Vieques, in full Isla de Vieques, is an island–municipality of Puerto Rico in the northeastern Caribbean, part of an island grouping sometimes known as the Spanish Virgin Islands. Vieques is part of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and retains strong influences from 400 years of Spanish presence in the island.
Vieques lies about 8 miles (13 km) east of the Puerto Rican mainland, and measures about 21 miles (34 km) long by 4 miles (6 km) wide. Its one main town Isabel Segunda (sometimes written "Isabel II"), the administrative center on the northern side of the island. At peak, the population of Vieques is around 14,000.
The island's name is a Spanish spelling of an American Indian word (likely Taíno) said to mean "small island". It also has the nickname "Isla Nena", usually translated from the Spanish as "Little Girl Island", alluding to its perception as Puerto Rico's little sister. During the colonial period, the British name was "Crab Island".
Vieques is best known internationally as the site of a series of protests against the United States Navy's use of the island as a bombing range and testing ground, which led to the navy's departure in 2003. Today the former navy land is a national wildlife refuge, with numerous beaches that still retain the names given by the navy, including Red Beach, Blue Beach, Green Beach and others. The beaches are commonly listed among the top beaches in the Caribbean for their azure-colored waters and white sands.
For sixty years the majority of Vieques was closed off by the US Navy, and the island remained almost entirely undeveloped for tourism. This lack of development is now marketed as a key attraction. Vieques is promoted under an ecotourism banner as a sleepy, unspoiled island of rural "old World" charm and pristine deserted beaches, and is rapidly becoming a popular destination.
Since the Navy's departure, tensions on the island have been low, although land speculation by foreign developers and fears of overdevelopment have caused some resentment among local residents, and there are occasional reports of lingering anti-American sentiment.
The lands previously owned by the Navy have been turned over to the U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Service and the authorities of Puerto Rico and Vieques for management. The immediate bombing range area on the eastern tip of the island suffers from severe contamination, but the remaining areas are mostly open to the public, including many beautiful beaches that were inaccessible to civilians while the military was conducting training maneuvers.
Snorkeling is excellent, especially at Blue Beach (Bahía de la Chiva). Aside from archeological sites, such as La Hueca, and deserted beaches, a unique feature of Vieques is the presence of two pristine bioluminescent bays, including Mosquito Bay. Vieques is also famous for its feral paso fino horses, which roam free over parts of the island. These are descended from stock originally brought by European colonisers.
In 2011, TripAdvisor listed Vieques among the Top 25 Beaches in the World, writing "If you prefer your beaches without the accompanying commercial developments, Isla de Vieques is your tanning turf, with more than 40 beaches and not one traffic light."