We first published our Vieques Beach Directory in October of 2018, and since then, we get asked one question a lot, "What's the best beach in Vieques?" Or more often it is worded as, "What's your favorite beach in Vieques?" We always look at each other like we're still in Witness Protection, with no good answer. "It's a simple question", so why do we not have a simple answer? The first reason is that, though we spend a lot of time on beaches, we're not exactly experts on the subject. We're not Dr. Beach, with his 50 criteria for evaluating beaches. But we do know what we like and have a general idea of what others like, so we give it a shot. The next excuse is that there are so many beaches in Vieques! It's not exactly clear how many but it's definitely over 50 of them with their beautiful curves of white sand and blue water.
The questions actually turn into a fun conversation, because 1) everyone is looking for something different, and 2) everyone has a different opinion on what best actually means, in a beach. We often start with "What do you like to do at the beach?", as that will narrow things down considerably. We may also ask if you prefer complete solitude, a few people, or a busy bustling beach scene, and this narrows the list even more. By the way, in Vieques that bustling beach is a rarity, only seen for a couple of weeks here and there throughout the year, and only on a few beaches. For us, let's just say that's not what we seek out, but it can be entertaining, God knows that's true!
We realized that categorizing what people like to do at the beach incorporates these questions and many others, so we went with this approach. We've listed several categories below and for each activity, we chose our own Favorite Beach on Vieques. Remember, these are opinions, whole opinions, and nothing but opinions. Our opinions. Others may have other great thoughts that go against our thinking, but hey, you asked and these are our answers.
We think of beachcombing as searching for "treasures from the sea", which may include seaglass, shells, driftwood, unique stones, sea creatures, and various manmade artifacts. It's a very popular pastime on beaches around the world. We've found a boat compass, lots of rope and nets, floats for crab and fish traps, other boat pieces and parts, dominoes, kids' toys, etc. We've also seen starfish, conchs and other creatures that needed a hand returning to the water, and of course various pieces of trash. Now "beachcombing" isn't picking up trash per se, but it doesn't hurt while you're in the neighborhood! 😉 Many of the treasures found in this part of the Caribbean were picked up and delivered by hurricanes Irma and Maria, and we're slowly cleaning that all up, the good with the bad.
As you might imagine, Seaglass Beach has a lot of glass, and is right in town, but in our experience most of the pieces are broken into smaller pieces. For us, the prize seaglass are larger pieces with some unique shape to them. We keep returning to Monte Santo Playa because it is pretty and peaceful, and often captures interesting treasures of its own. Airport Beach, over the rocks on the left, has a surprising amount of seaglass as well, but not too many shells.
But after great discussion and argument (not really), our Favorite Beach in Vieques is... Ceiba Tree Beach, for beachcombing. We walk the dogs here every week and always find seaglass and other interesting treasures, including beautiful rocks and shells. If you're into beachcombing, you should really consider this one, or try all four!
I will say first of all that we're not surfers. I can catch a (small) wave on my SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) once in a while, but I don't consider myself a surfer at all, and Deb doesn't even want to try it. That said, we do have eyes and we can see good, rideable waves and surfers on them. I grew up in a surfing area, so even though I never got any good at it, I know something about it all. The second thing I should mention is that Vieques is not a surf destination like Rincon or Aguadilla on mainland PR. But on the right days, there is definitely some fun to be had on a surfboard, boogie board, or SUP.
I've seen a lot of action on the right side of Cayo Tierra in Esperanza harbor, as the waves wrap around the cayo. Surfers and Paddleboarders take the long paddle out from the cayo sand bridge on the left side of Playa Esperanza and ride lefts into the harbor's opening. Playa Navio is known for strong surf with lots of waves, but I've never seen good organized sets coming in - it's much more random and probably best for boogie boarding and body surfing. La Chata on the north side has a well-known reef and surf spot, with the reefs providing the break. Even La Chiva #2 has a nice little left break for a SUP or longboard rider.
El Gallito, the little rooster, has a sweet right break when the wind is from the northeast; it's simply beautiful to watch good surfers and boogie boarders ride this break. For this reason, we choose El Gallito as our Favorite Beach in Vieques, for surfing! (subject to change when the real surfers hop on our case).
