Explore Playa Grande Sugar Mill Ruins on Vieques
If you’ve read our blog for any period of time, you’ve probably figured out by now that Ray and I have ants in our pants and we can’t sit still for very long. We are too active to just sit on a beach and relax for very long.
So, while most people go to Vieques and spend their time enjoying the plethora of pretty beaches, we seek out more active things to do. Beaches are meant to be walked on, and islands are meant to be explored!
Vieques is a small island, located about 7 miles off the east coast of the big island of Puerto Rico. Getting to Vieques requires either a quick flight or (less quick) ferry ride, so spending at least a couple days exploring the island will make the trip worth your while.
Vieques is most popular for its bright biobay, and for its many lovely, unspoiled beaches. But there are other less-visited sites that are interesting. The ruins of the Central Playa Grande Sugar Mill is one of those sites.
In its heyday, from the early 1800s until the 1920s, Vieques had a thriving sugar industry. But, like all sugar production in Puertor Rico, the industry declined severely in the 1930s. Sugar production was completely finished when the US expropriated the lands of the last remaining sugar mill (Central Playa Grande) on Vieques in 1941.
After hearing about these ruins, I knew that this was some place that we had to explore. The Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust occasionally offers guided tours of these ruins. Unfortunately, our visit did not coincide with a tour. So we had to go find and explore it on our own.
Since it’s abandonment in 1942, the sugarmill has deteriorated greatly. We had good directions to it, but even though it is located right on the road, we almost drove right past it. If you don’t look carefully, you will miss the crumbling walls that are now covered with vegetation.
There is a small (unmarked) footpath that criss-crosses parts of this site. But, at times, that footpath disappears into weeds, leaving you to blaze your own trail through the woods. It was thick with vines, and you can easily get turned around. We had to use our GPS to get pointed back toward where we parked our car.
There is no cell service at this location (at least not AT&T), which means no internet. So you won’t have access to Google Maps, or anything similar. You’ll need to plan ahead and have a non-internet-based GPS app on your smartphone to use for navigation around the site.
These ruins were really in ruins! We had to be careful where we walked, where we went into, and what we went on top of. There are still some steps leading between (what remains of) the different levels of the structures. There are remains of doorways and there are holes in walls so one is able to get inside the structures.
Roofs have fallen in, and floors have collapsed. You really need to use common sense here. We even noticed some bee nests in the old walls.
But we spent at least 1½ hours here, walking around and exploring. We found many pieces of rusting machinery, and beautiful old rock and brick walls. And some more "modern" concrete walls and structures.
We really enjoyed our time here, and got some great photos. But we would really have loved learning more about what we were seeing and about what this sugar mill was like in its prime. Next time, we will make sure we get a VCHT tour!
This site is been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since September 1992. I was saddened to see how ruined this site was as it is one of the more culturally significant sites on the island. I hope it soon gets some funding to help preserve what is left, before it is gone for good.
Allow at least 1 hour to walk around the ruins.
The Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust occasionally offers tours of the Central Playa Grande Sugar Mill ruins. Their museum/office is located in Esperanza. You can try calling them at 787-741-8850 to make a (required) reservation for a tour.
Wear closed-toe shoes with sturdy soles. Bring bug spray and plenty of water.
The ruins of Central Playa Grande Sugarmill are located on the western end of the island. Going west from the VQS airport on Road 200, turn Left at first road AFTER the Mosquito Pier. Drive about 2¼ miles, until the road curves sharply to the left. You will see a small sign that says Central Playa Grande. Park off the road. I hear you can also take the Bunker Road (by turning left instead of going straight into the western Fish and Wildlife Punta Arenas beach road), but we did not do that, so I can’t confirm it.
Use this map to locate places mentioned in this article. You can click on a placemark to view the GPS coordinates for that place.