Playa Negra: Black Sand on Vieques
Vieques is probably most well known for its beaches, many of which have beautiful white sand. But there is one little beach that has black sand, called Playa Negra.
Now, if you have read a few other of my blog articles, you know this little oddity would require a looks-see! This beach is a "hidden" site, so it takes some time and effort to get there to see it.
How Was Vieques Formed?
If you take some time to look at the landscape of Vieques, it is obvious to see that much of Vieques is made from the lifting of tectonic plates; you’ll see lots of limestone and layers of sediment. But the island also had some volcanic activity, hot magma pushed up through the plates in the ocean floor. Some obvious signs of that volcanic activity would be the rocks of Puerto Ferro, and this black sand beach. The black sand is very fine (but very heavy) volcanic material that runs down the volcanic areas of the island (mainly Monte Pirata) along with rain run-off and ends up in a small stream (Quebrada Urbana), where it eventually gets pushed out onto Playa Negra.
Our Walk to the Beach
When I was researching how to find this beach, I found a few different sets of "directions" — all quite confusing and contradictory. I don’t think we would have found the beach if it hadn’t been for some hand-made signs pointing the way.
Once we found the "trail head" (with roadside parking right there) it was pretty easy. We just followed the little creek (Quebrada Urbana) down to the ocean.
There was just a little bit of water flowing the day we went (maybe 1" deep), so we could mostly avoid walking in the water. But the water was clean, clear and cool, so it was no big deal to walk in it. It was sandy bottom stream and easy walking.
We didn’t encounter mosquitoes, though I am sure at times it must be abuzz with them. We did see a number of hermit crabs in all sizes (some as big as my fist), and we got some nice photos of red dragonflies. There were many fallen trees across the stream, so we had to climb over or walk around them. For us, it was an easy walk that took only about 15 minutes.
The only sort of gross part of the walk was the very end, where there is a deeper (in our case about 8-12") mucky " pond" that we had to walk through just before we got to the beach.
It was at the mouth of this stream, when you get to the ocean, that you find the the black sand. The quantity and location of the black sand changes constantly with the tides and rains.
On the day that we went, I can’t say that I would call this a black sand beach, but there was black sand on the beach. There were thicker patches of the black sand as we went to the right (west), especially up away from the surf line.
In any case, it was fun to see and touch (and I hear it will stick to a magnet, though I did not test that). The black sand is very fine, so it sticks to everything, and is hard to clean off (so beach towels may get stained by it).
This was more of a hiking excursion for us, not so much of a swimming excursion. We did not go in the water.
There are beige "cliffs" made of some very crumbly material that run along the beach on both sides of the mouth of the stream. To the left (east), they are quite large and go right to the ocean edge and form a large wall, blocking access to this beach from the east. There are smaller cliffs/rocks to the right (west). You could probably access this beach from the west, but it would require some tricky climbing/scrambling over the rocks — probably not the smartest thing to try. We did not try to go up/around them to see what was beyond that point.
There were some shells washed up on the beach, especially all the way to the left, but nothing I thought worthy of taking home for my collection. There was some natural debris, and little bit of float-some trash, that was washed up onto the beach, but it was still neat to explore the area.
We had the beach all to ourselves, and ours were the only footprints in the black sand along the surfline.
This trip is not for everyone. I would think you need to be a bit of an adventurous spirit to trek through the stream bed. You will get a little dirty, have to walk through some yucky water, and climb over and around fallen trees.
You need to bring bug spray. Wear watershoes, Keens, or Teva-like sandals.
Allow a couple hours for this trek.
If you choose to access Playa Negra by following the stream bed, use caution if it has recently rained. The day we went, there was about 1" of water in the stream. We can’t say how deep the stream might get, or how fast the water flows. Judging by the erosion in the stream bed, it looks like the stream can carry a couple feet of water during a heavy storm.
To use the trail (stream bed) that we followed, you would park on Route 201 at KM 7 — there was a metal guardrail with Playa Negra painted on it (see photo above). There was also a small sign marking the trail which goes down into the creek bed. (When we went in 2012, there was a small off-road parking lot on someone’s property. We parked there, but I don’t know if that is really allowed, though no one was around to complain!). Just follow that creek down to the ocean. I hear there is another way to get there by walking down the shoreline from some guesthouse, or even through some other paths in the woods, or through a field. But this stream bed route worked like a charm, and I didn’t feel like I was trespassing on private property. I also hear that if you walk upstream from Route 201 there are some small "waterfalls" during very rainy periods. You can give it a try if you want.
Use this map to locate places mentioned in this article. You can click on a placemark to view the GPS coordinates for that place.