Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Vieques Vieqation

The ninth wedding anniversary may not typically be the biggest milestone...but this year happened to be our first anniversary since 2010 where I would not be pregnant or that was a milestone in an of itself. I could drink! To excess! And jump off high stuff! (Not immediately after drinking to excess of course...but still!) We were once again free to be reckless- or at least as reckless as a parents of two can rationalize being. 

Once we determined that this was our year for a big trip, we debated for months where to go. I'll spare you the play by play of the agonizing back-and-forth, and just tell you what you already know: we settled on Puerto Rico, specifically Vieques- a small island off the east coast of PR. 

We have been supremely lucky over the years to go on awesome trips (even while pregnant and since having Piper) but this would be our first getaway since having Fin. We knew that if we were going to burden someone for a full week with TWO kiddos (thanks mom!!), we better make it a trip to remember. Plus, we wanted to take advantage of our freedom, and go somewhere that would be impossible, or at least way less fun, with kids- a remote an island off of another island seemed to fit the bill perfectly.
A friend recommended choosing a destination, booking a flight, and then watching VRBO or AirBNB for good last minute deals (owners sometimes get anxious when things aren't rented, and will cut you a deal because it's better than nothing). So we cashed in some flight miles, and researched our options (mostly through Trip Advisor) while we waited. Our plan was 5 days in Vieques, followed by 2 days in San Juan. (I had been to Puerto Rico in high school, but Dustin had never gone, and we were both new to Vieques). We scored a last minute rental house (seriously, the week before we left we still had no clue where we would stay. I decided to be as low key as possible, trusting it would all work out. And through a combination of luck, and off-peak availability, it all worked out!)

We shared snippets of our trip through Instagram (when we could get wi-fi,'s a US territory, so phone calls are easy, but international data/roaming etc. still apply so we kept that to a minimum to avoid hefty charges) but I thought I'd detail the trip more here for those of you interested in following in our footsteps. It really was the trip of a lifetime...I so highly recommend it, so I'm thrilled to share the specifics in hopes that someone else will get to experience a piece of what we did!

Bowdenisms guide to Vieques, Puerto Rico
(if everything worked right, which is a big IF, you should see a "pin it" button on the image above, when you hover over it. Go it. And then book it.)
 Click on "read more" for the full trip details...

We started with a flight from Columbus, connecting through Philly to San Juan (we were extra lucky to get a big plane with personal video screens...I finally got to see Divergent, while Dustin watched whatever it is boys watch). From there it was a 20 minute, $20 cab ride to Isla Grande airport, a tiny hub for inter-island flights. Because of our late takeoff in Philly, we missed our scheduled flight to Vieques, and had to wait for an hour or so for the next one. We didn't love being stranded in a one room, non-air conditioned airport, but we were thankful that there at least was a next flight, as the 5pm was the last round of the day. Had we missed that...well...we would have had to be a bit more flexible than we even anticipated. This also started our week long rhetoric of "this would be so terrible if the kids were here". Don't get me wrong, we missed those little nuggets from the minute we left, but we were also supremely thankful for the convenience of adults-only travel, and it kept our moods extra sunny even during minor annoyances, because we knew it could be soooo much worse. (Dustin could have had to listed to three girls whining about how hot/hungry/tired they are). The flight to Vieques (via Vieques Air Link) is only 25 minutes or so, and is astoundingly beautiful, if you can ignore the persistent fear of death that comes with traveling in an eight seat vehicle over a large body of water. We made it safely, even through a small rainstorm and our adventure officially began. 

Vieques is a small island, containing about 10,000 people, 2 gas stations (inexplicably located one block from each other) a couple of "towns" and about 30 minutes of road from end to end. We came in the low season, which meant our options for dining out were extremely limited, but our opportunities for enjoying private beaches were through the roof. Plus, because low season means low demand, and we stayed flexible, waiting to the last minute to book a hotel, and we were able to get a pretty sweet deal. In theory we could have probably used the low-season excuse to our advantage even more than we did, had we needed to haggle cab rides etc. There were some disadvantages to the timing, having a majority of the island businesses closed (without any warning or communication... just lights-out or boarded up windows on the buildings when you arrive) but in the end, it we felt it was mostly a benefit- and it made a remote island even more intimate. Weather was also a concern, knowing that August and September are peak hurricane season, but we were blessed with sunshine every day (and even the occasional rain showers weren't a problem, as they tend to blow over quickly in the islands, and leave you back with the 85 degree, 90% humidity weather you started with). We'd definitely be up for visiting in high-season (November- March) but wouldn't worry too much about timing in general...there just doesn't seem to be a bad time to visit.

