Vieques voted best island in Caribbean
The ranking was part of the prestigious publication’s 2012 World’s Best Awards, which asked readers to vote on which hotels, destinations, and companies represent the very best in travel. The full results of the 17th annual awards are included in Travel+Leisure’s August issue.
Vieques, one of Puerto Rico’s two offshore municipalities, was trailed by: Harbour Island, Bahamas; Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands; Grenadines, St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. The voting included the Bahamas and Bermuda in the Caribbean region.
The W Retreat & Spa, Vieques was the highest-ranked Puerto Rico hotel on the top 25 Caribbean resorts list, coming at No. 16.
With a population of only 10,000 and just two notable towns — Isabel Segunda on the northern side of the island and the far smaller Esperanza on the south — visitors can expect plenty of elbow room on the unspoiled beaches of Vieques, which along with neighboring Culebra comprise the so-called Spanish Virgin Islands.
The island town is 21 miles long and 3 miles wide, covering 52 square miles of area about 30 miles off the coast of Fajardo. Vieques derives its name from the Taíno Indian word for small island (biekes).
Long a favorite of locals, Vieques has become a hot international tourism destination since the Navy abandoned its firing range and returned the military lands to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Department in 2003.
Vieques has always been a day trip and weekend destination for Puerto Ricans and intrepid tourists willing to rough it. But the departure of the Navy — which closed down a training base that took up two-thirds of the island’s acreage — led to a land rush as visitors bought vacation homes and set up bed-and-breakfast lodgings.
The land rush settled down due to tight local building codes and the onset of recession. But the opening of the 150-room W resort, in what had been a Wyndham hotel, doubled the number of rooms available in the island and has been attracting a more upscale crowd.
There is now air service by a half-dozen airlines making the 20-minute flight from both the international airport in San Juan and the regional airport in Isla Grande. The latest carrier to land on Vieques is St. Croix-based Seaborne Airlines, which began flights from Isla Grande in March 2010.
The inexpensive ferry remains the main link between Vieques and Fajardo, on Puerto Rico’s northeast coast, with several roundtrips daily.
Once on the island, tourists find Vieques still retains some of its frontier vibe. Wild horses roam and signs warn visitors away from beaches still being cleared of unexploded Navy ordnance. Some beaches still carry the code names assigned by the Navy during exercises, such as Punta Arenas (Green Beach), Playa Caracas (Red Beach) and Playa la Chiva (Blue Beach).
While the roads to Blue and Red Beach have been paved recently, many fine secluded beaches are accessible via dirt roads that require all-terrain vehicles. Beyond the beaches, the island has low-key culture and nature attractions including a Spanish colonial fort in the capital of Isabel Segunda and the bioluminescent Mosquito Bay — considered one of the brightest in the world.