Experience close encounters with giant sea stars, bask on sunny beaches, and soak up local culture on this little-known island near Puerto Rico.
Tread through the clear, shallow surf to see these spiny five-armed friends. They usually hang out in groups, so they’re easy to spot. Between Green Beach and Mosquito Pier, you may find sea stars as large as Frisbees! Visit Playa Grande for pieces of worn-smooth blue, green, and amber glass to take home as souvenirs, but leave the sea stars where you find them.
In March, it opened with an innovative idea: Choose your side of the hotel. The left is soothing and quiet, with adults-only beach access. Or check in on the right side, with its upbeat island tunes and deluxe, see-and-be-seen pool.
Tip: Before hitting the beach, let the W fix an Escape Kit for two that includes chair rental, an umbrella, and a picnic ($45). Bravo Beach Hotel, North Shore Rd 1; 787/741-1128 or bravobeachhotel.com.
The beaches on Vieques have distinctive personalities. Visit Blue Beach for calm, gentle surf that’s best for snorkeling. Red Beach is the most popular spot for people-watching, socializing, and unobstructed views of the vast sea. Enjoy romantic scenery at the small, crescent-shaped Secret Beach, which is protected by dramatic rocks and a quiet cove.
Vieques has few roads, so no matter how directionally challenged you are, any wrong turn easily can be corrected. The rugged terrain gets bumpy, so rent a Jeep. Tip: Do not leave anything valuable in your car, and place a local newspaper on the dash to help deter break-ins. Maritza Car Rental; 787/741-0078
At the waterfront Bilí Restaurante, order a sweet rum punch (the best on the island!), garnished with star fruit, alongside the grilled mahi wrap stuffed with succulent plantain chutney and drizzled with cilantro aïoli. Bilí Restaurante, 144 Calle Flamboyan; 787/741-1382.
Ride horseback on the beach on a trained Paso Fino horse ($65 for two hours) with Esperanza Riding Co. Or, if you just want to catch a glimpse of these stunning animals, wild Paso Fino horses can be found grazing ocean-side or galloping through tropical brush in the National Wildlife Refuge. Esperanza Riding Co.; 787/435-0073 or naturalvieques.com.
Scoop the water into your hands as you kayak or swim—it’s like a thousand twinkling stars energizing your skin. Moving through microscopic organisms (called dinoflagellates) in this protected bay causes them no harm; it merely triggers a strong blue glow best seen on a moonless evening. Try the two-hour bio-bay night tour ($30) with Abe’s Snorkeling. Abe Snorkeling & Bio-Bay Tours; 787/741-2134 or abessnorkeling.com.
Check in to the Hix Island House, located on 13 acres of natural refuge. Tall grasses, almond trees, palms, butterflies, and birds punctuate the no phone/television atmosphere here. The Zenlike minimalist lofts are designed to be one with nature: Outdoor showers and private open-air terraces are part of the design to reduce carbon footprint. Or check out the Bravo Beach Hotel, a small bohemian resort overlooking Culebra Island. Formerly a private hacienda, the property has been revamped with tropical gardens, verandas, and luxurious handcrafted beds. Stay for breakfast: Locally grown fruit, warm baked breads, Viequenese honey, and freshly made yogurts alongside a piping-hot carafe of Puerto Rican coffee are a delicious start to your day.
Getting to Vieques
Vieques Air Link; 888/901-9247 or viequesairlink.com