The U.S. Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Saint Croix, Saint John,
and Saint Thomas, and 50 other surrounding minor islands and cays. In 1493,
Christopher Columbus visited these islands and named the beautiful islands ‘The
Virgins’. In the early 1600s many European countries took interest in the
Caribbean and in “the Virgins”. The Danish West India Company successfully
established a settlement on St. Thomas in 1672, and expanded and settled on St.
John in 1694. The islands remained under Danish rule until 1917, when the United
States purchased them for $25 million in gold in an effort to improve military
positioning during critical times of World War I. St. Croix, St. Thomas and St.
John became the US Virgin Islands.
With the perpetual summer weather (75-85F
year around), most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, amazing water-sports and
an overall fun culture, US Virgin Islands have been a top vacation escape for
American (no passport needed for US citizens).
Getting there ...
We had a red-eye flight on the Christmas Eve to Washington DC where we met with
Iris at the airport on 12/25 morning and had a flight together to St Thomas, US
Virgin Islands. Due to the pandemic, all travelers need to submit a
negative COVID-19 test result taken within 5 days of travel no matter you are
vaccinated or not (it was changed to within 3 days after our trip). A
USVI travel screening portal is
setup for travelers to submit all required documents and get the green QR codes
for the travel permit. Also due to the surge of Omicron variant, thousands
of flights were canceled during this busy holiday. We were lucky that our
flights were not impacted and we could arrive in St Thomas without any delay.
- Charlotte Amalie Overlook
After getting the rental car (be aware that
driving is on the left side in US Virgin Islands!), we stopped by the Charlotte Amalie Overlook
to get a good panoramic view of Charlotte Amalie area in St Thomas.
Day 2 (12/26) ...
Just step out to our balcony!
- Coral World Ocean Park
World is a marine park and tourist attraction located next to Coki Beach on
the East End of St. Thomas, just 5 minutes drive from our resort. I
booked a Sea Trek
tour which let us explore St. Thomas’ ocean floor like a diver without the
need for specialized training (even without getting our hairs wet).
The helmet (weighs 70lb) provides the air not only for us to breath
normally, but also keep water from getting above our mouth. It also
provides the sufficient weight to keep us down on the ocean floor to walk.
It's definitely the best experience for us (non-swimmer) to see the undersea
- Coki Beach
Coki Beach is right next to the Coral World. It's a
small, pretty, well-visited beach. The crystal-blue water is usually
very calm and deepens gradually. A near shore rocky area offers good
snorkeling for novices. We found the best seats in a restaurant to have
some drinks and lunch to enjoy the best beach views.
- Magens Bay
After some grocery shopping and an afternoon break in our
room, we headed to the most famous/popular beach in St Thomas, the Magens
Bay Beach. The beautiful one mile stretch is a public park (but it
does have an entry fee) and was donated to the people of the Virgin Islands
by Arthur Fairchild in 1946. It was perfect for leisurely walks along
- Secret Harbor
We went to the Secret Harbor Beach for sunset, but we
could not find a parking space near the beach as it is not a secret at all.
We ended up parking aong the roadside on the way (maybe a few hundred yards)
from the beach, and the timing was perfect for me to take the sunset
pictures when we just walked away from our car. We had a nice dinner
(my order was 1x price, Iris' was 2x, and Woanyu's was 4x :-) ) at the
Sunset Grille which looks right out onto the beach.
Day 3 (12/27) ...
- Ferry to St John
We took the car ferry (Big
Red Barge) from Red Hook to St John in the morning. I pre-booked
our reservation for 8:30AM, but we found they did not really honor any
reservation when we got there. It is more like a pre-paid instead of a
real reservation. It is first-come-first-serve, and if it runs out of
space then you have to wait for the next ferry (one hour later) even you
have a reservation. Luckily I always planned to arrive early (more
than 30 min before the scheduled time) to leave us enough margin to relax.
