Recently described by Travel and Leisure as the most stylish hotel in the Caribbean, El Blok is a brand-new hotel-bar-restaurant on the tiny island of Vieques. Conceptually, it was inspired by the form, density and porosity of the coral reefs located just off shore; it was designed to resemble a block of coral removed from the turquoise seas surrounding Vieques. Seas, plural. One shore of the island faces the Atlantic, the other the Caribbean.
It was designed to resemble a block of coral removed from the turquoise seas surrounding Vieques"
Situated 10 miles southeast of the Puerto Rican mainland, Vieques is Puerto Rico’s little sister – a largely undeveloped place with no traffic lights, a complex and fascinating history, and some of the Caribbean’s most spectacular beaches. It’s home to only 10,000 inhabitants and about as many wild horses.
Claimed by Spain shortly after Columbus’ 1492 voyage, the island was also an object of conquest for the French, English, Danish, and Scots. During WWII, the US designated Vieques a naval reserve, with plans to harbour the British fleet there had England fallen to the Third Reich. But for three centuries the island was also a lawless outpost, and somehow Vieques retains the indomitable spirit of the swaggering pirate.
El Blok is a perfect reflection of the island’s wild legacy. It was commissioned by former music executive Simon Baeyertz (Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson) and built by Puerto Rican architectural firm Fuster + partners. With only 22 rooms and the LEEDS gold-certified project is built in a brutalist, open-air style that’s intensely urban but also sinuously organic. It’s part sculpture, part oasis. Features include glass-reinforced concrete panels with intricate cutouts which pivot to allow light and air into the guest rooms.
Also inspired by Tropical Modernism, the hotel’s entire second floor is open to the sky, and views of the coast. The star of the show, however, is really the restaurant run by San-Juan born chef José Enrique. He’s the leading light in a movement away from ‘international style’ cuisine in the Carribean, and towards a wildly creative approach that honours local ingredients and traditional flavours. The only other real hotel on the island is the recently opened W, which is located near the island’s tiny airport, and has its own private beach. El Blok is a more affordable and better-designed option, and is the best place on the island to watch the sunset. For world-weary travellers looking to indulge in barefoot R&R off the beaten track, El Blok is the place to land.