Why the U.S. Virgin Islands are the Perfect Escape

by Samantha Ballenger
dutch colonial architecture

What is it that makes planning a Caribbean vacation so exciting? Is it the dreamy beaches, the hospitality, or the idea that it is possible to slow down, even if only for a short time? Whatever it is, the U.S. Virgin Islands are the perfect place to unwind. Consisting of three islands, St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix all have something a bit different to offer. Visit one, or all three, whatever you decide, you won’t be disappointed.

Each of the U. S. Virgin Islands offers something different. Take a short ferry ride east to St. John and enjoy over 7,000 acres of dedicated parkland, pristine beaches, and fewer people than St. Thomas.

Palm Trees over pool
Pool at the Ritz Carlton in St. John

St. Thomas

Looking for Luxury? Visit St. Thomas, where you can find high-end boutiques, hotels, and a harbor full of mega yachts. Visit Drake’s Seat or 99 steps for a panoramic island view and see where the Atlantic Ocean joins the Caribbean sea.

What to Do

  1. A visit to St. Thomas wouldn’t be complete without a visit to some of its stunning beaches. Visit Magens Bay on the northern coast for snorkeling, clear water, and all the conveniences of lifeguards and equipment rentals. For more action, visit Coki beach, where you will find a live DJ, drinks, and food.
  2. Explore the nightlife in Red Hook, a strip of restaurants and bars on the island’s west side. Listen to Reggae, live music, enjoy cocktails and the laid-back vibe of the Caribbean.
  3. Learn the history of St. John with a visit to downtown Charlotte Amelie which features much of the Dutch colonial architecture that the U.S. Virgin Islands are known for. Visit Fort Christian, the oldest structure on the island, or “the Williamsburg of the Caribbean,” where you will see national landmarks and historical manner houses dating back to the 1600s.
  4. St. Thomas has perfect conditions for water sports, including snorkeling, diving, sailing, and paddleboarding.

Where to Stay

St. Thomas offers Luxury hotels, family friendly resorts and more quaint options.

  1. The Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas is the only five-star luxury resort on St. Thomas. Located on the eastern tip of St. Thomas, enjoy restaurants, multiple pools, ritz kids activities, and the luxury you expect when you book a stay at the Ritz.
  2. Opening in 2022, Noni Beach will have intimate beach house villas containing 94 guestrooms, all located directly on the beach. Perfect for honeymooners and families alike.
  3. Bolongo Bay Beach Resort is located right off the beach and offers 74 rooms – all at affordable prices. Perfect for families and anyone who wants to enjoy the slow pace of the Caribbean.

Where to Eat

There is no shortage of restaurants and bars on St. Thomas, here are a few you may want to check out.

  1. Gladys’ Cafe, located in Charlotte Amalie is a favorite among visitors for her local island cuisine and special hot sauces.
  2. Amalia Cafe serves authentic Spanish cuisine in an open-air cafe tucked into an alleyway; try the paella or muscles.
  3. If you are looking for an upscale dining experience, visit Old Stone Farmhouse. A fully restored plantation house that serves everything from PEI Mussels to a local Bouillabaisse.
  4. Island time pub is the perfect place for pizza, bar food, and a great view of the marina.

If you’re planning a Caribbean vacation and aren’t sure which Island to chose, check out these posts.

St. John

Just three miles from St. Thomas is St. John, the least developed of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The treasure of St. John is Virgin Islands National Park which encompasses 60% of the Island. St John attracts hikers and naturalists and beach lovers alike.

greenery meets ocean
Virgin Islands National Park

What to Do

  1. Trunk Bay Beach is perfect for snorkeling due to its underwater trail; you can see the trail mapped out on a sign when you enter the beach. The water is typically calm and is great for beginners, children (who are comfortable swimming), and anyone in between. Trunk Bay Beach can be crowded. If you want to avoid the crowds, arrive early or later in the afternoon when cruise ship visitors have gone.
  2. Reef Bay Trail is one of the more well-known hikes in St. John. People looking for more adventure opt to hike the trail on their own. Reef Bay Trail is the perfect mix of outdoor activity and history lessons. If you prefer a guided hike, a park service ranger will lead you on a hike and point out names of plants and trees and fill you in on the history of Reef Bay Plantation. Take the safari bus from the visitor center. Reservations are recommended, especially during the winter months.
  3. Virgin Islands National Park is an excellent example of preserving natural habitats for the sake of culture and sustainability. While many islands have forgone preserving their culture and heritage for tourism, Virgin Islands national park has maintained a vast majority of the island while promoting tourism. Bird watching, snorkeling, and camping can all be had here. Along with historic tours of old plantations and ancient petroglyphs, Virgin Islands National park is not to be missed.
  4. Cinnamon Bay Beach adjoins the Virgin Islands National Park Campgrounds. This long sandy beach is the perfect place to rent watersports equipment. It can get windy sometimes, which makes it ideal for trying your hand at windsurfing. Visit while camping or for a few hours relax and enjoy the sun.
Ocean view
Trunk Bay