Note: in all cases, the reefs are what cause the waves to break. This means that the water can be very shallow and a wipeout at the wrong time can mean a taking a header into something very hard. Caution is the word of the day.
We love to kayak because it allows us to get out, get wet, and get a workout too. We can go places that are too wavy and windy for a paddleboard. We don't go out in the deep blue sea, but in our kayaks we can handle the bigger bodies of water like Ensenada Honda, Esperanza Bay, and Puerto Ferro Bay as long as the winds aren't blowing too much.
We have launched at La Plata, Playa Esperanza, Starfish Beach, and others. La Plata gives you access to the bay of Ensenada Honda with a few small beaches, beautiful reefs, and mangroves to explore. In Esperanza, you can launch at the sand bridge to the cayo, by the Sugar Pier or by the Fisherman's Pier - any of these are very easy. Although it can get a little windy, the paddling is relatively easy, and you can cruise around the boats at anchor in the harbor, go out by the cayos, or even go west to Coco Beach - it's not far. At Starfish Beach you can paddle west over to the pilings, or up the causeway road out to the pier.
Those are all fun days, but our best day by far was launching at Tres Palmitas in the wildlife preserve and exploring Puerto Ferro Bay. You can paddle with dolphins, go to Playa Corcho, or if the wind and waves are calm enough, go out to the rock cut on the point at the east side of Puerto Ferro Bay. For less excitement (that can be a challenge out there), you can find calm waters around the Tres Palmitas point and the bay area closest to it. You don't launch from Playa Corcho, but you go there so we're calling it our Favorite Beach in Vieques, for kayaking.
For those who like to paddleboard, who have some skills but are not hardcore athletes, there are some great places to choose from. Big time paddleboarders may go out in the "big water" and all sorts of places we'll probably never go. We like a little adventure, but we don't want to end up in the news if you know what I mean.
When we first started, we spent time at Starfish Beach because it's somewhat protected from the wind by the Rompeolas causeway. We still like to paddle around from this beach, all the way out to the pier. But probably the easiest place to learn is at Media Luna, where the biggest issue is actually just getting into deep enough water (when you fall, and as a beginner you will fall, water is softer than dirt!).
The far left side of Sun Bay is a good place to get in an open-water workout. La Chiva #2 is a nice little protected area for paddling as well, and has a small surf break on the right day. Starting from Caracas, you can paddle out to its small Cayo, or over to Playuela, but you'll be paddling back into the wind on the return trip.
There are lots of choices for paddling, but for this category, Deb and I have settled on a range of the beaches of La Chiva, from #12 up to #18 as our Favorite Beach in Vieques, for paddleboarding. Twelve through fifteen are in one protected area that opens into the large Bahia de La Chiva. Around the small point on the left you'll find #'s 16 through 18, which is an even nicer place to paddle around. You can explore this smaller bay all the way out to the tiny cayo where the water gets very shallow and come back in toward the larger bay. In either area, you are likely to see spotted eagle rays, turtles, and lots of coral and fish.
Note that the tradewinds in Vieques (and throughout the Antilles archipelago) blow from east to west. They don't blow like this every single day, but probably at least 80% of the time. The practical advice then, is to plan your paddle adventures starting eastward, into the wind, and when you get tired, let the wind and current bring you back to your starting point.
The great thing about snorkeling is that you can do it almost anywhere. Deb talks about snorkeling in a foot of water right at the shoreline in a calm section of La Chiva, seeing all the tiny fishes and plants at the edge of the water. Another thing I will say is that sometimes the greatest snorkel spots are just cloudy. Maybe it rained the night before, or maybe the wind and waves are coming off the same side of the island you're on, stirring up sediment. I'm the first one to bail out on a snorkel, when you can't see a foot in front of you, or when there are jellyfish, or both. The solution? Go to the other side of the island and your luck will likely improve quite a bit. And to prevent a bad experience, simply use your eyes before going in. Can you see the bottom from the shore more than a couple feet down? If not, the snorkeling probably isn't going to be very good. So, pretty much any beach can be snorkeled from, except maybe Navio or some other rare beach with rough conditions.
