So I told you in my Puerto Rico Girls’ Trip post that the Bio Bay on Vieques Island is amazing – like, AH-MAZING.
The island itself is actually quite the little gem with incredible beaches, wild horses just roaming freely everywhere and an awesome laid back beach culture.
I wouldn’t lie to you about this.
Here’s what’s also true: getting there is a real pain in rear.
It takes a lot of preparation and a little luck to make it, but I’m going to help you navigate all of that as best I can.
Getting To Vieques: Navigating the Ferry System
For anyone willing to pay for it, there are private sea plane companies that fly out to Vieques Island. I know nothing about this, but just know that’s an option if you don’t want to deal with all of the below.
For those not flying however, you will be taking the ferry.
The government runs the ferry system in Puerto Rico, so I think we all know what that means. Refer to my comment above. You can’t get tickets for the ferry ahead of time unless you have a stroke of sheer luck and manage to both get someone to answer the phone at the ferry service, and that person happens to be willing to sell you something.
Those two stars aligning is nearly impossible from what I understand.
This makes your only real option standing in line on your day of departure and hoping you get a ticket in time.
Here’s the other thing the locals told us to be aware of: many of their larger ferries are often broken down and sometime smaller ferries are used, which means less tickets sold. Lines can be very long, especially on weekends, and evidently that only matters if they feel like adding an extra boat, which they don’t always do.
So with all that in mind…
It is highly recommended that you get to the ferry station at least – AT LEAST – 2 hours before departure time. You can find a ferry schedule here: Vieques Island Ferry Schedule — but please do double check this with another source ahead of time just to be sure this site is current.
We were advised to try for the earliest ferry so that if tickets sold out for that one, we would still be able to make the next ferry out in the afternoon. This seems like a solid strategy. I would recommend trying a weekday as well, if at all possible. I’m sure there would be fewer crowds then, probably by a lot.
Also, when you go to get in line, make sure you get in the correct line! There is one for Culebra Island (which is hear is breathtaking) and one for Vieques, and it’s not at all obvious which is which. Assuming they don’t switch it up now and again just for funsies, the Vieques line was a shorter one behind the barricades that you couldn’t readily see as you approached the station.
Now, in case you are thinking ahead when you’re standing in line that day, let me prepare you: you cannot get a ticket for the return ferry while you’re buying your tickets to Vieques. They will not sell you one – not even if it’s for the very next day.
I know. I tried.
The good news is that coming back from Vieques is much easier and you’ll only need to plan to be at the ferry station about an hour before for that stretch.
Also, if you can, plan for at least 2 nights on Vieques so that if for some reason you can’t make it over on the first day, you’ll have a second day to fall back on. This sounds absurd, right? We heard from multiple people that this happens. I don’t know how often, but evidently it can and 2 nights on Vieques would be really awesome, anyway.
There is quite a bit to see on the island, so a longer stay will allow you to cover more. This was a last minute addition for us and I wish we had had more time. There were a lot of really cool-sounding places on the island that we didn’t make it to.
Please note that you will not be able to take a car with you onto the ferry, but there are several lots right around the station that will keep your car for $5/day. (The ferry website says it’s possible to take your car, but everyone we talked to and any alternate site I found all said no.)
Plan to grab a cab when you get to the island (there are men standing out in front of the ferry station waiting), or rent a jeep.
If you want to explore a lot of beaches, go ahead and get the Jeep. Our host told us that cab rides to some of the beaches could be $25 so it would add up quickly.
Good grief, that was a lot of space to devote to transportation, but it is just that complicated, unfortunately.
On the positive side, I STILL think Vieques is worth a visit, even though getting there made us feel like this:
Why Mosquito Bay
You might be thinking of giving up on Vieques at this point and just going to the bio bay in Fajardo. I haven’t been to that one personally, so I can’t say for sure what the differences are. I will tell you though that the locals in San Juan told us to go to Vieques for sure. They said the Vieques bio bay (Mosquito Bay – lovely name, isn’t it?) is much nicer than the one in Fajardo. It makes sense that it would be. Vieques is largely a nature reserve and it’s far away from any big city lights. From what I understand, they’ve been working to clean up the pollution in the Fajardo bay, so it’s getting better, but it’s still on the rebound. There is also more ambient light in Fajardo from the nearby city and you need it to be as dark as possible to see the bioluminescence well.
When to Go
Check the moon calendar when planning your trip. The New Moon (i.e. no moon visible) is the ideal time to go. They say that when the moon is full, you can’t see much, even on Vieques. I’m not even sure if they offer tours then. We lucked out and just happened to be there on the New Moon and it was spectacular.
Where to Stay
Esperanza is a tiny town on the bio bay side of the island and we loved staying there. We rented an apartment at this cute little guesthouse called the Coco Loco. It’s owned by Joe and Margo, who moved to the island of Vieques some time ago from New York. They were so sweet and accommodating and we loved our visit. I highly recommend renting from them when you go.
Choosing a Tour
Abe’s Snorkeling and Bio Bay Tours has great reviews on TripAdvisor.com, so we went with them.
They did not disappoint.
The tour was great and everyone was very nice and easy to work with. One guy on our tour said that he had been 3 times to the bio bay and our tour was by far the best he had been on.
We went out in 2-person kayaks and our guide did a great job keeping up with everyone in the dark. It was just all around an amazing experience.
Besides, they have the island’s only licensed pirate.
I’m usually a deet-free kind of girl, but when going to a place called Mosquito Bay, we thought the stronger the bugspray the better. However, they don’t allow you to use a deet repellant on the tours, so go ahead and pack your natural bugspray. If you forget, they sell it in the Abe’s giftshop, but you will pay more for it there.
As for that Bio Bay…
All I can say is wow.
It was magical.
If you don’t know, the bioluminescence is caused by tiny plankton in the water that light up when they feel motion. These only exist in a handful of places in the world and they are an awe-inspiring sight.
Each little lap of the water lit up a sparkling blue. Every stroke of your paddle made a shock of glowing light shoot through water below. If you ran your hand through it and raised it up to your face you would see little sparkles cascading down it.
There’s so much a camera can’t catch and that’s really too bad because I wanted to capture it forever. This was the best I could do with super long exposures, hand-held on a moving kayak. They can only give you a slight impression of what it’s like to be there.
You really need to go experience it for yourself.
The Rest of Vieques
As I said at the beginning, we didn’t get to see nearly as much of Vieques as I would I have liked on this trip, but what we did see was everything from quirky fun to gorgeous. It was great.
Our favorite meal was the fish tacos from Lizzy’s Lunchbox food truck.
Food trucks always have the best food.
I’m convinced of it.
Did I mention there are wild horses just roaming freely everywhere?
I do mean everywhere.
It’s the coolest.
Sun Bay was in walking distance from our apartment and after cutting through some rather questionable weeds…
…we made it to this little piece of paradise.
There was next to no one there and it was spectacular.
I know there’s so much more to Vieques to see, but I hope this little slice entices you to make the trip.
In my opinion, it’s a must-see destination. I can’t wait to take my family someday and explore more.
Photo Credits: Photos of me or food, probably by Ilde Cook (SheHeWe Photography). Photos of Ilde, probably by me. Details and landscapes, by… one of the two of us. It’s anyone’s best guess.