The islands

Vieques, a peaceful, relaxing, low-key island of rolling hills, is 11 km across the sea from Puerto Rico. It was catapulted into the limelight in 1999 when islanders began a successful campaign for the removal of the US military from their bases at the east and west ends of the island. The island is about 34 km long and the inhabitants are mostly concentrated in the main town of Isabel Segunda. It was named Graciosa by Columbus, after a friend's mother, but was then better known as Crab Island by pirates.

Culebra has a climate and landscape similar to that of the Virgin Islands, with tropical forest on the hills and palm groves near the beaches. It is even better than Vieques, with less petty theft, better accommodation, more peace and more beautiful beaches, though the island is poor, with very high unemployment; most people who have jobs work for the municipality or in construction. The island is about 11 km long and 5 km wide.

Vieques

Fajardo
is the closest sea and airport to Vieques. To reach the islands, catch the ferry or a plane from San Juan or Fajardo.
Públicos
meet you at the airport and ferry dock or let your hotel/guesthouse arrange transport for you. If you use a
público
to go to the beach you can arrange a time to be picked up later. Car hire is widely available on the island.

There is an excellent historical museum in Isabel Segunda at the beautifully restored fort,
El Fortín Conde de Mirasol
, which was the last fort begun by the Spanish in the Western Hemisphere. There is another interesting exhibit at the
Punta Mulas Lighthouse
.

The small beach town of
Esperanza
is the main area of guesthouses and restaurants geared at tourists, bars, dive companies. The town's
museum
 has archaeological and natural history exhibits.

The US Military used to own two-thirds of Vieques, but since 2003 the land has been a national park . Vieques has over 52 beaches in secluded coves. Public
Sun Bay
has picnic and camping areas (no shade in camping area, lots of petty theft). Small, hardy, island horses, most with paso fino blood lines (that means smooth gaits with no bouncing), are still used as transport, and wild horses roam the island. Renting a horse is an exciting way to explore the island.

Mosquito Bay
, also known as
Phosphorescent Bay
, is a large, but very shallow bay, surrounded by mangrove trees and full of bioluminescent organisms. The organisms glow when disturbed. The glow generated by a 13-cm fish is about a 39 cm circle of light brighter than a light bulb. Swimming in this glow is a wonderful experience. Sightseeing trips go at night. The beaches here are the nesting grounds for three different turtles. Reserva Natural Bahía Puerto Mosquito permits camping, but watch out for petty theft.

Culebra

The main village,
Dewey
(called Pueblo by the locals) is attractively set between two lagoons. About 40% of the land is park or national reserve, including many beaches. The
Culebra National Wildlife Refuge
, 600 ha, comprising 23 offshore islands and four parcels of land on Culebra, protects large colonies of sea birds, particularly terns, red-billed tropic birds and boobies,
as well as nesting sea turtles: hawksbill, leatherback, loggerhead and green. Volunteers are welcomed (April to August) to help Wildlife Refuge rangers count and protect nests and hatchlings.

Flamenco Beach
is 1½ km long with white sand and exquisitely beautiful clear turquoise water, a reef at one end and waves at the other. It is almost deserted except for a few guesthouses at the far end selling a limited amount of drinks, but it becomes a zoo at summer weekends.
Culebrita
and
Luís Peña
are two small cays offshore with beaches. Both are wildlife sanctuaries.


This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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