- U.S. Virgin Islands
Here’s how to get the most out of your trip to explore the outdoors on the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Turquoise waters, lush tropical forests and coral sand beaches highlight the three islands that make up the U.S. Virgin Islands — St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John — about 2,000 kilometers southeast of Miami, Florida. Covering about three-fifths of the island of St. John, and most of Hassel Island in Charlotte Amalie harbor of St. Thomas (about 6 nautical kilometers away), the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park has 2,832 hectares of indigenous flora and fauna, with 800 plant species and 160 bird species.
How to Get There
Getting to the national park requires a few transfers, as there is no airport on St. John. The most direct route is to fly to St. Thomas from a major U.S. city, then board a public ferry or private water taxi. The Cruz Bay Visitor Center, a 650-meter walk from St. John's public ferry dock, has maps of the 20 trails and attractions.
Hiking Through the National Park
Hike to discover centuries of history through rock carvings and relics that date back to pre-Columbian aboriginal American Indian civilization. Reef Bay Trail, 4 kilometers downhill, features sightings of Arawak Indian petroglyphs and the ruins of four Danish Colonial sugar plantations worked by African slaves. As the trail is steep and rocky, reserve a guided hike with a ranger, which ends with a boat trip back to the visitor center.
Wear sturdy shoes and comfortable clothing, and bring water, lunch, sunscreen, insect repellent and a swimsuit for a quick dip. For easier hikes, the Cinnamon Bay Trail has boardwalk access through the historic ruins, and the Francis Bay boardwalk leads to a salt pond for bird viewing.
Virgin Islands National Park
Splash Around in the Caribbean
At the 14 beaches on St. John, you will find plenty of places to swim, kayak, snorkel and dive. Waterlemon Cay along the north shore is a popular snorkeling destination to see coral reef formations, turtles, rays and conch. You will find fewer people at Haulover “North” Beach, which borders the park on the east end of the island, and at Little Cinnamon Beach to the west of Cinnamon Bay Beach on the North Shore. Cruz Bay Watersports, a diving center located at the Westin St. John, provides lessons, certifications, wreck dives, and night dive and snorkel tours.
Cinnamon Bay Watersports Center, at the Cinnamon Bay campground in the park, rents sailboats, kayaks and windsurfing equipment, with lessons available as well. For serious sport fishing, the Mixed Bag boats, located at the Westin St. John, take groups in search of blackfin tuna, wahoo and mahi-mahi.
Kayaking in St. John
Where to Stay
Caneel Bay Resort, the only hotel in the park, is on the site of the old Rockefeller estate. Featuring lush foliage and seven beaches, the luxury resort has five dining options, complimentary sailboats, kayaks, paddleboards and snorkel equipment, and an expansive children’s program — but no TVs or telephones.
The Westin St. John Villas, about 1 kilometer outside the park, helps travelers stay connected with amenities like high-speed Internet and TV. The property includes several dining options, a full-service spa and private ferry service to St. Thomas.
What to Eat
Caribbean cuisine is a fusion of colonial African and American Indian cuisines. Local fish is often served with ingredients like rice, plantains, beans, cassava, cilantro, bell peppers, chickpeas, sweet potatoes and coconut. Restaurants such as Morgan’s Mango and Miss Lucy’s on St. John specialize in island dishes like Haitian “voodoo” snapper, conch fritters and a spicy West Indian stew called kallaloo.