Aside from Mosquito Bay, the main reason to come to Vieques is to enjoy the staggering beauty of its miles of remote, pristine beaches and clear, turquoise waters. Each beach has its own unique characteristics—some are calm and shallow, others have big crashing waves, and still others offer spectacular snorkeling. Several are accessible only from dirt trails, off road or by foot, so bring sturdy shoes. And don’t forget the bug spray.
Playa Negra is a black-sand beach containing minute particles of lava, a reminder of the island’s volcanic origins millions of years ago. To get there from the malecón in Esperanza, go west on Carretera 996 and turn left on Carretera 201. When you reach the sign for Gallery Galleon, pull off the road and park. Look for the bridge in the road and hike down into the dry creek bed beneath it. Follow the creek bed through a thickly wooded forest to the ocean.
Playa Grande is a long, thin strip of beach that curves around the southwestern tip of the island and is a great spot for walking and hunting for shells. Go when it’s breezy because it can be buggy with sand fleas. It’s located west of Esperanza off Carretera 201.
Green Beach is on Punta Arenas at the farthest most southwestern tip of the island, and it features a shallow reef, making it ideal for snorkeling. Look for “flamingo tongues,” a brightly colored sea snail that lives here. Nearby is Kiani Lagoon, a mangrove bay accessible by a wooden boardwalk that is rich with starfish. Green Beach is best visited early in the day or when it’s breezy because it can be buggy with sand fleas. To access it take Carretera 200 as far west as possible, then follow the dirt road to the end. Look for the ancient ceiba tree with the massive trunk along the way.
Wilderness Refuge beaches are small, remote beaches tucked into the island’s south central coastline, where the U.S. Navy’s Camp Garcia was once located. From the entrance to the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre de Vieques, located on Carretera 997 halfway between Isabel Segunda and Esperanza, there are four main wilderness beaches, and all of them are extraordinary.
Each one is a crescent of white, powdery sand, lapped by pale turquoise waters and rimmed with thick, lush vegetation. Measuring their distance from the entrance, they are Playa Caracas/Red Beach (2.4 miles), Playa Pata Prieta (2.7 miles), Bahía de la Chiva/Blue Beach (3 miles), and Playa Plata/Orchid Beach (4.4 miles). Note that the refuge closes at 6:30pm, except May-August when it closes at 7:30pm. No camping, fires, or alcohol are permitted.
Esperanza Beach is a fairly unremarkable beach along Esperanza’s strip of restaurants and guesthouses. But it’s within walking distance if you’re staying in town and offers excellent snorkeling, especially around Cayo Afuera, a tiny islet just offshore.
A note of caution: Although violent crime is uncommon in Vieques, the island has a petty theft problem, which can be avoided if you use caution. Be vigilant around beaches with bushes where culprits may hide. Never take anything of value to the beach, including digital cameras or personal ID. If someone can’t watch your things while you swim, bring a “dry bag,” available at dive shops, to contain a car key and a photocopy of your driver’s license. Don’t leave anything inside your car and be sure to roll all your windows down and open the glove box so it’s apparent nothing is inside.
Balneario Sun Bay
The island’s best beaches are on the southern coast. The most spectacular is the long white crescent and calm waters of Balneario Sun Bay (Sombé) (Carr. 997, east of Esperanza, 787/741-8198, Wed.-Sun. 8:30am-5pm, $2-5). It’s the only publicly maintained beach in Vieques. Surrounded by a tall cyclone fence, it has plenty of modern, fairly clean facilities, including bathrooms, showers, changing rooms, a snack bar, and guards. Camping (787/741-8198) is permitted for $10 a day; reservations are required. Adding to the charm of the place is the herd of horses that grazes here.
The Balneario Sun Bay complex also encompasses two smaller, more secluded beaches farther eastward along a sandy road. The first one you’ll encounter is Media Luna, a protective cove where the water is shallow. Farther eastward is Navio Beach, which sometimes has large waves and is popular with gay beachgoers.