieques was initially “discovered” by Christopher Columbus on his second exploring voyage, and then for hundreds of years it was populated only by large sugar cane plantations and the people who worked on them. The remains of the sugar plantation economy remain and make for excellent exploring for visitors with a sense of history and adventure. In the 1940’s, the U.S. Navy took control of large sections of Vieques Island (and its smaller sister island Culebra) to build a live-fire bombing range for air-land-sea assault practice and for storage for enough munitions to supply the Navy’s North Atlantic fleet. They took the land by eminent domain, and pushed the Viequenses to the center of the island to resettle. For many years the military and the locals existed in relative harmony, but the U.S. Navy’s exploitation of the live-fire bombing range, including renting it out to foreign nations for bombing practice, finally pushed the Puerto Rican government over the edge.
After a long standoff that involved the Department of Defense, protestors, politicians, and a whole lot of media coverage, the U.S. Navy was ordered to return the land to the government of Puerto Rico. All of the beaches that were once within the Navy base are now open to the public, with the exception of those in the former live-fire area. The island’s tourism industry is growing, and with it, the number of destination weddings on its beautiful shores. Because Vieques Island is easily accessibly by ferry or puddle jumper airplane from San Juan, it’s a popular destination for large and small wedding parties.