While spring has officially arrived, depending on where you live (it’s still chilly in Chicago!) you might be totally over it and craving some warmer temperatures! If you’re thinking you’d like to get away for some sweet tropical air, sandy beaches, turquoise waters and palm trees––consider these 4 United States Virgin Islands for a healthy dose of Vitamin D- no passport required!
Here’s what you need to know regarding the latest COVID-19 Requirements to enter the USVI’S. Be sure to check frequently as requirements change often. All domestic travelers by air or sea that are age 5+, along with international travelers 2+, must register with the US Virgin Islands Travel Screening Portal. Covid-19 requirements are as follows:
- All visitors who can show proof of vaccination are not required to test prior to arriving in the USVI’s.
- Second dose of vaccine must be prior to 14 days of arrival.
- U.S. citizens traveling from an international port: Tests must be taken within 5 days of travel and all travelers must be fully vaccinated and provide proof of vaccination status.
- Travelers aged 2-17 are exempt from the vaccine requirement.
- Note that vaccinations do not supersede testing requirements for international arrivals by air or sea, including for individuals traveling from the British Virgin Islands.
- If partially vaccinated or unvaccinated: Domestic travelers must submit a negative result from an antigen or nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) (e.g., RT- PCR) COVID-19 test taken within 5 days of travel.
- Double check these requirements leading up to your trip as they change often!!
US Virgin Islands
There are three–no, scratch that–there are actually four US islands you can visit within the United States Virgin Islands territory see my bit on Water Island below). I’ve been lucky enough to visit three of the four sister islands–St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas. I must say they all behold qualities unique to each island, which make them all incredibly special. But what’s best is the warmth you’ll feel from the people that live here and, if you are lucky, some of that laid back hospitality might make its way home with you.
The reasons are many to come see the Virgin Islands. But to really understand why so many return annually, you’ll just have to check it out for yourself!
St. Thomas is the most commercialized of the four islands with the largest airport and the capital, Charlotte Amalie. The airport is easy–it’s small, and once you arrive, you’ll be hopping into a van taxi to take you to your destination (whether you are staying on the island in a rental or resort). But, if you are moving on to the islands of St. John, St. Croix or Water Island, you’ll be taking either a ferry or staying at the airport to take a puddle jumper.
Where to Stay on St. Thomas
There are properties of every type on St. Thomas. If you are on a tight budget, staying closer to the city center of Charlotte Amalie is an option. But if you are looking for a bit more serenity, with still plenty to do, there are resorts which offer a little more solitude on the south side of the island. Secret Harbor is a moderately priced hotel with excellent reviews. You’ll have to plan for transportation to head over to nearby Red Hook, a bit further to the East of the island. But you may not want to leave often! The Red Hook area offers a relaxed nightlife scene with plenty of restaurants near the resorts, condo and home rentals. If you are looking for something a bit more upscale, check out The Ritz Carlton. If you head a bit further east or north east on the island, you’ll find many more resorts as well. One popular resort known for its affordable luxury is Point Pleasant Resort.
Staying on the tranquil north shore of the island might feel a world away from the busier south shore. This side of St. Thomas boasts some of the most beautiful beaches on the island (and the world). You can always search VRBO, Airbnb or local home rental agencies, such as Prestige Luxury Villas offering home and condominiums for every budget. You may want to consider renting a car on this side, as there are much fewer amenities. But if you are looking for ultimate relaxation and uninterrupted beauty and views, this might be your best choice!
What to Do in St. Thomas
As you move away from the bustling downtown Charlotte Amalie, you’ll find a lush, tropical paradise as you move around the steep roads of the island. If you want to spend your entire vacation on St. Thomas, you’ll have a variety of options depending on what your interests are:
- Red Hook (where the ferry to St. John is located) offers great restaurants and night-life.
- Hop on the ferry and take a 20 minute ride over to St. John for the day (a must-do).
- Take a day catamaran, sail or speedboat charter and explore the outer islands.
- Rent sea kayaks or snorkel the beautiful reefs and see endless sea life. The beaches in St. Thomas are beautiful, with Magen’s Bay on the north shore named as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Getting Around the Island
Plan on taking one of the easily accessible van taxis on the island to get around. You’ll often be sharing a ride with others, but it’s an eco-conscious option that is common on the island. And you may make a few friends along the way! If you are staying on the north shore, a jeep might be your best option. Some homes have incredibly steep driveways and/or terrible roads getting up or down to your home. But when you arrive at your home in paradise, you’ll likely forget about the road getting there.
St. Croix is the largest of the four Virgin Islands, and the furthest island from St. Thomas and St. John. Slightly more modest of the four islands, you’ll find that staying on this island might be a bit easier on your wallet. St. Croix has so much to offer, like beautiful beaches, historic sites, delicious food and lush, tropical areas. Moreover, St. Croix has a reputation of being the most welcoming of the four islands!
