24 Hours on the Isle of Vieques, Puerto Rico
I don’t know that I’ve ever noticed quite how loud nature is. Laying in the pitch darkness of my treehouse abode on the isle of Vieques, Puerto Rico, I can hear a cacophony of squeaks, trills, and whistles slicing through the night. It’s boisterous for sure, but also deeply soothing. My boyfriend, eloquent as ever, asks, “What is that beeping sound?” “Nature,” I responded, “I think that’s nature.”
Earlier that morning, we had left the hustle and bustle of San Juan in our cherry red Hyundai Elantra and set out for the tiny island of Vieques, which is about a 30 minute ferry ride off the mainland of Puerto Rico. After about 45 minutes of highway driving, our trusty GPS leads us off the main road, through what I believe is a small military installation, and deposits us at the tiny ferry terminal. I had booked our tickets online beforehand out of an abundance of caution after reading tales of sold out ferries, canceled journeys, and hours long waits online. Fortunately, the boarding process was fairly easy and laid back — just let the nice military men take your temperature and wait for your boarding group to get called.
There are two kinds of ferries shuttling back and forth between the islands of Vieques and Culebra, and the mainland port in Ceiba — passenger ferries and cargo ferries. Don’t let the term “cargo” fool you, though. These are not ferries in the sense that you drive your car on, park, and laze about the boat deck for the journey. The “cargo” component is reserved for bringing supplies and necessities over to the smaller islands. If you aren’t a merchant or a local, don’t plan on bringing your car onto that cargo ferry.
Another fun fact about the cargo ferry — you’re going to be sitting inside a faux-wood paneled, windowless cabin that reminds me of an airplane fuselage with all the shades pulled down and even worse ventilation. If you are at all prone to motion sickness, take some dramamine. Even if the seas look calm. I am fortunate enough to have an iron stomach, but Boyfriend gets notoriously seasick. Take it from him — thirty minutes in the stuffy, windowless cargo ferry can feel like an eternity. But I think he would agree with me when I tell you that the journey was worth it to spend time on Vieques.
We’re traveling in August, which is not peak season for Puerto Rico, most likely because the temperature and humidity are reaching “surface of the sun” levels. The positive of traveling at this time, though, is that very few tourists are around. After docking in Vieques, it seemed most travelers were locals (a lot of people live on Vieques and work on the mainland). There were only a few groups of obvious tourists milling around looking for rides.
We made our way to the UTV rental office to pick up our sweet ride for the trip — an orange UTV. A UTV is essentially a more powerful golf cart with wheels durable enough to survive the plethora of Puerto Rican potholes that plague the roads. The benefit of renting a UTV over a more traditional vehicle is that their smaller size makes it easier to navigate the often-narrow island roads. They’re also more eco-friendly, and, quite honestly, just much more fun. And so we loaded our luggage onto our trusty steed and, after a quick and dirty explanation of how to operate the thing, we started making our way to our accommodations for the night.
Months earlier, as I was researching things to do and places to go on this trip, I stumbled across a website for La Finca Victoria boutique resort. I was instantly drawn in by pictures of their Baez Hauses. Each Baez Haus is essentially a two-story tiny house built into the lush vegetation of the resort so as to feel like buildings had spring up organically from the tropical soil. The views looked stunning, the beds and hammocks looked comfy, and the appeal of staying in a jungle treehouse was basically irresistible. Plus, at $179 a night (which includes a complimentary vegan breakfast, yoga by the pool at 8am, free parking, beach towels, an insulated picnic cooler, and organic toiletries), the price seemed like an absolute steal for our own slice of paradise.
When we arrived at La Finca, which is located conveniently on a hilltop right in the middle of the island, we parked the UTV in the dirt lot by the resort entrance and were immediately greeted by the sound of gentle wind chimes. As we walked toward the open air lobby-cum-restuarant-cum-pool, there was a delicious breeze blowing, gently swaying the mango and starfruit trees. The front desk staff was friendly and helpful, offering to hold onto our bags until our room was ready (it was only about noon and check-in starts at 3) and showing us toward the outdoor shower and toilet where we could change and get ready for adventures.
Having made ourselves adventure ready, we hit the road to find a spot on one of Vieques’ famous beaches. Boyfriend took the driver’s seat and I sat on the back of the UTV, which I came to regret after he continued to drive at speed over the seemingly endless number of potholes. The roads in Puerto Rico are not ideal for the shocks of any vehicle, and it seems to be a continuous battle due to the frequent hurricane winds and rains whipping through. Approached with the appropriate care, though, the potholes aren’t that big a deal. But if you value your noggin, strap yourself in tight. And don’t worry — I drove on the way back so he could appreciate the feeling of bumping along a pothole-pocked dirt road at 25mph. After all, what is love if not reciprocity?
Having survived the potholes, we found a beach on the Vieques Wildlife Refuge called Punta Arenas that was virtually deserted. We walked down the thin strip of beach past maybe 3 groups of people and found ourselves on an empty peninsula with views of the mainland. The sand on the beach was a little bit shell-y, but nothing impossible to traverse sans sandals. I would recommend bug spray, though, unless you would like to become a feast for the flies.
After a few hours of splashing, lounging, and seashell-hunting, we packed up our clementine chariot and bumped our way back to La Finca to officially check in to our Baez Haus. Our tiny treehouse, which was officially called Number 7, sat tucked into the back of the resort grounds. The deck had a bench, and burbling fountain, and a very inviting teal hammock. The outdoor shower was off to the side of the deck and surrounded by greenery. When you enter the house, there is another hammock that can be moved and hung up out of the way, a sink, mini fridge, some shelving, and a ladder off to your right. The main floor is decorated with line drawings and botanical art that make you feel enveloped by nature even when you’re inside.
The piece de resistance, though, was up that ladder. The Baez Haus bedroom is on the second floor. Dominated by a cushy bed crowned by mosquito netting, the sleeping area is serene. There is a balcony off the front with panoramic views of the island, even featuring the azure sea sparkling in the distance. The Baez Haus is designed with cross-ventilation in mind, and between the balcony, open porthole window, and an oscillating fan, it is refreshingly cool and breezy despite the heat and humidity.
One of the most interesting pieces in the Baez Haus was the art chosen for over the bed. It is a black and white line drawing featuring Boba Fett and Chewbacca in a romantic embrace. Both have long, feminine legs and thigh high stockings. The artist is Carmen Buxeda, and, from her Instagram, I learned that she has a whole series of Star Wars erotica, which is frankly not a phrase I ever thought I would utter. But the purpose of art is to elicit a response or feeling in the observer, and Buxeda’s quirky depiction of sensuality certainly did that for me.
There are several other types of accommodation at La Finca, including a 3 story Baez Haus Plus, another “treehouse” that I don’t think I even noticed, which is aptly named the Invisible House. There are more traditional hotel-style rooms in a bungalow on site, and a larger suite featuring multiple bedrooms that can sleep 4-8. I’ve already suggested La Finca as a reunion getaway location for my college girlfriends, but it seems there are options for many types of travelers — even those traveling with doggos! Pups up to 50 pounds are welcome at La Finca, and are even provided with their own bed and bowls. There are several dogs that reside at La Finca full time, so even if you can’t bring your fur baby with you, you can still get your good boi fix during your stay.
Basically, I would like to move into La Finca Victoria full time and never leave. Unfortunately, since that’s not how vacations work, we did have to pack up and head out after spending one night. I regret not allocating more time for Vieques wholeheartedly, and would probably spend my entire vacation there if I were to head to Puerto Rico again. If you decide to journey to Vieques, or have journeyed there in the past, drop a comment below with your memories and recommendations!