Vieques is an island off the east coast of Puerto Rico, which as a U.S. Commonwealth, American citizens can visit without a passport. It is sometimes referred to as part of the Spanish Virgin Islands (Vieques and Culebra) and its nickname is Isla Nena (Little Girl Island), hence our name!
We enjoy a warm, tropical to sub-tropical climate with temperatures varying little throughout the year, from 82 °F (28 °C) in January to 87 °F (31 °C) in July. The months of September–November bring the most rain. Prevailing winds are easterly. Vieques is at risk from hurricanes from June to November, but major devastation is rare. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 was the last one that brought a lot of destruction. Hurricane Irene in 2011 felled a great many large trees and toppled a few minor buildings, but did not destroy much else.
The island is about 3.5 miles wide and 17 miles long. There aren’t any permanent rivers or streams. Its highest elevation, Monte Pirata, part of a central east-west ridge, is just 13 feet short of officially being a mountain. Its surrounding lush green hills are dotted with houses only in the center of the island. There are two major towns: Isabel Segunda on the north coast, and Esperanza on the south.
The entire eastern and western ends of Vieques are unpopulated. Most of the land is a natural reserve administered by the Federal Agency of Fish and Wildlife, to which it was turned over by the Navy after they left in 2003. They had the island as a military station and bombing range for half a century. The cleanup effort that started after their departure continues to this day and will likely never be complete. Ironically, Vieques’ battered history has left it largely undeveloped–giving it a unique place in the Caribbean with healthy mangrove swamps, beautiful lagoons and miles and miles of untouched beaches for the enjoyment of tourists and locals alike.
It is often said that the Vieques south shore is in the Caribbean sea, whereas its north shore lies in the Atlantic. That’s not technically correct, since the Caribbean as a suboceanic basin is really part of the Western Atlantic and includes all of Vieques and indeed all of Puerto Rico. However, conditions do differ greatly from the north to the south shore, the southern side typically being calmer and warmer except during hurricane season. Since we dive on both sides, we can always pick the sunny side!
Top two photos © Mark Franco