THE VIEQUES ALTERNATIVE Longing for a simple island stay—or looking for an easy escape from San Juan?A 20-minute puddle jumper or one-hour ferry ride can take you from the city to Vieques, a blessedly undeveloped island off Puerto Rico's east coast (book a flight through Vieques Air Link; 888/901-9247; www.vieques-island.com; round-trip from San Juan $135; the $2 ferry leaves from Fajardo). Vieques has been in the news for its U.S. Navy battle testing—and the protests against it—but don't believe the hype: naval bases may occupy much of the island, but the military keeps an extremely low profile, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a soldier anywhere. What you will find are hilly roads with 360-degree views of both the Caribbean and the Atlantic (pick up a sporty Suzuki Sidekick from Island Car Rentals; 787/741-1666) and miles of unspoiled beaches. Sun Bay, in the town of Esperanza, is easy to get to; go off-road a bit from there to find the shallow waters of Media Luna—great for splash-happy kids. Also, don't miss the island's bioluminescent bay. Tour it at night with Island Adventures (787/741-0720; www.biobay.com; from $23, $12 for kids). La Casa del Francés (787/741-3751; www.enchanted-isle.com/LaCasa; doubles from $130), a plantation house converted into a funky 16-room hotel with a pool, welcomes families. Or rent one of La Finca Caribe's rustic hilltop houses (787/741-0495; www.lafinca.com; casitas for four from $525 a week until December, doubles in main building $60 a night) with outdoor showers and views of the sea. —H. Scott Jolley
Go Puerto Rico!
Useful Puerto Rico Web Sites
www.travelandsports.com The place for help getting oriented and gathering information based on location. The home page is a map of Puerto Rico, well marked with towns, sights like El Yunque rain forest, and major highway routes. Click on a topic like Diving, and the spots where it's offered light up on the map. Or click on a town, and listings of everything from hotels and beaches to local artisans pop up.
www.gotopuertorico.com The tourism board's site is refreshingly well-designed, comprehensive, and easy to use. You can search by categories, such as Beaches and Sports or Nature and Adventure, look up the current weather and a calendar of events, and check out the PR is Fun! packages. The path to accommodations is a bit more wayward—though extensive—in its listings. Just keep in mind that few paradors (government-regulated inns) in Puerto Rico live up to the charm the name conjures up.