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yitzhak Apr 25th, 2006 08:00 AM

Vieques and Old San Juan recommendations for you
 
I’ve used these message boards a lot to research my vacations, so I thought I’d take a little time to give back and offer some recommendations on my trip to Puerto Rico. Our trip consisted of a visit to Vieques and a short 2-day stay in San Juan / Old San Juan. You can also see pictures of our trip at the following two links:

http://homepage.mac.com/dmehalik/PhotoAlbum24.html

http://homepage.mac.com/dmehalik/PhotoAlbum25.html

A quick overview of our itinerary:
Flew into San Juan on Friday night, spent the night and took the 8am high-speed ferry from San Juan to Vieques with a short stop in Culebra. Stayed in Vieques Saturday-Thursday. Took the ferry from Vieques to Farjardo Thursday at 11am, rented a one-way car to San Juan. Spent the next couple of days touring Old San Juan, left at 7am on Saturday.

VIEQUES-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
My first recommendation would be, if you’re planning a trip to Vieques… FLY! We wasted a lot of time getting to and from Vieques that we could have spent enjoying our time there and I’m willing to bet that the cost would have worked out to be pretty much the same. Also, there were four adults and one child in our party and 2 of four of us got very sea-sick on the high speed ferry, despite anti-motion sickness precautions, which pretty much killed the rest of the day.

Vieques is an absolutely beautiful, amazing, special place. The people were kind, the beaches were so unbelievable it was surreal, and the bio-luminescent bay was a spiritual experience. If you enjoy beautiful beaches, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, exploring nature, and exploring a culture, Vieques is a place for you. If you are more the type to enjoy a Club Med vacation where you have drinks poured for you while you sit on a raft in a pool, and all your activities arranged and planned for you, you might try somewhere else.

WHERE TO STAY------------------------------------
We rented a house called Colina de Brisas (http://www.colinadebrisas.com/) and It was a perfect fit for us. The house was very spacious, open, and clean and had a wrap-around porch with an amazing view of the North side of the Island. The owner and property mangager were very helpful and provided us with maps and information to make our stay easier. I would definitely recommend a rental property over a resort or hotel on Vieques… it gives you a chance to settle into the place and be a part of it. We took a morning to visit one of the fancy resorts while we were there to have breakfast, and while it was nice to have a treat while overlooking the ocean, I never would have wanted to stay there… it’s just an isolated little world in itself and felt like it could have been anywhere.


THE TOWNS----------------------
There are two main towns in Vieques, Isabel II is on the North Side where the ferrys land and Esperanza is on the South side where most of the most-desirable beaches are. I was a little concerned about staying on the Isabel side because of this, but after having been there, I was very glad for where we stayed. While Isabel II, can look a little depressing at first glance (there are a lot of boarded-up buildings and dilapidated roads), it actually is a very charming town filled with diamonds in the rough, while for me, Esperanza had a little bit more of a touristy tiki-hut feel, which isn’t really for me.

CAR RENTAL-------------------
Absolutely rent a car. The great thing about Vieques is that there is so much to explore and to do that, you will need a car, preferably an SUV. As someone who hates SUV’s and the people who use them to drive their kids to the mall, this is somewhere where SUV’s are totally justified. There are a lot of bumpy, hilly dirt roads and you wouldn’t want to get stuck there. We were there during the dry-season, so it wasn’t so bad, but I was definitely glad to have a car that could handle everything. We booked through Island Car rentals and they were reasonable and dependable.