We stayed at a place called Casa Ladera, (a condo/vacation home found through VRBO) a simple, and lovely spot, right off the beach, with a pool (my two sticking points when searching. I gotta have my access to water!) It was beautiful, but the best part was that we had it all to ourselves. There are 4 units on the property (we had the downstairs unit)- each sleeping 4-10, so it would be an awesome spot for a group getaway, but this week the two of us had exclusive access the pool, the stray horses, the semi-adopted dog, and a forest full of iguanas right off of our patio. The house manager, Renee, picked us up from the airport, helped us get settled, and gave us tips on where to go, and what to do. We followed her chicken scratch map notes like a bible (along with our copy of Vieques Insider- the island's tourism magazine) and were not disappointed by any of her suggestions.
There's not a ton to do on the island- which was fine by us- the draw is pretty much the beaches (including snorkeling if that's your thing. We finally came to terms that snorkeling for us is more of an exercise in not dying than it is a memorable romantic activity, so we didn't bother). We rented a Jeep for the week- primarily so we could get around easily, but also so Dustin could relive his "hair in the wind glory days" that he gave up when he sold his Wrangler during our long distance courtship. The island is small, but spread out enough to necessitate driving, and the 4W drive came in handy for drives off the beaten path (which is pretty much the entire island). We hit up the local Supermercado for some staples- some cereal and yogurt for breakfast, a case of beer, some snacks and some sandwich supplies. Then each morning we'd pack a cooler, grab our chairs and umbrella and explore, checking out a different beach or two each day (before getting sweaty/sandy enough to want to retire to our private poolside in the afternoons).

The landscape is absolutely stunning. Flora/fauna, clear water, white sand...just cliches upon cliches of what you want in a beach vacay. And in all of our travels, we never saw more than 10 other people in any one spot- more often than not we had the beach all to ourselves. I could rave about each and every location, but we both agreed that our favorite by far was Media Luna. They call it the bathtub, because it's incredibly calm, and you can wade out 30feet or so and still be in waist deep water.  
The main attraction or claim to fame on the island is the bio-bay. I'll spare you the ecology lesson details, and just tell you that it was awesome. These little organisms glow inside the water- millions of tiny sparkles blinking all around your kayak that get brighter with every move of your oar or hand. We went on a 2 hour paddle tour through the bay (strenuous level: 2/10, if that), listening to the guide teaching us about the area (we went with Abe's- led by Cruz and Jeffrey, who were awesome), and watching for fish, lighting up bright glowing zig-zags wherever they travel. We saw a stingray glide right by our boat, each edge of his body outlined in fluorescent green as he waved by. We were incredibly lucky to have a dark night...the moon makes it harder to see the glowing effect, and after two straight nights with an impossibly bright full moon, it miraculously hid for the full duration of our trip, coming out only to light up our trip back to shore. It tough to capture the magic of this place on film (or digital film), so instead I took one million mental snapshots, capturing memories of the stars, the mangroves, and the puddles of glowing water under our was incredible.  
Besides that, there's not much in the way of "nightlife" (unless you count the constant calls of the Coquis that come out after dark) so evenings were low-key: drinks and dinner at a local spot and....that's about it. We went to bed early, and woke up late, (by that I mean after eight- what a luxury!) and loved every minute of it. We enjoyed some lovely meals, at Duffy's, Smokey's, Lazy Jack's and some others. There were a couple of upscale restaurants (though most were closed during our stay) but for the most part it was local bars, and roadside shack type places- authentic, affordable, and delicious. We did check out the nearby W resort, enjoying the swanky surroundings, campfire and pool table (and only slightly enjoying the swanky $15 drinks). 
We had planned to take the ferry back (it's $2 per person, vs. $70 flights), but it's notoriously slow, crowded and unreliable- we were told to show up an hour early to make sure we got on, and to not plan on any particular arrival time. In addition, it's an hour and a half ride that lands in the town of Fajardo, which is about another hour and a half via cab to San Juan (with an $85ish fare) so it's basically $165 for a flight, with roughly 1.5hrs total travel, or $90 and 4.5hrs by ferry/car. In the end, we decided to pay a bit of extra money to avoid the hassle, and take advantage of more time actually on the islands, vs. shuttling around.   
So that's the gist (of the Vieques portion of the trip anyway). We went pretty much on a whim, with only the bio-bay in mind before we arrived, and honestly I can't imagine the trip turning out better. Maybe it's because we were open minded, and relatively free from expectations, or maybe it's because it's impossible not to enjoy Vieques. Either way, both Dustin and I ranked this as one of our best vacations ever.  
I've been racking my brain to see if I would do anything differently, and only came up with two things: 
  1. I packed entirely too many clothes (bring a cover up and a sundress for each day and you'll be good to go).  
  2. I wish I had invested in a life-proof type case for my phone before we left. It would have been a blast to take pictures in the water and on the beach without fear of ruining my phone and losing the 1,000+ pictures stored on it. 
And if those are our biggest problems? We're doing alllll-right. 

I'll be back later this week with details and pics of the San Juan portion of our trip. In the meantime, please comment with any questions...I'm happy to give more details on anything I may have missed!

p.s. Read more about our past vacations and travels


  1. Great pictures and review of Vieques. We love it there! So much so that we just bought a house.

    1. Whoa. That's AWESOME! Need someone to keep an eye on it in the off season? ;)

  2. i can't wait to read this and live vicariously through your travels. for now, I just scanned the pics quickly and they are lovely!!!

    1. mark it down on your list of things to do once YOU'RE not pregnant or nursing. You've earned it, lady!