Vieques is often referred to as la Isla Nena, or Girl Island, due to its small size. Its residents have recently been through a roller-coaster ride of media attention. In 2004, after several years of protests supported by mainland politicians, the United States Navy decided to leave Vieques. For decades the Navy had used over 17,000 acres of the island for various operations. The grounds formerly occupied by the Navy now serve as an off-limits wildlife refuge.
The spotlight now is shining on Vieques for better reasons. The island’s coastline consists of more than three dozen crystalline beaches, among them Punto Caballo, so named because of a frequently-spotted herd of wild horses. The horses are said to be descended from Spanish-bred palominos brought to the island during colonial times.
Puerto Rico’s location in the Caribbean has always been strategic for governing powers keeping a close watch on these parts of the hemisphere. Although Vieques remained a pirate stronghold well into the 19th century, eventually the local Spanish government took over and expanded its fortifications. The Museo y Fuerte Conde de Mirasol was this island’s main line of defense. The fort now is a historical museum by its own right, but also houses an art collection and the Vieques Archives.
Visitors shouldn’t let the name Mosquito Bay keep them away from visiting. This phosphorescent bay is actually popular for another small creature: undersea, bioluminescent dinoflagellates. Disturbing the waters will cause these organisms to emit a glow that is visible at night. Trips on kayaks or non-polluting boats are popular, the less moonlight the better.
Viequenses are realizing that they are currently living the calm before another storm. The island is being touted as an untouched paradise, which means it might not remain so for long, if the expected tourism boom materializes. As with the neighboring Culebra island, Vieques can be reached by either small plane or boat ferry.