The morning after our day trip to Culebra, we checked out of the Gran Melia and headed to Fajarado, to drop off our rental car at the El Conquistador resort where there was an Enterprise location. (Side note: this was originally the hotel we wanted to stay at, but our miles wouldn't cover the whole three days. From what we saw, though, we liked our resort so much better.)
We then went to the ferry terminal, where we caught the ferry to Vieques.
If you want to travel to Vieques (an island east of Puerto Rico), you can either take a flight from Puerto Rico (about $200+/person RT) or ride the ferry ($2/person each way). That feels like a no-brainer financial decision right there, but I had read some awful things about the ferry's reliability.
I knew we wanted to stay on Vieques, but I also knew we couldn't afford the extra cost for flights, so we went on faith that we wouldn't get stranded or have to sleep in a ferry terminal. Turns out, our faith paid off. We bought our tickets, took an hour trip that left and arrived on time, and docked in paradise.
Us on the ferry!
(Side story: I tried hard to use as much Spanish as I could on our trip. I took eight years throughout high school and college and since I'm still paying off the last of my student loans, it feels downright depressing that my education would dry up before my debt does, so I reached back into the champagne- and parenthood-soaked corners of my brain and tried to remember as much as I possibly could. When we got to the ferry terminal, in a rather non-touristy part of town, I practiced in my head what I wanted to say, then walked up to the counter and said, "Dos boletos a Vieques, a la una, por favor." To which the ticket counter representative said, "So you want two tickets?" Mike couldn't stop laughing.)
So, Vieques! I can't recommend this little island enough. It's small, quaint, charming, and has the exact laid-back island vibe we were looking for when planning this vacation. There are two main towns, Isabel Segunda and Esperanza. We stayed at the Inn on the Blue Horizon, just a couple minutes from the main street of Esperanza.
This hotel. Guys. It was perfect. (I do want to offer to re-do their website even though I have no website-redoing skills because it doesn't do this place justice, at all.)
The grounds are romantic, sleepy, and stunning. The restaurant delicious, the bar fun, and the rooms cozy. I seriously can't recommend this place enough and while the W Resort has just opened on the island (the only standard-type hotel/resort on Vieques), I'd say you get just as much luxury at The Inn on the Blue Horizon with a very unique, island feel. (The entire grounds are 24/7, too. While the bar/restaurant close at 10-11 p.m., you can bring your own wine/rum/insert vacation drink of choice, and stay by the pool or in the hotel's main lounge space as late as you want.)
After we checked in, we drove around and had dinner at Duffy's. Afterward we had a few cocktails at our inn's bar and then spent the rest of the night swimming and looking at the stars from the hotel pool. It was just as horrible as it sounds.
The next day, after breakfast at our inn, we drove around and explored the island before the exahustion of all that vacationing and relaxing and please don't forget all that drinking and eating hit me and I needed a nap. GET ME TO A BED, VACATION IS EXHAUSTING.
You've just closed your browser, haven't you? Yeah, I don't even blame you.
After I got up, we headed out to meet a tour group for our all-day bio-bay tour. Vieques is known for their bio-luminescent plankton-filled bays. These micro-organisms light up when touched and countless people recommended we do this activity if nothing else. It's the only thing I booked before arriving, in fact. We went with Abe's Tours, and while the main attraction was the night kayak trip through the bay, we decided to book the longer, all-day tour. We kayaked through the mangroves surrounding the bay and then out into the ocean, where we went ashore for beach lounging, a bonfire picnic, and some snorkeling.
Our tour guides were incredible. I wish every single business could model their customer service and employee enthusiasm after these guides. They were fun, helpful, knowledgable, and patient. They were clearly enjoying themselves but, most importantly, they wanted us to enjoy ourselves.
After our beach dinner, the sun set and we slipped into our kayaks to head back into the bay. Night kayaking on the ocean isn't something I ever thought I'd do -- or something I ever thought to consider doing -- but it was magical. As we got into the bay, the water began to glow as we sliced through it, each dip of an oar or splash of our hands disturbing (and therefore lighting up) the dinoflagellates. Mike calls the experience "life-changing" and while my husband can certainly be dramatic when he has a cold, he's not one to use dramatics any other time. It was life-changing, in the same way seeing the Grand Canyon or Arches National Park is life-changing. It's life-changing because it gives you an aching sense of perspective. It's life-changing because it reminds you that, man, this world of ours, it's really something else.
We finally kayaked back to the bank and headed back to the inn.
On our tour, we made friends with a Miami couple who was also staying at our inn. It was the woman's birthday, so she invited us to the hotel bar for drinks. She also brought a couple big paper lanterns to write wishes for the upcoming year on, and then light and release, something she does every year on her birthday (I love this tradition and may steal it), and she offered us one. We were touched, and wrote our wishes for the next five years of our marriage on the lantern before going up to the observation deck of our inn to release them.
(I WANT IT KNOWN THAT THE BARTENDER SUGGESTED THIS IS WHERE WE GO.)
There were some kinks in the release plan, which I have caught on video. It's a mostly dark video (the lantern is actually lit around 40 seconds in), but you get the point. The point being that we nearly set the hotel on fire.
How much do you love that my husband jumped on the roof, without pause, to grab the lantern while I....stood there and did nothing. You should just be glad I wasn't screaming, which is my usual response in a (semi)crisis.
We turned in soon after because we had a long day of reading and relaxing ahead of us.
The next morning, we had breakfast/lunch at Panaderia La Viequenes. I think we spent 11 bucks on two sandwiches and two sodas, and it was easily the best 11 bucks we spent on the island. DELICIOUS IN ALL CAPS. If you go to Vieques, try this out. In fact, just go ahead and make it your first stop off the ferry.
We did a lot of driving around and exploring after that. I think it's safe to say we drove on every road on the island (it's not that big of an island, but it's still a feat) and finally made our way to the black sand beach. You have to park on the road and hike to this beach (probably 15-20 minutes) and while it's not a hard hike, I realized as soon as I got stung by a bee ON MY TOE that it's kind of a bee-heavy one. (And all the damn bees were hanging out on the ground. What is up with that? After I realized this, Mike said, "At least they're not African bees that follow you in a swarm." Yes, babe. At least there's that.) Anyway, wear bug spray, close-toed shoes, etc. Worth it, though.
Showing my injury!
Mike said, "We should write something in the sand." And I said, "Oh! Write '07-'12, the years we've been married!" (Since this trip was to celebrate our five-year anniversary.) Now that I look at it, it kind of looks like we're predicting we end this year. UNINTENTIONAL.
After hiking back on the bee-infested path, we returned to the inn where I spent the next, oh, five hours, napping, reading in bed, then reading on the porch, and then getting really wild and reading by the pool.
I didn't hate this afternoon, you could say.
We had a nice final dinner at Bananas, another place in Esperanza, and left the next morning on a ferry back to Fajarado.
Horses roam wild on Vieques and while we were told that each horse actually belongs to someone ("unless the horse dies, then no one wants it"), they just walk around, as seen here. At one point, we turned a curve and a hose was half on, half off the road and Mike was like, "No other time in my life have I stopped driving because there was a horse's butt in the road." First time for everything!
Our time in Old San Juan is to come in the next post (and then my last post is about the finances/logistics of the trip, if you care about that?), but I have to wrap this up by saying, if you're looking for a place in the Carribean that feels like your own little island discovery, Vieques is it. You won't be disappointed. It didn't have Kyle, though, which was its only downfall.