If you want something to do on Vieques Island other than lazing around on pristine Caribbean beaches, head into the jungle in search of some 19th century ruins.
From the early 1800’s until its closure in the early 1940’s when the Navy expropriated nearly 80% of Vieques Island for the war effort, The Central Playa Grande Sugar Mill was once the production centre of a thriving sugar industry on Vieques. Now, more reminiscent of a scene from Tomb Raider its ruins lie obscured by the forest and mostly supported by the old growth jungle vines.
Crumbling old brick buildings, discarded rusting machinery from the mill, you can still make out the lay of the old plant as you wander through. Be careful where you step because ‘crumbling’ is an understatement. As like so many of the discarded buildings on Vieques from the days of the Navy, the jungle is slowly winning back this piece of the island.
Although we jokingly referred to this site as “Angkor NOT” this attraction is not on any sign posted tourist route and once you do find it, you’re on you own. You won’t find any convenient signage to show the way or share its history, although if you’re lucky there may be a few faded old ribbons tied around trees marking a route in and out.
On occasion, the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust (located at the museum in Esperanza) will conduct paid tours of the Sugar Mill ruins but, for the most part, you should find yourself the only one there.
So how do you find this little secret of Vieques?
The ruins of Central Playa Grande Sugar Mill are located on the western end of the island. Heading west along road 200 past the Vieques airport you need to take the first sealed road on the left after Mosquito Pier. Follow this road along until you see this small sign on the right hand side. Blink and you will miss it!
You will then see this entrance from the road side near the sign.
This is NOT the entrance!
You will need to turn around towards the dirt road and head left into the jungle. Look for ribbons on the trees and these buildings as you walk in.
Keep walking in and you will start to come across pieces of the old mill.
And then the ruins will start to appear through the jungle and the layout of the old mill will become clearer. We wandered around for well over an hour and are pretty sure we did not see all that was being hidden in the jungle.
The island of Vieques has an incredibly rich and sometimes controversial history. If you choose to delve in past the beautiful beaches and laid back island lifestyle you will get a glimpse into the history of an island that is more than just a beach holiday destination.
If you do head out to The Central Playa Grande Ruins be mindful that it is off the beaten track and you may not get phone reception there. Do take note of where you entered the jungle on the way in, remember there is no signage or designated tracks. Take plenty of water and take loads of bug repellant! Other than that, its a great little explore.
Vieques, is an island municipality of Puerto Rico in the northeastern Caribbean. Vieques is approx. 1 hr by ferry from Fajardo in Puerto Rico or flights are available from both San Juan and Fajardo.