It's a good time to sharpen your skill to drive in reverse :-)
- Virgin Islands National Park
Virgin Islands National Park occupies about 60% of the land area of St John,
and also includes 5,650 acres of adjacent submerged lands. Much of the
island's waters, coral reefs, and shoreline have been protected by being
included in the national park. The beaches (e.g.,
Trunk Bay Beach,
Cinnamon Bay Beach,
Maho Bay Beach, Hawksnest Beach,
Honeymoon Beach, etc.) at St
John's north shore are no doubt on the top list the best beaches in the
Caribbean (also in the world). Here's what they have in common:
beautiful white sand beach, stunning crystal-clear aqua-blue waters,
shallow-water snorkeling from the beach, tall palm trees lining the beach,
and they are all protected by the Virgin Islands National Park.
- Salomon Beach
We took the Lind Point Trail to Salomon Beach and
Honeymoon Beach. The trailhead is right behind the visior centor and
you can ask for a parking permit if you are going to take the hike.
Salomon is a small, lovely beach accessible only by Lind Point
Trail. As there is no road access the beach is often sparsely populated.
- Honeymoon Beach
Honeymoon Beach is another beautiful white sand beach
with aqua blue water. It's time to change to our swimming suits
(although we did not really go swimming or snorkeling) and took a relaxed walk
wading through the shallow calm water on the soft sand. This beach is
one of the few with a concession offering drinks, snacks, rental
chairs, ecotours and more. We had a simple but delicious taco lunch at
the Bikini's on the Beach, a beachside bar and grill. Although our lunch
was good, we also became victims of other's lunch: we had insect bites all
over our legs and arms.
- Peace Hill & Denis Bay
This short trail leads to a scenic grassy flat
overlook with an old sugar mill tower. There is an unmark side trail
leading down to a beach in Denis Bay.
- Annaberg Plantation
Annaberg Plantation, as of 1780, was one of 25
active sugar producing factories on St. John. Slave labor was used to
clear densely forested hillsides and to terrace the slopes around Annaberg.
Slave labor was also used to plant, harvest and process the sugarcane.
The windmill at Annaberg, one of focal points of the site, was built
possibly between 1810 and 1830, and was one of the largest in the islands.
Today the plantation ruins are protected by the Virgin Islands National Park
and are open to the public. Trees have reclaimed the hillsides around
Annaberg. A trail leads through factory ruins, slave quarters, windmill and
- From St John to St Thomas
I originally planned and booked the last
ferry back to St Thomas at 5:30PM. But the experience in the morning
(i.e., they do not honor the time for the reservation) made me worry it
might be too risky to take the last ferry because there were so many
tourists competing the limited spots on the car ferry. We decided to
go to the ferry dock early (~3:10PM) to catch the earlier ferry at 3:30PM.
It did not only make our return trip less stressful, it also let us have a
relaxed late afternoon drink and early dinner at Red Hook in St Thomas (no
crowds, no parking problems).
Day 4 (12/28) ...
Ferry to St John
We had another full day plan in St John. We
decided to be the ealry bird today to catch the 1st ferry at 6:30AM.
The dawn twilight at the dock and the sunrise on the ferry made the effort
even more worth it.
- Trunk Bay
St John’s most popular, most photographed, and most visited
beach is Trunk Bay. It’s arguably the most beautiful beach on St John; if
not all of the Caribbean! The main reason we wanted to take the
earliest ferry to St John today was because of a warning from a national park
ranger yesterday: the parking is usually full well before 9AM at Trunk
Bay Beach. When we got to the beach at about 7:15AM, we were the 2nd
car in the parking lot; when we left at about 9:20AM, the parking lot was
indeed full and many cars were waiting and trying to find a spot.
morning on the beach was really a serene and peaceful experience.
Imagine you have the most beautfil beach in the world all to yourself...
- Cinnamon Bay
Cinnamon Bay, at about 1 mile, is the National Park's
longest beach. There were surprisingly few people when we got there at
about 9:30AM (only a few cars in the parking lot). Just like
other St John beaches you’ll find white sand, aqua blue water, palm trees,
seagrapes for shade (and some good shallow water for snorkeling if you like
it). Hurricanes Irma and Maria, both category 5 hurricanes, impacted the Virgin
Islands in September 2017. The Cinnamon Bay campground was severely damaged and
has been under restoration since then, and it is scheduled to be reopen in January 2022.
