Friday, December 13, 2013

Vieques Air Link

Flight #71 – Vieques Air Link 413
Ceiba (RVR) – Vieques (VQS)
Friday, December 13, 2013
Depart: 3:00PM / Arrive: 3:15PM
Duration: 15min
Aircraft: Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander
Seat: Row 3 and 4 (Economy) 
Earned: 0 miles (12 miles flown)
Cost: $34 / person (one way)
Lifetime Miles: 137,707 miles 

Buenos dias from San Juan, Puerto Rico! By the time you're reading this on Friday morning, my family and I should have landed at SJU Airport and checked into our hotel late last night. We're stayed over for 1 night in San Juan before making our way over to beautiful Vieques Island later today.

As we're finding out, getting from the "mainland" PR to Vieques Island is no easy task.  Fortunately, there are a variety of options ranging from ferries to private charter flights.

First we have to get from San Juan to the eastern end of the island where we have our over-the-water transportation options.

Drive to Fajardo/Ceiba 
Budget travelers will be happy to know that Vieques (C on the map below) is within reach for them. The departure ferry terminal is in Fajardo (B on the map below) which is about 40 miles away from San Juan (A). The good news is that there's a highway. The bad news is that with traffic and congestion, it can take 1-1.5 to drive by car and much much longer if taking a public bus. We didn't look into the bus option at all, so I can't quote you a price, though I'd assume it would be VERY cheap.

We could have also rented a car for a one way trip to the terminal where there are other car rental locations, since this specific trip is quite common for tourists. However, given my father didn't feel like struggling with my mother's horrible less than perfect ability to give directions (an expected responsibility of passengers sitting shotgun), we opted for a taxi which would cost about $80 total for up to 5 people. Further, we received contact information for a private driver used previously by a TripAdvisor reviewer. John ( replied within 6 minutes of my father's first inquiry and before we knew it, we had our transportation booked a minivan to drive us from our hotel in San Juan to Fajardo.

Option A - Ferry from Fajardo
You will hear many conflicting reports and reviews about the ferry from Fajardo. Tickets are only $2/person each way and you can pay with cash, Visa or Mastercard. Also, the ride itself is quite safe as you're aboard a rather large ferry. That's where the positives end.

First, there is no way to book/reserve a seat online. You have to go to the ferry terminal and wait in line for a ticket.

Second, locals get priority over tourists. This kind of discrimination happens all the time in many tourist attractions in foreign countries, but usually it just means waiting a bit longer or paying a slightly higher price. In this situation, however, it may mean that you will not get on the ferry at all that day. The ferry (being the only affordable means of transport for locals) tends to sell out during high season. There have been several accounts on TripAdvisor where people waited hours just to be told that the seats were sold out.

Third, even if you are able to get a ticket, there's no assurances your ferry will depart/arrive on time. On a bad day, you're arrival may be 2-3 hours later than scheduled. But then again, what do you really expect for just $2/person each way?

While there was still a high likelihood our family would have been 100% fine (and in fact, other friends of ours have done this trip successfully), we didn't want to risk it given we didn't have that much time on this trip.

For more information about the Fajardo Ferry, click here.

Option B - Flight from Ceiba
Instead, we opted for taking a short 10-15 minute flight from nearby Ceiba Airport. Also known as Jose Aponte de la Torre Airport (TJRV), this airport has 2 main small carriers that exclusively take passengers to Vieques Island and nearby Culebra Island. As you can see from the photo, there's not much at this former military base turned commercial airport.

Fares are very reasonable as we purchased our seats for $68/person round trip. Given the distance from Ceiba to Vieques is only 12 miles, $68 is not that cheap either, but the higher degree of certainty and ease is worth it to many travelers and more so to vacationers.

But in addition to the passenger fares, you may have to pay an excess luggage surcharge. Each ticketed passenger is entitled to 25 lbs of luggage. So for 3 adult tickets, we had a 75 lb allowance, but our bags ended up at 95 lbs, so we had to pay $1 per lb for overage fees.

Note: We should could have paid a full priced ticket for me, since I was technically over 2 years old by a month, but my parents opted to see if I could slide for a lap child one more time which is why we only had a 75 lb allowance. In the end, we still saved a few bucks ($20 overage fee vs. $34 ticket), but not by much.

Of the two main carriers that flew from Ceiba Airport, my parents went with Vieques Air Link which seemed to be well regarded based on our internet research. The other option was Air Flamenco. Though to be honest, my father made the choice based on which name sounded more professional and didn't do any research into the other carrier, so they could be just as good if not better than Vieques Air Link, which happened to have its own frequent flyer program (though even my obsessive father didn't sign up).

UPDATE: We learned that Air Flamenco has an informal policy where they'll depart if there are enough passengers to fill the plane, so if everyone arrives early, you can take off earlier. Obviously, you won't be bumped if you have a paid reservation, but many passengers use Air Flemenco more like a taxi than an airline. VAL, on the other hand, runs a stricter schedule and will depart on time regardless of capacity.

But be warned, regardless of which carrier you pick, you shouldn't expect to be on a Boeing 747 on this flight. Rather, you'll be on one of those "puddle jumpers" that fits 6-8 passengers. In fact, you may even be lucky enough to land the co-pilot's seat up front.

While these kinds of flights don't scare many people, my father falls into the "other" category. Despite his long history of flying, he's morbidly afraid of heights, and the sensation of being a thousand feet in the air is heightened (word play!) when traveling in a small plane that succumbs to the whims of rogue air gusts and malicious cross winds. As you can see, I didn't have the best time either, but that was more because I couldn't sit upfront with my mother and had to stay in the back with my father.

The Easy Option - Flight from San Juan
Of course, when ever there's easy access to wealthy American money tourists, accommodations will be made to cater to their wants and desires. So if you want to skip the 1+ hour drive to Fajardo/Ceiba, you can pay $200-300/person and just fly out from either of San Juan's two airports (International SJU Airport or smaller Isla Grande Airport SIG closer to downtown).

The former will have larger carriers including Air Sunshine, Seaborne Airlines or Cape Air (which is a mileage earning partner of United Airlines). The latter airport, on the other hand, will have the same cast of characters as Ceiba such as Vieques Air Link and Air Flamenco. But even though the flights are just 10-15 minutes longer than their Ceiba counterparts, the prices jump to 3-5x just based on pure supply-demand.

Had we wanted to use this option, the intra-island flights would have cost us $750+ total for the 4 of us versus the $364 we paid ($204 for the 3 adult passengers and $160 for the round trip taxi). We'd rather save the $386+ for fun stuff on our vacation.

In the end, there's no wrong answer as people value their time differently. We opted for the scenic 1.5 hour drive/flight combo (which seems to be the middle of the road) instead of either the very cheap drive/ferry or the expensive flight from San Juan. Either way, as long as we get there safe and sound...


  1. I read your entire blog! You have a great blog going on, no-longer-lap-child! And your writing is superb! It's also amazing how many similar cities/countries we've been to!

  2. Sand, surf, island mixed drinks and awesome laid back vibe. Come remain at the Lazy Hostel and benefit as much as possible from your trek to Vieques Puerto Rico. Here are possibilities for the shoreline, budget rooms vieques, spending plan, inn, lethargic jacks, surf and vieques.