Where to Stay

  1. Westin St. John Resort and Villas is a great place to stay if you want the amenities of a resort. Perfect for families and vacationers who want a pool and a beach within a moment’s notice. Large rooms equipped with kitchens and laundry make traveling convenient.
  2. Concordia Eco Resort is not a luxury hotel; however, it is the perfect way to travel economically and a great way to explore St. John’s natural habitat. With a selection of condos, tents, or studio apartments, you can choose how close to nature you want to be.
  3. Grand Bay Resort overlooks Cruz Bay and is set near the Wharfside village. This modern condo complex is close to town, each room with stunning views of the harbor.
  4. St. John is more secluded than many other islands and is the perfect island for a remote getaway. Some of the island’s Airbnbs are off the beaten path and can make for a quiet vacation.

Where to Eat

  1. Enjoy the classics at Zozo’s at Caneel Bay while overlooking unmatched sunsets. Opt for their sunset dining experience, a 4-course menu that will allow you to sample the restaurant’s best items.
  2. Sun Dog Cafe is the perfect spot to enjoy brunch, lunch, or dinner. Try the white artichoke pizza or the chicken roti. Or come for brunch, stay for the $15 bottomless mimosas.
  3. Visit Drink St. John for the lively atmosphere, the view, and the drinks!

St. Croix

Take a ferry or seaplane to the largest U.S. Virgin Island, St. Croix. Learn about the history, visit a beautiful beach or the Cruzan Rum Distillery.

Credit: Caribbean Journal Breakers Roar Tiki Bar

What to Do

  1. Visit the beaches. Cane Bay offers a relaxed vibe and is close to restaurants, while Rainbow beach is located on the west side of the island in Fredricksted on the more secluded side of the island. Decide if you want seclusion or a relaxing vibe and chose your beach from there!
  2. A boat ride to Buck Island is a must for anyone visiting St. Croix. Enjoy the tranquil beach and snorkel the world-class beach. See colorful coral and an assortment of tropical fish. When you’re finished, head over the beach and take a 20-minute hike uphill for a view of the reef below.
  3. Take a hike up Point Udall. An easy hike, you will find peace and tranquility along with stunning greenery, butterflies, and the sound of crashing waves in the distance. Get a payoff of uninhabited beaches at the end of your hike, and you can say you visited the easternmost point in the United States.
  4. Visit the Cruzan Rum distillery. For a nominal fee, take a tour of the distillery, enjoy a rum tasting and get a cocktail.

Where to Stay

  1. The Buccaneer has sandy beaches, swimming pools, and sports facilities. All of the things you may look for at a resort. The Buccaneer is close to several beaches and offers some of the best views on the island.
  2. If you prefer a small boutique hotel, The Fred is a 22 room eco-friendly resort. Enjoy its quaint rooms and beautiful beach views.
  3. Built on an old sugar plantation, Carambola Beach Resort offers a great location close to the Carambola tide pools. Their villa-style rooms are large and accommodating and offer stunning beach views.

Where to Eat

  1. AMA Cane Bay works with local farmers, environmentally responsible fishermen, and divers for their eco-friendly sustainable menu. Enjoy the chic ambiance and oceanside views while enjoying a craft cocktail and Caribbean vibes.
  2. Enjoy an unexpected treat at Breakers Roar Tiki Bar in historic Christiansted. Indulge in classic Tiki cocktails and dine on small plates while enjoying the relaxing vibes of St. Croix.
  3. Visit the stylish Carolines Breakfast and Brunch for a treat overlooking historic Christiansted.
  4. Beachside cafe at Sandcastle on the beach is the perfect way to visit Frederiksted if you are staying on the other side of the island in Christiansted. Enjoy a laidback meal at the beach.

I can see it now. Kicking back, Relaxing. Sand between your toes. Margarita (or your drink of choice) in hand. A book. Good food. Maybe a hike? The U.S. Virgin Islands offer all of that and more, and you don’t need a passport if you are a U.S. Citizen.

Have you been to any of the U.S. Virgin Islands? If so, which one, or two or all three? What’s your favorite? Let us know here in the comments or on social media @eat_195

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