- Maho Bay
Maho Bay offers .3 miles of beach for your walking
enjoyment, and several large seagrass areas perfect for viewing turtles. It
is close to the road so access is easy. In fact, we just parked on the
roadside and only needed to cross the road to get to the beach (it made it
so easy to unload and carry our cooler to the beach). Since it is #1
recommendation on some websites for anybody who wants a chance to see and
swim with a sea turtle in St John, we decided to rent a kayak to enjoy some
water activity and we did see several sea turtles swimming around the bay
(my Rylo camera did a fine job to capture this
sea turtle footage).
- Cruz Bay
We went back to Cruz Bay to have a late lunch and have some
afternoon coffee/shopping around the area before headed back to the car
ferry dock to catch our ferry at 3:30PM.
Day 5 (12/29) ...
This is one
of the new adventures we experienced in this trip (Iris did have parasail at
Lake Tahoe with her friends before). It was little bit scary (for me)
at the beginning, but the take-off was quite gentle and smooth and it did
make you feel you are really sailing on air. In fact, it was quite
calm and peaceful when you were up there. Before the landing, the
captain intentionally dipped us in the water to get everyone wet.
- Relax at Home
When we took a long break (and did some laundary) to
relax in our room, it started to rain very hard in the early afternoon.
We felt lucky that we picked a good time to take a break instead of being
soaking wet on some beach. The tropical storm came and went quickly,
and the sky was clear up again within less than 2 hours. There were
many pelicans diving and catching fish around our resort. It was a
perfect place for me to get a few pictures of these birds from our balcony.
- Sunset Sail
I booked a
private sunset sail for us to enjoy a fantasic afternoon/evening (from
4:00PM to 6:30PM, sunset at 5:53PM). The catamaram is luxurious and
spacious as it can accommodate up to 12 people (and we only have a party of
3). We sit at the front of the boat most of the time during the sail.
It feels so comfortable and relaxed with the warm breeze and the beautiful
views of the water around the Virgin Islands. Iris has always been my
best model :-)
Day 6 (12/30) ...
- Skyride to Paradise Point
The Skyride to Paradise Point takes you 700
ft. above the town of Charlotte Amalie and offers the best view of all the
boats in the harbor. It is obviously a popular tourist attraction especially
for cruise ship passengers for its convenient location and amazing views.
We did not have any big plan for our last day on the Virgin Islands, so we
just had a nice leisured lunch at the outdoor patio to enjoy the habor view.
Going Home ...
Before heading to the airport, we passed by the Brewers Bay Beach, a beach
right next to the airport runway where you can see airplans land and take off.
After returning the rental car, we got to the airport (STT) with plenty of time to
check in. However, compared to other US airports, it was quite chaotic
with many confusing lines and passengers. I highly recommend you to arrive
at the airport as early as possible because it will take much longer than a
typical "domestic" flight to check in, get luggage tags, pass through
immigration (although you don't need to show passport if you are US citizen),
drop off your checked-in luggage (it's also a long line), and pass through the
final security check.
In fact, we were not going back home yet. Our
original plan was to go back to Washington DC to start the 2nd part of our trip
(DC, Baltimore, and NewYork City to visit Linus). However, when we arrived
at the hotel in DC (close to IAD airport), Iris did a COVID-19 test using a
rapid antigen test kit we brought with us since Iris had complained about dry
throat and had some minor cough. It turned out Iris was positive!
We decided to cancel the rest of the trip and started
self-quarantine at Iris' apartment
in Baltimore for the next few days. Even with certain inconvenience, I
was still grateful that all of us were safe and healthy (only Iris had very minor
symptoms for a few days). Althought it totally changed our plan, it
was one of the holiday vacation I will never forget.
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