Dec 29, 2012 - Musings    1 Comment

Travel Destination: St. John and St. Thomas US Virgin Islands

St. Thomas view from Blackbeard's Castle

View from the Inn at Blackbeard’s Castle

 

The warm breeze hits me and that’s when I know, I’m in the Caribbean. This is no place for my sweater. Even in the middle of November the weather is perfect 83 degrees. Paradise? Yes. Everything is like a scene out of a movie. Even the airport is scenic. And of course, the main thing to remember about being on an island, everything moves a little slower. Everyone is on island-time.

After getting our rental Jeep, we soon realized that getting around the island wasn’t as easy as we were expecting. Streets were not labeled and roads that were supposed to connect with each other led to a dead end. We circled around the same way at least ten times before deciding to commit to a route. Eventually, we found our hotel, The Inn at Blackbeard’s Castle. We were greeted by several nudists (we were warned beforehand that there was a nudist party) and led to our room. For $90/night, the room had all the necessities: two beds, air conditioner, shower and toilet. It wasn’t the  most luxurious, but it certainly did the trick. On premise there were also three pools, a bar and also several different sites that we were able to go to for free since we were staying at the hotel: Blackbeard’s castle, 99 steps, Rum Factory, The Amber Museum and more. They’re all fairly close to each other and eventually lead down to Charlotte Amalie for some excellent Duty-Free shopping.

ram  head trail st john 2

Ram Head Trail

Most of our time in the US Virgin Islands, however, was spent on St. John’s. 60 percent of its lands is preserved as a national park and there are plenty of trails for hiking enthusiasts. Most of the trails also lead to beaches, so after sweating a bit you can cool off in the gorgeous waters. We spent our first day hiking the Reef Bay Trail and the Ram Head Trail. Quick note: if you want a relaxing stay on the islands, don’t do two trails on the same day. Especially those two. The Reef Bay trail is pretty long, around 3 miles and if you don’t take the ranger guided tour, you’ll have to walk back up to the start. At the end of the trail is an abandoned sugar mill now inhabited by hundreds of hermit crabs and a beautiful beach. We took a break at around 1pm after our Reef Bay Trail to eat at Skinny Legs and were propositioned by a local sailor and Vermont couple to join them on a sail around the island. I  have to say, it was pretty tempting, but alas we had another trail to go to and the last car barge was at 6pm. The Ram Head trail isn’t as long as the Reef Bay Trail, but it’s a much steeper hike in an area with little shade. I was glad that we had the foresight to pack a large bottle of water and two smaller bottles, because it was HOT. Granted we did the hike at around 2pm, the hottest time of day. With little protection from the sun, the 1 mile trail felt more like 5 miles. It was definitely worth it though as the view was spectacular. The beach at the start of the trail is very nice and was fairly empty. There’s also the pretty blue cobblestone beaches on the trail that are littered with dead coral. It’s quite a sight to behold and I was entranced by the look and sound of the water passing through the rocks.

Aside from hiking, one of the activities I wanted to do while in the Virgin Islands was snorkel. You can snorkel pretty much anywhere and see some tropical fish and reefs, but the best place to go is Waterlemon Cay of Leinster Bay. It’s a tough swim out to the cay but it’s definitely worth it.  The easiest way to get to the cay is to walk the distance of the Leinster Bay trail until you reach the first fork in the trail. After that bear left and continue walking along the shore. Normally the distance from the beach to the cay is around 0.2 miles, however by walking to the rocky takeoff point, you can decrease it 0.1 miles.  I was a bit hesitant to takeoff at the point since it is rocky and there could potentially be urchins around the area, but, hey, carpe diem! Luckily, the takeoff was relatively easy and we were able to see a sea turtle, parrot fish, blue tangs and corals. The current around the cay was quite strong, we weren’t able to swim all the way around it. Getting to the cay was not too bad, but coming back to shore was another matter. I was a little afraid a couple times that I wasn’t going to make it. The trick is to remain calm and just swim at your own pace. It might feel as though you’re not going anywhere with the current, but eventually you’ll make it to land.For an easier snorkel, Trunk Bay is also nice as points of interests are marked with buoys and the waters are far calmer.

Waves Lindquist Beach St. Thomas

Lindquist Beach

But of course being on the islands is all about being on the beach and relaxing! There are plenty of beaches to choose from on St. John’s and St. Thomas. Conde Nast and National Geographic name Magen’s Beach and Trunk Bay the prettiest beaches in the US Virgin Islands, but I’d have to say that Lindquist was by far my favorite. The sand had been broken down to such fine particles that they lost all of their abrasiveness. The water was simply gorgeous and the beach itself was more or less empty. Sure, we paid $3 to enter, but it was worth the fee. And, a fun tidbit, Corona shot one of their commercials at the beach!

I only was able to spend 4 days in the Virgin Islands, but I’m definitely interested in returning to really explore other beaches and the other trails. St. Thomas and St. John’s certainly aren’t large, but they offer so many different scenes from beaches to forests. While we packed our days with activities, there’s no reason why you would have to follow suit. Relax and enjoy the island’s at your own pace. The islands offer unparalleled scenery and they also have some pretty darn good food. I definitely enjoyed my stay there, as hectic as it was, though next time I would definitely take a little more time to relax.

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