Where to Stay on St. Croix
You’ll find more resorts on the beautiful north side of the island. If you’d like to be closer to the action, while still experiencing the island’s natural beauty, some might recommend staying near Christiansted. Two popular options are The Bucaneer Hotel and Tamarind Reef Resort. Christiansted, one of two waterfront towns in St. Croix and a National Historic Site features several buildings from the Danish colonial era.
Frederiksted, located on the less populated west side, is quiet and not as bustling, but still a fantastic area to stay and visit on the island with many island favorite dining spots and shopping to enjoy. There are some wonderful small hotels/B&Bs on this side (you’ll hear the “west is the best”), and if you decide to stay over here, you might want to check out Cottages by the Sea or Fred’s. You’ll love Sandy Point Beach, which was voted a top 5 beach of all four islands!
Most home rentals are located on the north side of the island, home to gorgeous beaches and your own private paradise…homes away from home. You will need to rent a car. When renting, keep in mind you’ll still want to consider renting a jeep or 4WD as the roads to homes can always be a bit challenging. Like all of the USVIs, you’ll need to get accustomed to driving on the opposite side of the road!
What to Do in St. Croix
Beside the historic charm of the island, Buck Island National Reef Monument is an island experience not to be missed. Buck Island is home to a beautiful beach, famed underwater snorkel trail with abundant marine life. The island concessionaires offer several boat trips to Buck Island, so getting there is not a problem…the problem usually lies in getting you to leave! National Geographic voted Turtle Beach on Buck Island’s west end one of the “World’s Most Beautiful Beaches” in the world. You will want to visit the underwater trail because it’s a snorkelers’ dream come true. But, if you are not a snorkeler don’t worry! The professional guides can make assured snorkelers or even the most timid swimmers feel at ease, so you can surround yourself with tropical fish.
The west and northwest side of the island boasts many beautiful beaches, including Sandy Point Beach, which was voted as one of the top 5 in the USVIs.
A nature lover’s paradise, two-thirds of this island is actually designated national forest. Laurence Rockefeller purchased the land and donated it in 1956–which is why St. John is the most unspoiled of the four islands. The word has gotten out however, and St. John can be very busy these days. Renting a Jeep is the best option for getting around the island, or you can use the open air taxis. However, if you want to visit some of the more remote beaches, a jeep is your best bet–and with the steep winding roads and back roads to explore, a 4WD definitely comes in handy. Try our favorite, St. John Car Rentals.
Where to Stay on St. John
There is no wrong place to stay on the island of St. John! There are many homes to rent in every section of this stunning island. Staying closer to Cruz bay (the main city center of the island) may save you some cash, as well as staying on the east side near Coral Bay or even the south of the island near Chocolate Hole. Again, you’ll pay the most to stay on the lush North Shore, and the island breezes on this side of the island are welcome during the hottest months. But the entire island is just so beautiful. Because you’ll likely be driving, and it won’t take you more than 15 minutes to get to a beautiful beach, you won’t regret wherever you land. You can search VRBO & Airbnb or you can seek out the local management companies such as Catered To Vacation Homes.
There is a Westin on the island, the Westin St. John Resort Villas. I’ve driven by and the entrance looked gorgeous, and I know several families that stay there time and again. The amenities at the resort are plentiful, and I even know a family who has a home on the island that stays a few days at the resort because their kids enjoy it so much! Many are looking forward to the reopening of Caneel Bay Resort in 2023, a beloved luxury resort which was decimated by Hurricane Irma and Maria in 2017.
What to Do in St. John
The beaches on St. John are stunning and pristine. Be careful of the wild donkeys you will see on the road ways. They are very sweet, gentle creatures–but give them the space they deserve! St. John is a natural place, and because people are attracted to this kind of beauty more than ever, it now happens to be busier than ever. This doesn’t take away from the charm of the island however–you just may want to try visiting during less busy times, such as summer or fall (which can be risky as it is hurricane season!). I highly recommend a snorkel trip on my favorite charter, Kekoa. You will love this crew/family and the awesome story of survival behind this beautiful catamaran.
The restaurants and nightlife are fantastic on St. John. Cruz Bay, the main town and place you will arrive and leave by ferry, has everything a newbie to St. John will love. It might be one of my favorite places–EVER. There are so many special little spots to discover, on and off the beaten path. I’ve spent a lot of time on the island, and I just cannot recommend one place over another. I’ve discovered a fantastic restaurant guide to the island.
NOT TO MISS: Coral Bay. A drive to the other side of the island is a must do. This side is less busy and less polished, but oh so special. I spend half of my time on this side because of the down to earth vibes and natural beauty. One of my favorite days is a hike along Ram’s Head Trail and a beach day at Salt Pond Beach. There is magic in the water there! I’ve spent plenty of time swimming with the friendly sea turtles at this beloved spot. Leave your chair at the beach before your hike which is basically the trail head. After this gorgeous hike, you’ll be greeted by your special spot in the sand. Don’t forget a late lunch at Skinny Legs in Coral Bay (and some super good Painkillers!).
