tropic wonder

This gay-friendly remote island is the Caribbean’s best-kept secret

A shirtless man in swim trunks stands on Playa Negra in Vieques.
Playa Negra (Black Sand Beach) in Vieques. (photo: Discover Puerto Rico)

There’s a remote island off the coast of Puerto Rico that beckons travelers seeking an authentic “boricua” experience. With its pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, and unique blend of history and culture, Vieques is a hidden gem just waiting to be uncovered.

When you set foot on Vieques, you’ll feel like you’ve found a secret treasure only shared among those lucky enough to stumble upon it. Forget about crowded beaches and the mainstream monotone of other tropical hotspots – Vieques is for those who crave adventure off the beaten path and the thrill of discovery.

A man sits in a palm tree on the beach.
photo courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico

A trip to Vieques makes a nice addition to a San Juan vacation. Only accessible from mainland Puerto Rico, Vieques is a short 20-minute flight by charter plane or a slightly longer ferry ride from Ceiba that terminates in Isabel Segunda.

This quaint coastal town on the north side of the island embodies the true essence of Vieques. Take a stroll through Isabel Segunda’s cobblestone streets, and encounter colorful pueblo buildings, friendly locals, and a sense of community that’s hard to find elsewhere, even on mainland Puerto Rico.

Staying at Casa de Amistad – Vieques’ gay guesthouse

Two guys in a swimming pool
photos by Casa de Amistad
Patio of Casa de Amistad

When it comes to accommodations in Isabel Segunda, Casa de Amistad is at the top of our list. This stylish, 8-room abode, advertised as a “straight-friendly” gay-owned guesthouse, makes a great little launch pad for everything the island has to offer.

When you’re not out and about exploring the abundant natural beauty of Vieques, take a dip in Casa’s pool or cozy up with a good read in its library. At golden hour, its rooftop terrace has an incredible view of sunset. Casa de Amistad is tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood, but it’s within walking distance of the beach, multiple markets, restaurants, and bars.

Guests can hire a private chef during their stay, local Viequense cook, musician, and artist Victor Maldonado. Of course, you can cook for yourself in Casa’s well-appointed, communal kitchen, but you’d be missing out on Victor’s mouth-watering empanadas.

Owners John Holden and Mike Lonardo (photo by Casa de Amistad)
Owners John Holden and Mike Lonardo (photo by Casa de Amistad)

The owners, married couple John Holden and Mike Lonardo, will ensure your stay is as comfortable as possible, tailoring everything to your specific needs.

They are also heavily involved with Aventura Vieques, an island-wide, weekend-long gay festival in October that draws hundreds of LGBTQ+ travelers every year. Casa de Amistad is THE place to stay during this event.

Top 5 must-do experiences in Vieques

A group of travelers enjoying Playa Negra in Vieques.
A group of travelers enjoying Playa Negra in Vieques. (photo: Discover Puerto Rico)

There are so many incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experiences to cross off your bucket list while visiting Vieques. From its bioluminescent bay, the brightest on Earth, to horseback riding on picturesque black sand beaches, you’ll find many ways to feed your inner adventurist.

A wild horse eats grass outside a Spanish colonial building in the countryside.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of wild horses roam free in Vieques. (photo: Discover Puerto Rico)

Isabel Segunda and the southern town of Esperanza are very walkable, but the rest of Vieques is not. To get to the experiences listed below, you’ll need to rent a car – ideally, one with off-roading capabilities.

You’ll quickly understand why as you drive through Vieques’ scenic, rural landscape, following unpaved roads under mangrove trees, dodging wild stallions as they race in the oncoming lane. The journey is almost as thrilling as the destination itself.

1) Fun in the sun at the Caribbean’s most beautiful beaches

Man on black sand beach
photo courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico

Vieques is home to some of the most gorgeous beaches in the Caribbean. While there aren’t any “gay beaches” or clothing-optional beaches on the island, it is not uncommon to have one of these beaches entirely to yourself:

  • Esperanza Beach
  • Playa Negra (Black Sand Beach)
  • Sun Bay Beach
  • Caracas Beach
  • Playa La Chiva

There are dozens of secret, unnamed beaches and coves to uncover along the coast, as well.