THE FOOD------------------------
We picked up groceries the first day, and I have to say the grocery options on the island are a little limited. I was shocked to find I couldn’t score an avocado or a jar of salsa! There is a fresh produce stand on the road that connects Isabel II and Esperanza (it’s closest to Isabel II), and if you’ll be cooking for yourself while you’re there, I recommend getting your fresh stuff here first then hitting the grocery store. We grilled at the house most nights, so I can’t really make restaurant suggestions, you might try other people’s postings or ask around when you get there. However, if you want a good cup of coffee, Roy’s is a great, cozy coffee shop on the main strip in Isabel II.
THE BEACHES----------------
I would suggest picking up a PR travel book to get an overview of all the beaches on Vieques to find out which ones you might like to hit. We visited the following and they were all amazing in their own ways. Just one suggestion for all the beaches which we heard over and over again. DO NOT bring valuables to the beach and lock them in your car. Our car rental place instructed us to leave the windows open whenever we visited the beaches and leave NOTHING in the car. It’s not a good idea to bring anything to the beach you would be sad to lose. Vieques is a wonderful place with wonderful people, but there is a lot of poverty there, which of course leads to a lot of petty theft. So watch your stuff.
RED BEACH/AKA CARACAS: This was our the first beach we visited and it was the perfect beach to start with. The waters were calm and the most beautiful clear blue/green. We were traveling with a 3 year old and it was safe enough for her to sit on the water’s edge and for us to carry her around in the water. There were little shelters sprinkled around the beach for protection from the sun.
GREEN BEACH: This was the most breath-taking of the beaches to me (although I wouldn’t have wanted to miss any of them). I would recommend taking time to scope out a place to park yourself on this beach rather than just plopping down at the first place you park… there are rocky bottom areas as well as sandy bottom, places that are more open and places with a little more tree cover. The waters were calm and beautiful here and again, the 3 year old was fine. We snorkled here and saw a sting ray, a few starfish, and many beautiful fish of varying colors and sizes.
NAVIO BEACH: Again, beautiful clear/ calm waters (although, when it’s windy, I guess this beach is supposed to have waves good for boogie/body boarding). We snorkled around the rock formations on the East side of the beach and saw amazing fish and plants and someone who had gone out right before us saw a huge sea-turtle. If you’re the sort of person that likes to dive off of rocks into the water, we saw quite a few locals jumping off on the rocks on the west side (of course I would recommend checking out the depth and rockiness on the bottom before doing this, but it sure looked fun).

THE BIOBAY--------------
Do not miss this. Absolutely do not miss this. Plan your trip around it being a good moon-time to see the biobay. (The biobay is good to see during different cycles of the moon because of the light… check the chart at http://www.golden-heron.com/moon.html. Anyway, any pictures you could see would never do it justice. It was like swimming in stars. Fish swim by and leave tracers in the water, as do your oars. You put your hand in the water and let the water run down your arm and your arm drips with stars. I never wanted it to end. The kayaking is non-strenuous and the 3 year old was totally fine riding the kayak between her parents. It didn’t rain that night, but if it does look like rain the night you’re going out DO NOT cancel your trip out. Our guide told us that the whole bay lights up when it rains. Reserve your trip in advance, before you get to the island because I hear they can fill-up, and as I mentioned, don’t miss this. We booked through Golden Heron http://www.golden-heron.com/biobay_trip_vieques.html. Our guide was Danny and he was great.

SCUBA DIVING-------------
We took a scuba diving trip thru Chipper (787) 741-3224 with Dave. It was our first dive and Dave was the perfect instructor. He was patient, informative, and respectful of the ocean. We took our dive under a pier across from the Malecon (main stretch on the beach in Esperanza). We saw trumpet fish, scorpion fish, crazy looking crabs that looked like spiders, and all sorts of other cool fish and plants that I don’t know the names for. It was like walking on the moon… except with a lot more cool stuff to see. Being my first dive, I was a little nervous, but Dave made me feel very at ease. He’s got a website with his vieques pictures as well as a snorkeling and diving map
( http://www.viequesphotography.com/ )

A FEW OTHER TIPS FOR VIEQUES------
•useful websites before you go:
www.isla-vieques.com
www.vieques-island.com
www.viequestravelguide.com

• ask around about good beaches to watch the sunset, because we went to a couple different beaches at dusk and were quickly driven away by mosquitos. I’m assuming a breezier beach would be better.
•bring: insect repellant, a citronella candle, good sunscreen, underwater disposable cameras, something waterproof to keep your money in to wear in your suit at the beach.

• as on any trip to a foreign country, try not to be a jerk. I get so embarrassed when I see the privileged, entitled attitudes of some American travelers who think everyone is there to be their tour-guide, entertainer, or servent. Learn some Spanish basics before you go, and treat people how you’d want to be treated.
• after you enjoy the biobay, go to the vieques conservation center on the Malecon in Esperanza. Sign the petition there to save the biobay from light pollution.