One of our favorites on the north side has been the right side of El Gallito, and around the rocks at Airport Beach, where you will see the whole aquarium of fishes, and maybe a lobster or two. On the right day, Starfish Beach is really nice around the pilings toward the west - we've seen rays, turtles, and all kinds of fish there. From Starfish, it's easy to hop in the car and go out to the deep water of the pier if you like. Punta Arenas is also very popular with everyone in Vieques, and for good reason.
Of the south beaches, we really love to snorkel around the Sugar Pier at Playa Esperanza - I saw a goliath grouper there, a really big boy; there are plenty of other fish and rays in this area as well. We've also had a great time at La Plata around the rocks on the left, over toward Platita, seeing conchs cruising around the bottom. Because it's so huge, La Chiva pretty much has everything, and snorkeling is really good there as well. La Chiva #2 has some good underwater exploring, as does #16 around the rocks to the right. La Chiva #9, straight out, has a nice small reef and if you continue out to the cayo, there are a lot of great things to see.
But with a twisted arm, we have to give up Pata Prieta as our Favorite Beach in Vieques, for snorkeling. We loved what we saw underwater there, way out around the rocks at the point on the right (it's a bit of a swim, or a semi-scary climb from the rocks near the point). There were Yellowtail Snapper, Lobster, and beautiful little Blue Tangs, Angelfish, Grunts, Parrotfish, etc. Friends have told us there is more to see on the left side as well, so we're heading back to Pata Prieta soon to see more!
For straight out swimming-for-exercise, we look for a protected beach where you can just work on your form and work your body. We even do it with mask and snorkel (no fins) so we can just go "head-down, tail up" and workout. The underwater view with the mask also raises the interest level of a typical swim. That's because you keep your head down and breathe, while checking out what's underwater. With that in mind, there are a few places that come to mind.
On the north side, Punta Arenas is generally calm and would be good for a swim workout. The view of mainland PR across the water is a bonus. Starfish Beach near Rompeolas is protected from the wind and generally calm, so it qualifies as well.
There are several southside beaches that are good swimming spots, starting with Media Luna. It is very, very calm; the only problem here is to get deep enough to actually swim without hand-walking across the bottom (it's that shallow). Caracas on the left side is also fairly calm and good for a nice power swim. La Chiva #18 is a nice quiet water area, and a good workout can be had there toward 16 & 17 on the right.
But our pick for a great swim workout is Sun Bay, our Favorite Beach in Vieques, for swimming. It is such a large beach, you can swim until your heart's content, and then swim some more. There is a large roped-in swim area so you don't even have to keep an eye out for boats as they are kept out. Enjoy your swim.
When we want to go exploring, we generally head off to the west end of the island. It's far away from "civilization" and there is always something interesting to see.
Puntas Arenas is a great starting point, and we love to simply walk it toward the south, over rocks and sand, and through the shallow water around obstacles. That's a place to truly get away from it all. We've been told by locals that there used to be a town out there, in the hills above this area but to find that would take some bushwhacking beyond a typical beach stroll. On the other hand, just staying on the beach takes you to cove after cove, with plenty of places to get in and cool off, and lots of peace and quiet. From here you can imagine native people in days long ago, paddling a canoe to the big island across the water. The paddle back against the wind would have been a struggle though!
We also love the hikes in and around Caracas, Playuela, and Playa Corcho. We rarely see anyone on those trails, but you'll see beaches, cliffs overlooking the Caribbean, and a variety of interesting plant-life in the semi-arid terrain. Bring water and enjoy the island of Vieques.
Now all those beaches are great, but when it comes to exploring, they don't quite match up to Playa Vaca, our Favorite Beach in Vieques, for exploring! You can walk the beach toward the east, but it dead ends in the cove after the first point. But toward the west, you can climb over rocks, and keep going cove after beautiful cove. With enough diligence (stubbornness), you would come all the way around to Punta Arenas; we haven't taken that challenge yet, but stay tuned!
One of the grand Vieques traditions is simply standing in the water with a cold beverage and talking to your friends about your week, life on Vieques, or how to solve the ferry problem (haha, nobody knows how to fix that!). Most often, this happens on a Sunday afternoon, called Sunday Funday. I'm sure Vieques didn't invent the term Sunday Funday, but they've sure perfected it.
