The islands of Vieques and Culebra lie off the east coast of Puerto Rico, and have some of the Caribbean's best beaches. Here are some of the basics you need to know before visiting these two islands.
The island-municipality of Culebra lies about 17 miles east of the main island of Puerto Rico. It is sparsely inhabited, and hosts some of the best beaches on Puerto Rican territory, which is saying a lot. Flamenco Beach is the best-known one. Culebra was for a long time home to a US military bombing range, until its closing in 1975. An old, rusting army tank still sits on the beach and provides for good photo opportunities.
There are a few ways to get to Culebra. The simplest and cheapest one is to take the ferry from Fajardo. The terminal is located on Road 987, and the ferries run every day, although the cargo ferries run only during the workweek. The fare is $2.25 per person each way. If the ferry is not your style, you can rent a private boat to take you there. Or, if you are the kind of person that places a lot of faith in small, single-engine planes, you can take a flight to Culebra from Diego Jimenez Torres Airport in Fajardo, or from José Aponte de la Torre Airport in Ceiba, for little over $100 round-trip. I've gone to Culebra this way, and it was very fast, but I found the ferry more relaxing (and much cheaper, although also much slower).
Once at the Culebra ferry terminal or airport, you will probably see vans and/or taxis that can take you to Flamenco Beach or anywhere else on the island you need to go. Make sure you agree on the fare before hopping in, and be aware that many of these taxis will be shared. You can arrange with your driver to come pick you up at a particular time. If you're planning on going back to Fajardo the same day, make sure you're back at the ferry terminal by 4:30PM, if not earlier, as the last ferry leaves at 5:00PM. If you want to stay, there are several small hotels and inns on the island (a listing can be found at:http://www.islaculebra.com/puerto-rico/hotels-villas.html)
Culebra has been a pretty bare-bones place for a long time, but tourism infrastructure has been slowly developing over the last several years. It is one of the most charming, beautiful and picturesque places in Puerto Rico, and I highly recommend a visit.
Vieques is an island-municipality about 8 miles east of Puerto Rico's "big island". It bears the nickname "isla nena" or "daughter island", a reference to its size in relation to Puerto Rico. While Vieques was a US Navy bombing range for many decades, military activities ceased in 2003 after many years of heated protest both in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Since then, tourist facilities in Vieques have been greatly improving, although the island still retains its sleepy charm.
Vieques offers several attractions, besides its many pristine beaches, such as Esperanza Beach and Playa Caracas. You can visit the Fortin Conde de Mirasol, a Spanish-built fort from the 19th century which now serves as a museum. There are also two historical lighthouses, Faro Punta Mulas and Faro de Puerto Ferro. The main attraction in Vieques these days, though, is its bioluminiscent bay. Like similar bays in La Parguera and Fajardo, the water here is dramatically lit up by a multitude of glowing microorganisms, which only glow brighter when the water is agitated. The bay in Vieques (often referred to as "Mosquito Bay") is alleged to be the brightest one in Puerto Rico. Several companies offer tours, mainly by kayak. Some of these are Abe's Snorkeling (www.abessnorkeling.com) and Island Adventures (www.biobay.com). Make sure you book a trip when there isn't a full moon.
Vieques is still not nearly as urbanized as much of the rest of Puerto Rico, and seeing wild horses and chickens is not uncommon. American fast food outlets seem to be non-existent (which is great, in my opinion) and things generally move at a slower pace than in urban PR. If you're in the area in July, you can go check out Vieques' Patron Saint festivities, which are a real hoot. Make sure you put your drinking shoes on for that one, though.
You can get to Vieques by taking a ferry from the terminal on Road 987 in Fajardo, or by plane from the airports in San Juan, Ceiba or Isla Grande. You can also fly between Vieques and the US Virgin Islands, which are not far away. The ferry is about $4 round-trip per person, and runs daily. A cargo ferry is available during the workweek if you want to bring your car (I don't recommend it). For transportation, you can either rent a car in Vieques, or you can take a taxi or van at the ferry terminal or airport, or engage a taxi driver for the day. You can have a driver drop you off at the beach, for example, and arrange to be picked up by a certain time. The last ferry leaves Vieques at 6:00 PM, so be there an hour before that unless you're planning to spend the night. The best-known resort is the very pricey (and amazing) W Retreat and Spa, but less expensive accommodations, such as the Sea Gate Hotel, are available. For more information on Vieques tourism, visit:http://www.viequestourism.com/.
For more information on visiting Puerto Rico, try The Real Deal Guide To Puerto Rico.