Sun and Sea at Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, Puerto Rico

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14404A, Lodge

Highlights

  • Snorkel in crystal-clear Caribbean waters
  • Kayak in Vieques' famed bioluminescent bay
  • Learn to paddleboard through beautiful waters and mangrove scenery

Includes

  • All on-trip meals (except one dinner)
  • Vieques Island transportation
  • Guided kayaking, snorkeling, and paddleboard trips
  • Shared guesthouse accommodations for six nights

Details

DatesFeb 23–Mar 1, 2014
Price$1,695
Deposit$200
Capacity12
StaffLinda Rubin

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Come explore world-class beaches, crystal-clear waters, rich ocean life, lush tropical flora, and one of the brightest bioluminescent bays in the world on this beautiful island. Vieques is a small island about seven miles off the east coast of Puerto Rico. While it belongs to Puerto Rico, Vieques has a lot in common with the Virgin Islands. It has a moderate climate year-round (average temperatures of 79-82 degrees) and more than 50 beaches. Vieques is home to over 120 species of birds as well as Puerto Rico's famous coqui and other tropical frogs. Wild horses and cows roam the hills of Vieques freely.

Vieques has a long history and is home to the last Spanish fort built in the New World, now a history and culture museum, which we will visit. Until 2003, the U.S. Navy controlled roughly two-thirds of the island, which is now primarily nature preserve or open land. Vieques' complex history and the limited availability of private land has kept large-scale development and cruise ships off the island and helped to keep Vieques relatively undiscovered. But, according to some sources, this serene island won't stay this way for long.

We will also visit the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), which is managed by the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife. One of nine NWRs located in the Caribbean, it is the most ecologically diverse and largest NWR in the Caribbean, encompassing 17,700 acres. It contains several ecologically distinct habitats, including beaches, coastal lagoons, mangrove wetlands, and upland forested areas -- both subtropical dry and subtropical moist forest.

Our activities will include swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, bird watching, and paddleboarding in the warm Caribbean waters, as well as strolling scenic beaches. We will enjoy fascinating snorkeling right off the beach. We will kayak on two-person sit-on-top ocean kayaks, which provide a stable, easy-on-and-off platform for swimming. And the trip includes a special opportunity to learn the fast-growing sport of paddleboarding on wide, stable boards in gentle, warm waters. The leaders will help you learn, or improve, techniques for these activities. We'll paddle to mangroves, a snorkeling area, and a secluded beach that's only reachable by water.

The BioBay tour will be a highlight of the trip. After dark, we'll paddle to the center of the BioBay where we'll tie up, have a discussion about bioluminescence, and enjoy the glowing bioluminescent water of Mosquito Bay. Mosquito Bay, also known as the Bioluminescent Bay, is the healthiest and best example of a bioluminescent bay in the world. With the slightest agitation of the water, tiny bioluminescent creatures emit an electric bluish white light. The organisms responsible are dinoflagellates, and the BioBay in Vieques contains more than 720,000 bioluminescent organisms per gallon of water.

Itinerary

We will meet on Vieques, with pick-up at both the ferry dock and the airport. Everyone should plan to arrive in Vieques between 2:00 and 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. Our first meal will be Sunday evening.

Day 1: The leaders will pick you up at the ferry dock or the airport. We’ll get settled in our rooms at the guesthouse and have a "meet and greet" party and evening meal as we get acquainted.

Day 2: After breakfast, we’ll have a morning snorkel and visit the Shrine and Ceiba Tree. Following lunch, we will head to Esperanza to visit the conservation museum, hike, swim or snorkel more. As we leave, we'll stop at the Green Store for any needed supplies or beverages, then make dinner at the guesthouse.

Day 3: After breakfast, we will visit the Historical Museum in Isabel Segunda. Those interested may shop or explore the town before returning  for lunch. In the afternoon, we will snorkel and walk the sands of another scenic beach.         

Day 4: After an introduction to island life in the 1800 and 1900s by a local expert, we’ll explore a sugar mill ruin. After lunch, we'll find a new beach to snorkel or return to a recent favorite. The day culminates by experiencing the local evening vibe in Esperanza or Isabel Segunda, followed by a restaurant dinner.

Day 5: We will visit the local Fish and Wildlife Department then stop and snorkel at Mosquito Pier. Following lunch, we will find another outstanding beach to swim or snorkel. The highlight of the day will be our nighttime kayak paddle in the world-famous bioluminescent bay.

Day 6: Following breakfast, you'll be able to relax and enjoy the hammocks and pool at LaFinca, our lodge.  After lunch we’ll paddleboard in protected waters and enjoy the perspective of looking back at the island from the sea. We will also paddle through the interesting and ecologically important mangroves. We’ll enjoy a freshly prepared meal back at the lodge and spend some time looking back on our week of adventure.