It starts as early as mid-morning on a holiday weekend to lock down a good spot, or around 1 pm during most of the year. A cabana is claimed, or a beach tent/sunshade is set up, or both. Grills and prep tables are set up with beach chairs and coolers, and it goes on from there with music, dancing, and lots of food. We've had grills large and small, with all manner of spiced up meats and veg on them. We've had large pots of water for boiling the land crabs that Viequenses love so much. There are large pans of hot oil for frying shark bites and other seafood, and even larger pots that start with jugs of water and end up as a hearty soup full of root vegetables, spices, and lots of different seafood, delicious! This is a regular thing, and of course it would be impolite to say no, so we dig in with gusto!
There is a peace at the end of the day, when most of the people have gone home and the wind and waves have calmed down. That's when you sit and enjoy the sight of the sun sinking into the horizon, la puesta del sol. So calm, so peaceful... Did you hear the sizzle? Shortly thereafter, and all at once, everyone realizes that it's going to be pitch black in a matter of minutes, and we all turn into ants at a picnic, grabbing things and marching them to our cars while we can still see.
There's an old expression that the best beer in the world is the one in your hand. Similarly, the best beach for hanging out with friends is the one you're standing on in that particular moment. Take it all in, absorb the scenery and the sun, and enjoy your friends. That's what makes this choice a difficult one. We love the beaches in the Wildlife Preserve like La Chiva, La Plata, Caracas and others. But you have to keep an eye on the clock there, as the main gate closes automatically on schedule. Your vehicle will be stuck inside and you'll have to figure out how to get home. It's not a huge burden as everyone typically packs up at dark as described above, but it must be kept in mind.
Outside of the preserve, we love the point at the east end of Playa Esperanza where the land bridge goes out to the cayo, and Esperanza's sunsets are famous for good reason. Sun Bay is a huge beach that accommodates lots of people, has beautiful views of the cayos, coconut palms for shade, calm water for chilling, and a great angle for watching the sun set over to the west. It's a great place to have an all-day beach party with friends and family.
But when all is said and done, we can't get past how much fun it is to chill with friends at the little rooster. We just love El Gallito for afternoon sunset parties, grilling in the sand, chilling in the water, and watching the sun sink over the pier to the west. That's why El Gallito is our Favorite Beach in Vieques, for Sunday Funday.
Not everyone is at the point in their lives where they can be selfish and do whatever they want, when they want to do it. Families with children have their own wants and needs, which change quickly as the children grow. Generally with the smaller kids, you want a calm, safe beach with little to no waves, but lots of sand to build castles, sea creatures, and other fun things. Some shade would be great, and bathrooms would be nice as well. But once the "little ones" get to their teenage years, the kids are doing things the parents wouldn't even try. In between those times is that childhood growth period that starts off slowly, gains speed relentlessly, until you suddenly notice it all passed by in two shakes of a pelican's tail. And that's parenting in a (coco)nutshell! 🙂
Because we talked about lots of exciting activities in the previous sections, we're only focusing on families with small children here. They deserve a great beach too, and we're here to deliver! There are many beaches which meet family needs to a large extent. Sun Bay toward the far left is calm and safe. The same is true for Caracas on the left, and Playa Esperanza, all around the Sugar Pier you see kids playing and having a ball. Starfish Beach and Ceiba Tree Beach can both be nice for some family time. And if the children want to find sea glass, why not try Sea Glass Beach?
That said, Media Luna is our Favorite Beach in Vieques, for beaching it with small children. The calm water is unmatched because the cove is so well-protected, and there are cabanas and trees for shade. In a bind, you might have to drive to the Arenamar building in Sun Bay for a bathroom, and we should mention that sometimes Media Luna captures a bunch of seaweed, making the water brown and undesirable. If you catch it on a bad day, just turn around and find another place on this list, but definitely try Media Luna first!
Well, those are our thoughts on our favorite Vieques beaches, and you probably realize by now that we don't really have a real favorite. It depends on the direction of the wind (literally), the activity we want to do, and where our friends are going. And that's a good reminder: the best beach in the world is the one you're standing on with friends and loved ones. Enjoy the beach, and have fun today!
If you are Vieques residents, Vieques vacation veterans, or especially Viequenses, we'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject. What's your favorite beach, and why?
TODAY'S SPECIAL: "Some Beach" by Blake Shelton. No matter where you are, when life starts getting to you a little bit, there's some beach out there that's just right for you!