SAN JUAN------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
We only spent a couple of days in San Juan, here our my quick recommendations:

HOTELS----------------
•DO NOT stay at The San Juan Beach hotel in Condado. It presents itself as a “nicer” option on the beach, but there is a sign as you leave the hotel deck and enter the beach basically saying it’s a dangerous area to swim… which it is… very rocky and very strong currents. Besides that, the place is gross. Our room smelled like cheap cologne, the lamp shades were dirty and burnt looking, the lobby looks nice in the online pictures, but what you don’t see is all the stains and dirt in the carpet. The rates were way too high for what we got.
•We stayed at the Coral Princess Inn in Condado the night we flew in, just as a place to sleep before our morning departure to Vieques. It was actually a pleasant surprise. We weren’t expecting much, and it certainly isn’t luxurious, but if you’re looking to save a little money, it was clean and cute and had a lovely area for continental breakfast and a great little pool.

OLD SAN JUAN------------------------------
We spent all of our two days in San Juan visiting Old San Juan. It was beautiful. There are great blue-brick narrow streets and amazing architecture. There’s lots of great shopping and great restaurants. Here’s the things we did that I would highly recommend…
FOOD------
• It would seem that restaurant row in Old San Juan is on Fortaleza street just west of Plaza de Colon. Food in Old San Juan is not cheap, so be prepared. Beautiful women stand on the street in front of each restaurant and tastefully try to entice you inside. It worked for us. The first night we ate at DRAGONFLY which was Latin-Asian fusion (no shorts or tank tops allowed, but they will provide you with a sarong to borrow if you’re wearing shorts), the atmosphere was very rich and loungy and the food was AMAZING. (I’m from New York and have access to lots of good food, so I’m not easily impressed). We had the lobster udon, and some sort of beef dish which brought tears to my eyes it was so good. It got a little noisy and busy as it got a little later, so if you like it low-key and quiet, go early or not on the weekend. For martinis, desert, and a coconut-hookah-smoke we went to TANTRA which is a latin-Indian fusion place. The ambiance was great and there was a belly-dancer there that night which was so fun! Our waiter was Obed, and he was the friendliest most helpful person we met on our entire trip. Our last night we ate at BLEND and the food was, once again, AMAZING. It is definitely a younger crowd there with a sleek lounge feel and a live dj, so again, if you like it quiet, you might think of going early or on a weekday.

DANCING----------
We went to the Nuyorican on a recommendation from a local friend on Saturday night and it was one of the highlights of our trip. There was a 10+ piece salsa band playing and tons of people dancing and smiling from ear to ear. You’ve never seen so many smiley people in one place before. There was a range of people that danced like pros to people that were just doing the best they could and everyone was comfortable with each other and just having a good time. The cover charge was like 3 buck each and I would have gladly paid 10 times that for the great time we had there.

EL MORRO-----------
I’m not usually that into seeing Old forts, but El Morro is definitely a sight to see. Even if the fort itself doesn’t hold your interest (which would be hard to imagine), the views around it and from it are really incredible. It is a huge fort overlooking the Ocean at the tip of Old San Juan and it is breathtaking. There is a large lawn area leading up to it where people fly kites and have picnics.

CABS---------------
Cabs are at the wait on the west end of Plaza de Colon. Just ask them what their rate will be before getting in. Also, we took a ride with a really nice taxi driver, John that will come pick you up if you call him 787-602-8749.

Hope this helps you with your trip. Enjoy Puerto Rico!
Dannette Mehalik








lovinlivin Apr 25th, 2006 09:47 AM

Thank you so much for the great review. My husband and I are visiting PR and Vieques in June. And enjoy seemingly the same kind of vacation. Dragonfly and Tantra being our two restraunts in OSJ! Thanks again for the informative review!

mnag Apr 25th, 2006 10:28 AM

Thank you for the lovely report. Sounds like you had a great time.

ejcrowe Apr 25th, 2006 10:52 AM

Heh--when I saw your topic in the list this afternoon I thought it was just for me, as last night I posted questions about Vieques and OSJ. Thank you for posting with such detail, as it will be extremely helpful for my upcoming trip.


mbaldwin Apr 25th, 2006 11:01 AM

Ah, great report.

We visited Vieques for the first time in January and were hooked...heading back again this summer.

As far as procuring food goes: The main groceries are stocked by incoming boats on Wednesday or Thursday, so it does make sense to time your visit/first shopping for this time. By the weekend things can be pretty much cleared out.

I agree that the fruit/veggie vendor is superior to the grocery stores in general. Also, there is a fish market in Isabel II past the ferry dock in a green building. They're open to 11 and sell the catch (including lobster) that came in that morning. I've also heard that you can buy fish off the fishermen's dock in Esperanza, but never did it myself.



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