by Mike Virgintino,
One of the best vacations imaginable can be found on the island of Vieques. The tropical paradise of Vieques is very close to the U.S. mainland. Actually it is only about six miles away from Puerto Rico. Part of an archipelago, Vieques, fondly called “La Isla Nena” (Little Girl Island), is at the center of the Antilles.
Vieques is a mixture of sleepy fishing villages, tucked away homes, small vacation hideaways, one or two larger resorts and former military land that daily becomes gradually reclaimed by nature. Many vacationers, nature explorers and long-term residents prefer this island to the more crowded and noisy Puerto Rico.
Esperanza is a favorite destination on the southern side of the island. It has a long fishing tradition, a boardwalk that opens to the ocean and several restaurants and inns near the beach. In the capital city of Isabel II, the town square has been remodeled. The historical architecture of the town has made its center an attractive location for night entertainment.
The history of Vieques includes the presence of a large U.S. navy base that practiced its bombing tactics and maneuvers there until 2003. While some areas remain off-limits due to unexploded ordnance and yet-to-be found shells, a considerable part of the island allows access for exploration. Vegetation has reclaimed much of the military land, hiding the earlier activity and returning the island to its tropical topography.
Fort Count de Mirasol
Anyone who wants to learn about old Vieques can plan a visit to Fort Count de Mirasol. The location of Vieques prompted don Rafael Aristegui y Velez (Count of Mirasol), governor of Puerto Rico, to convince the Spanish government to build a defensive fortress here during the 1840s. Carefully restored after subsequent use as a prison and seismographic station a followed by abandonment, the fort now houses a museum of art and history that celebrates the culture of the island.
The exhibits showcase Indian relics, displays of the Spanish conquest and flags of the Danes, British and French, all of whom are part of the history and culture. The French sugarcane planters and their African slaves are portrayed, as is a bust of Simon Bolivar, the Venezuelan military and political leader who helped drive the Spanish from the area and who visited the island. A unique collection of maps shows how the world’s cartographers envisioned Vieques.
Other Attractions on Vieques
Other places of interest on Vieques include:
- Two lighthouses built about 1894: Punta Mulas Lighthouse and close to the port at Isabel II and Puerto Ferro Lighthouse inside Camp Garcia.
- The Frenchman’s House: built about 1900 for sugar planter Victor Mourraille, who owned the Puerto Real Sugar Factory in Esperanza.
- Mosquito (Bioluminescent) Bay: Locals will take you to see this wonder of nature.
To get to the island from Puerto Rico, take a small plane or a ferry from Fajardo. The boat trip is a pleasant 60-75 minute ride through calm waters. The plane rides are cramped and can be an adventure. Once on Vieques, the locals are engaging and friendly but respective of the visitor’s appreciation of privacy and quiet.