2) Kayaking at night on bioluminescent waters in Mosquito Bay

Two women kayaking on the Bio Bay at night.
Kayaking on the Bio Bay at night. (photo: Discover Puerto Rico)

Of all the activities on Isla de Vieques, this one is not to be missed. Mosquito Bay is the brightest bioluminescent bay in the entire world, and it’s best to visit at night.

You’ll be hypnotized by the glowing, magical waters below, but don’t forget to look up, too! Mosquito Bay and the surrounding area have almost zero light pollution, giving you an unreal view of The Milky Way Galaxy in the night sky above.

3) Horseback riding on the beach

horseback riding on the beach
Photo: Esperanza Riding Company

Saddle up and take a romantic sunset ride along the beach on Paso Fino horses, native to the island. Esperanza Riding Company will guide you across Vieques’ rolling hills and tranquil shores, showing you the sights and sounds that can only be experienced on this special island.

4) Snorkeling with sea turtles in crystal clear waters

A snorkeler swims with a sea turtle underwater.
photo courtesy of Crystal Clear Vieques

Snorkeling is a fun and easy way to get up close and personal with Vieques’ abundant marine wildlife. We recommend booking a snorkeling excursion with Crystal Clear Vieques, an eco-tourism company that provides snorkeling tours and classes for those interested in learning more about sustainability.

5) Feel cleavage at El Hombre de Puerto Ferro

A woman wearing a tan shorts and baseball cap examines boulders in the sun.
photo by author

Nicknamed “Vieques Stonehenge,” El Hombre de Puerto Ferro is one of the most peculiar and important geological formations on the island. No one really knows the true origin of these boulders. Some say the indigenous Taino people placed these 20-foot tall granite boulders here as wayfinders many moons ago.

Notably, in 1990, archaeologists Yvonne Narganes and Louis Chanlatte unearthed human remains from the center of this stone formation, adding to its mystery.

The sacred site lies half a mile from the entrance to the Sun Bay Resort. Look for the sign that reads “Hombre de Puerto Ferro” along the highway.

Bonus: Take in the view from Mosquito Pier

a man looks at the view from Mosquito pier.
Mosquito Pier. (photo: Discover Puerto Rico)

Many locals will tell you: No trip to Vieques is complete without a visit to the pier.

On a clear day, Mosquito Pier has a stunning view of the US Virgin Islands, Culebra, and mainland Puerto Rico.

Make a small 10-minute detour somewhere along the line. You’ll surely pass by this pier a few times during your trip (Vieques is pretty small).

¡Buen Provecho! How to eat and drink ‘boricua’ style

Mofongo with steak and rice.
Mofongo with steak and rice. (photo: Discover Puerto Rico)

At first glance, the island’s food scene seems unassuming, but when it comes to good eats, Vieques is a goldmine. This island has many eateries that highlight the traditional flavors of Puerto Rico, a melange of Taino, African, and Spanish cultures.

For some of the best “comida criolla” in town, make your way to El Plaza, a charming little spot near Casa de Amistad. Chef and owner Carlos Perez breathes new life into traditional plates with his menu of approachable, healthy food.

If you’re in the mood for some down-home Puerto Rican fare, visit Rincon del Sabor, a food truck enclave just outside Isabel Segunda, and try the mofongo. This addictive Puerto Rican side dish, made from mashed green plantains, goes great with seafood or steak.

Be sure you ask the aunties behind the counter for extra “criolla” sauce on the side. Trust.

Now, let’s talk about beverages. Rum is the name of the game here.

You can’t visit Vieques without trying a piña colada at Crab Island Distillery. This locally-owned boutique distillery and bar has a delicious take on Puerto Rico’s signature cocktail, perfectly blended with rum distilled and aged on-site. Its menu of craft cocktails also showcases other rum classics, like mojitos, daiquiris, and mai tais.

As you sip your cocktail and watch the gentle island breeze flutter across the plains of the hacienda, you’ll think you’ve found heaven on earth.

Vieques is truly a hidden gem. A place where nature and culture intertwine in the most enchanting way. This quiet island will embrace you with open arms, inviting you to experience life to the fullest.

Once you arrive, you may never want to leave.

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