Day 7: We’ll have breakfast, clean our rooms, pack up and return everyone to the ferry dock or airport, making drop-offs until 11 a.m.

Please note: The leaders will make every reasonable effort to meet the goals outlined in the itinerary. Please keep in mind that weather or other conditions beyond our control may cause us to modify the itinerary in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the group.

Photos

Details

Getting There

Most people fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico and travel to Vieques from there. There are two main ways to get to Vieques from the main island of Puerto Rico: by plane from Luis Marin International Airport (SJU) in San Juan, or by ferry from Fajardo on the east coast of Puerto Rico. Some helpful travel info is available at www.vieques-island.com.

Vieques (VQS) is a 30-minute plane ride from San Juan. Most people fly on Cape Air (flycapeair.com 800-352-0714) or Vieques Air Link (viequesairlink.com 866-359-8784).

Vieques is a one-hour ferry ride from Fajardo. You will need to take a taxi (or Publico) from the international airport in San Juan to Fajardo (generally costing $50-80 one-way and taking 90 minutes, but it could be longer, depending on the day/time). In Fajardo, you will purchase a $4 round-trip ferry ticket. The phone number in Fajardo is (787) 863-0705. The ticket booth generally opens one hour before the ferry time, and you should give yourself a good hour in Fajardo to buy your ticket.

Accommodations and Food

We will have shared bedrooms in a quiet and secluded guesthouse on three acres in the middle of Vieques. Self-described as one part summer camp and one part homey wilderness lodge, the guesthouse is complete with living area, full kitchen, pool, several bathroom facilities, and private -- but outdoor -- showers. You'll awaken to birds chirping and enjoy a constant breeze on the wrap-around deck, with a view of the Caribbean in the distance. After a day of snorkeling or kayaking, you can hang out by the pool, or sneak off to doze in a hammock, serenaded by tropical frogs. Of course you are also free to skip the excursion and just hang out.

We expect to have a varied menu with many fresh foods. All meals will be vegetarian-friendly, but will not be exclusively vegetarian. Please discuss any dietary needs or restrictions you have with the leader. Each participant will help cook and clean up at least one day of the trip. We'll have dinner out at a local restaurant one night at participants' expense.

Trip Difficulty

This trip requires a moderate level of fitness. The tropical environment, while beautiful, can be hot, humid, and contain some biting insects. The water is generally smooth, but there may be some small waves if the wind comes up. You do not need to have experience kayaking, paddleboarding, or snorkeling. We will help you to learn. However you must know how to swim. You should also be able to paddle a kayak comfortably at least 20 minutes at a time. We will stay in a group for the water activities and use the buddy system when snorkeling.

Equipment and Clothing

Casual, warm weather clothing will be fine. We suggest that you also bring a light rain jacket and a sweater in case we have a cool evening. Bring a hat with a brim for sun protection, sturdy shoes for jungle walks, and a day pack or bag that's large enough to carry your lunch and water for our outings. You may also want to have a bag for your snorkel gear. A more detailed packing list will be sent to confirmed participants.

Snorkeling equipment may be rented or purchased on the island. However, to ensure that you have equipment that fits you well and that it's available every day, we recommend you bring your own. All kayaking and paddleboarding equipment is included as part of the trip.

If you are traveling by the ferry, you will be carrying your bags on and off the ferry. There may also be size limits on the small plane flights to Vieques. It is best to pack light.

References

Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Atlanta, Ga.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Region, [2007]. Comprehensive conservation plan and environmental impact statement.

Conservation

The Vieques National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding waters are home to at least four plants and 10 animals on the federal Endangered Species list, including the Antillean Manatee, Brown Pelican, four species of sea turtles (Green, Loggerhead, Hawksbill and Leatherback), and the Roseate Tern. We'll spend time with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife staff, who can share information about Vieques' most important environmental issues. We'll also be discussing the mangrove and bioluminescent bay conservation efforts with our outfitter.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Staff

Leader:

Linda Rubin has spent much of her life enjoying the outdoors cycling, backpacking, snowshoeing, hiking, and paddling. Her passion for sharing the outdoors with others started as a young adult, leading inner city kids to the mountains for their first wilderness experience. As a Sierra Club leader, Linda hopes to inspire others to respect and value both the simplicity and complexity of what nature offers...all while having fun! She is certified in Wilderness First Aid, CPR, Kayak and Water Safety.

Assistant Leader:

Ken Rubin has spent much of his life in the outdoors enjoying a variety of activities. In his professional career he has worked as a naturalist, resident camp director, and youth worker. He has led youth trips backpacking, canoeing, whitewater rafting, and hiking. Recently he became a Sierra Club leader as a way of sharing his love of nature with others. Ken is certified in Wilderness First Aid and CPR.

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