This 492 acre island is mostly residential and only a ten minute ferry ride from St. Thomas. There are only a few restaurants on the island, stunning views of the other nearby Virgin Islands and probably a much slower pace than all the others. And that’s slow! There are no buses or taxis, only golf carts (try Rachel’s Rentals, although some come with the property), cars and many people walk! There are hiking trails, stunning views of the surrounding Virgin Islands and gorgeous, uncrowded beaches. You could definitely opt to stay here, or just visit for the day.
Check out these two amazing homes I found on VRBO on Water Island:
- Eco-Villa with stunning views & private beach, sleeps 4, avg nightly rate of $425.
- Villa with panoramic views, excellent reviews, golf cart included, sleeps 6, avg nightly rate of $435.
“Glamping” on Water Island
Check out this eco-resort and campground Virgin Islands Campground on Water Island. These wood and canvas cottages offer a new and unique approach to the Caribbean vacation. With all of the comfort of a hotel room – electricity, comfortable beds and clean linens – and the closeness to nature you feel only when camping. This is provided while keeping sustainability and the environment in mind. Our eco-friendly tent-cottages are nestled amongst lush foliage offering privacy while cooling comes from the balmy trade winds as sounds of the gentle surf below lull you to sleep.
Camping in the US Virgin Islands
There are campsites on every USVI. What’s so wonderful about the camping is that the sites are located in absolutely beautiful, pristine locations! There is no centralized reservation system, so you’ll have to explore the options yourself.
Cinnamon Bay Campground
The Cinnamon Bay Campground (perhaps my favorite spot of any in the USVIs) was absolutely decimated by Hurricane Irma in 2017, and they’ve done a beautiful job of rebuilding. You can rent eco-tents, or if you need a bit more, an eco-cottage. Although these tents come equipped with fans, you may be a bit challenged by the hot summer temperatures June-August. However, if you’re going to be adventuring around the island and in the ocean, who cares? The area is tropical with lots of tree cover, affording some shade and retreat from the sun.
The other great thing about Cinnamon Bay? The food! Although tents and cottages come with grills (and the cottages with mini-fridges), they have a wonderful on-site shop and restaurant, The Rain Tree Cafe. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Look for a Cinnamon special in the mornings at breakfast along with the coffee and smoothie bar.
Full disclosure: I’ve yet to actually camp at Cinnamon, although it is in the plans. I’ve strolled along these sites so many times, and I’ve wanted to stay since my first visit. I can tell you, if you are going to camp in the USVIs, I’d strongly consider this spot. Cinnamon Bay Beach might be my favorite beach on the island. The hospitality at the beach is also second to none. Not only is it “Blue Lagoon” beautiful, you have amenities available to you–food (the restaurant staff is AMAZING), grab and go items, and a beach shop (flip flops, suits and reef-safe sunscreen) and rental hut equipped with paddle boards, kayaks, snorkeling gear and more. Oh yeah, not only will you experience the usual ocean wildlife such as sea turtles, starfish, tons of tropical fish and dolphins, if you’re an animal lover like me–you’ll love the sweet donkey families, lizards and Iguana that call Cinnamon Bay Beach their home.
You can always rent a “bare” site, meaning you bring it all…your tent and every camping supply you’ll need. Eco-tents however are available and make for a more comfortable camping experience. Each rental has a fan, light, electric outlet, queen size bed, linens, bath towels, cooking kit, picnic table, chairs on the porch and can accommodate 2 people. A family tent is also an option which sleeps four.
Need a little more than a tent to be comfortable? The cottages offer a more substantial accommodation. They are solid concrete buildings with screen/louver windows and doors on front and rear that have ceiling fans/lights, electric outlet, a queen bed, day bed/sofa (w/trundle), linens, bath towels, cooking kit, small indoor table and chairs, mini fridge, grill, picnic table and two outdoor chairs per unit. The queen bed and daybed are in separate rooms. Each cottage can sleep 4 people.
If you DO have a PASSPORT, keep this in mind-one of the best things about visiting the USVIs is the proximity to the British Virgin Islands, or the BVI’s. Unfortunately, as a Covid precaution, day sail charters are not allowed at this time. But if you decide to head down, be sure to check here to see if this restriction has been lifted.
In this case, you WILL want to bring along a passport so you can visit the gorgeous “Baths” at Virgin Gorda–and of course the trip isn’t complete without a Painkiller (the drink of the Virgin Islands!) at Soggy Dollar Bar on the beach at Jost Van Dyke .
I hope you enjoyed hearing about my favorite US tropical getaway. Let us know if you visit, and don’t forget to share your MyPinerary!💚
Dedicated to my St. John crew