When I was planning my first trip to Vieques, I was told that a car rental was a must. However, by the time I decided to rent one, they were all sold out. So when I got to the island, I had to figure out the best way to get around. Surprisingly, it was very easy and inexpensive to get around Vieques Island without a rental car, albeit, I can see the benefit of having one. Here, I break down your options so you can make an informed decision as to what will work best for you on your island vacation.
Renting a car is a great option for anyone who is planning to spend a few days on Vieques Island and likes the freedom of going where they want, when they want. Granted, it’s not the most cost conscious option (expect to pay at least $80/day for a jeep) for your transportation on Vieques, but it’s definitely the most convenient option. If you want to save some money yet still have an opportunity to explore the island, consider renting a jeep for a day or two instead of the entire time on Vieques.
Tips for Renting a Car on Vieques Island
- The main roads on the island are paved and easy to navigate as long as you don’t speed. They are on the narrow side, and you’ll run into a few road hazards along the way such as iguanas, horses, cows, and some tourists either walking or biking. At night, the roads are dark, and the road hazards are still there, so you must proceed with caution.
- Many of the roads leading to the beaches are not paved, and some are downright rocky. It’s highly advisable to rent a jeep on Vieques Island instead of a regular car or scooter.
- Book your rental in advance. There are not many rental companies on Vieques Island, so the jeep rentals tend to sell out fast. Expect to pay about $80/day for your rental.
- Wild horses are everywhere on Vieques Island, and they don’t move for cars. Sometimes you’ll find them blocking the road, and you simply have to wait for them to move. Other times, you’ll find them running onto the road in front of moving vehicles just to get across to the other side. It is nice to see them at first, but by your second day, you’ll find them to be a bit of a nuisance.
- Do not keep anything valuable in your rental car, and it’s advisable that you keep your doors unlocked. Thieves have been known to break windows to just search a car for valuables even if none are visible, hoping a tourist hid something under the seat. Avoid a broken window by keeping the doors unlocked.
- Wear your seatbelt. The police will not hesitate to pull you over and cite you for not wearing your seatbelt.
Public vans are a very popular and inexpensive way to get around the island. You’ll see these vans cruising both Esperanza and Isabel looking for a fare, and you will even find them driving past the main beach entrances looking for stranded tourists in need of a ride back to their hotel or guest house.
The vans are public, so this means that you will be sharing your ride with others. If you happen to get into a full van, it’s sometimes possible that you’ll make multiple stops before you get to your destination. (It took me a full hour to get from the ferry terminal to my guest house in Esperanza in a non-air conditioned van). The public vans charge $3 per person regardless of the distance you are going. It’s always best to have exact change or at the very least, use small bills when paying for your transport to ensure you can get change.
Please do not haggle with these drivers. The cost of a ride is regulated. It is $3; not $1, not $1.50. It was frustrating to share a van with spring breakers (from OSU during my van ride) who would exit the van and then hand 5 quarters to the driver and say “that’s all I have” and walk away. Not only does it piss off the driver who has to continue driving other passengers, but it delays everyone else as you stand there arguing over a dollar. If you can’t afford the $3 ride, please don’t hail a van. You embarrass yourselves and your compatriots, especially when you are rude and say “what are you going to do about it?” and walk away from the driver.
Things to know about using Public Vans on Vieques Island
- You will never know how long it will take to get to your destination. A number of factors come into play such as: how full the van is with other passengers as sometimes the driver will wait until he fills up the van (moreso at the ferry terminal than anywhere else); how many stops are required, as the driver will stop anywhere for a passenger and wait, including a bodega for someone to run in and get provisions for their day at the beach; and whether the driver decides to take a bio break or a smoke break while enroute. (During one ride, the driver stopped at a beach to unload some passengers and then made the rest of us wait while he smoked a cigarette. On another ride, the driver stopped at his house for a bio break for 5 minutes).
- There is no need to tip the drivers. The $3 fee covers your ride and tip; there is no expectation for anything more unless the driver honors a special request (e.g., a stop at the bodega). Most of the time, you have no desire to tip your driver, especially if you had to sit in a hot van for 5 minutes while your driver smoked a cigarette under a palm tree.
- You won’t see too many vans on the road in the morning hours (if any) around Esperanza. If you want to get somewhere in the morning, your only options are to walk or call a private taxi. The vans seem to start running after 11:00 AM, and again, are few and far between until the afternoon hours when you’ll have no problem waving one down.
- Don’t expect air conditioning in the vans. Some have it on, but many don’t. If you are stuck in the back, it can get hot and sweaty!
- On Sundays, it’s a bit more difficult to find a van. The drivers decide when and for how long they want to work, and many will take Sunday off or just work a few hours.
- It is very difficult to get a van (or private taxi for that matter) after 11:30 P.M. If you are lucky enough (usually because you are at a hotel like the W or Inn on the Blue Horizon who will call one for you), expect to pay anywhere from $5 to $10 per person for the ride back to your hotel. The latest I stayed out was 12:30 A.M. One night, a 1 mile ride at this hour cost $5. The other night at the same time, the ride was $10, but it was from the W Hotel to Esperanza, which was across the island.
- Don’t expect a luxurious ride. Most of the vans I rode in were pretty beat up with torn seats. Good luck if you have a working seat belt, too. A seatbelt appears only obligatory for a driver on Vieques Island.
- Be clear when you tell your driver where you are going. Some drivers will claim they heard something other than what you told them and take you to the other side of the island. They’ll then demand $10 for the ride and refuse to take you to your destination. (This happened to an elderly friend of mine and his wife).
Arrival from Ferry – If you decide to take a public van to your hotel or guest house, and you just arrived on the ferry from Fajardo, you’ll have no problem finding the public vans. Simply walk to the right of the ferry terminal exit, and you’ll see a small parking lot with vans lined up waiting to offer rides. It’s a bit chaotic in this area, but just walk up to one of the drivers standing next to the van and ask him if he can take you to your destination. If you have a lot of luggage, you should probably skip this option and go with a private taxi. The vans try to fill up every last seat with a passenger leaving no room for luggage (just your lap if it’ll even fit there).
The private taxi is the way to go if you have a lot of luggage, if you need to get to your destination by a specific time, and/or you want to travel in comfort. There are only 4 (black) jeeps on the Island that operate as the private taxi (741-TAXI). We used them three times, and every time, they were professional, courteous, and on time. The jeeps are modern, clean, and air conditioned, too. If you decide to take a private taxi, expect to pay $5 per person. Best of all, the taxi is yours, so there will be no stops for other passengers as you drive to your destination.
If you arriving on the ferry, call in advance for a taxi to meet you at the ferry terminal. Instead of walking to the right when you exit the ferry, tell the Taxi you will meet them to the left, away from the public vans. It’ll be less congested in this area.