Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in US Virgin Islands
St. John's Coral Bay prides itself on being the raffish alternative to the island’s main point of arrival, Cruz Bay. Its few dozen houses are haphazardly sprinkled on the green slopes tumbling down to Coral Harbor, a beautiful, protected cove. The red-roofed Moravian Church dates from 1750 and serves as a local landmark. Otherwise the town’s charm lies in its laid-back bars and restaurants where – unlike some Caribbean locations – tourists won’t necessarily outnumber locals. A short way out of town there is great snorkeling to be had at nearby Salt Pond Bay, or there’s always the secluded haven of Lameshur Bay, further round the twisting coastline. Alternatively, charter a boat and head for the nearby British Virgin Islands.
Located on the western edge of St Thomas’ harbor, Hassel Island was once part of a peninsula. But the Danish government decided that separating it from St Thomas would create better water circulation in the harbor, so in the 1860s Hassel Island was born. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers widened the channel again in 1919, further separating the island from St Thomas.
Today, it is primarily a national park and a popular spot with visitors to St Thomas. Hassel Island is best explored via a kayaking, hiking or snorkeling tour, all of which give visitors a combination of a history lesson and an eco-adventure. And although it is primarily governed as a national park, there are several private estates on the remaining land, including a 10-acre compound with three houses totaling 15,000 square feet.
More Things to Do in US Virgin Islands
St. John might have the lion’s share of the Virgin Islands’ natural attractions, but the extraordinary concentration of flora and fauna in St. Thomas’ Mangrove Lagoon makes it a top eco-tourism destination.
Small kayak groups thread through the lagoon’s tiny red mangrove islands, with guides pointing out the huge diversity of birds they attract, including herons, egrets and ducks.
The route takes you to deserted Cas Cay island, where hermit crabs dart about among mangrove roots. On your gently-paced travels you’ll see young fish darting around this natural breeding ground. Low-impact snorkeling will get you even closer, and you’ll spot rays, eels and jelly fish as well as a host of colorful tropical fish.
Perched on St John’s northern shore, Maho Bay draws families and snorkelers to its calm, shallow waters. It’s easily accessible, as you can drive right up to the beach and park on the side of a road lined with groves of coconut palms.
Maho Bay is named after the beach Maho tree, which you can identify by its heart-shaped leaves and bright, yellow flowers. The narrow beach fronts a shallow, sheltered bay that is a popular anchorage for yachts. You might even spot a sea turtle swimming among the seagrass swaying below the surface. A coral reef on the southern coast of the bay provides excellent snorkeling.
At the eastern end of the beach hikers can wander along the Goat Trail, which leads to Maho Bay Eco-Camps, a pretty enclave of tent cabins. Here you can rent water sports equipment and have breakfast and dinner at the Pavilion Restaurant.
Coki is St. Thomas’s party beach, thronged with families, revelers and beach vendors. Snorkelers and divers love Coki’s underwater clarity and sea creatures. Beach day-trippers enjoy the sand, sunshine and wandering vendors of drinks and snacks, souvenirs, sunscreen and hair-braiding.
Coki Beach is quite a scene, lively and fun rather than quiet and laid-back. Beach lounges and thatch umbrellas can be hired, along with all kinds of water sports equipment, from jet skis to snorkel gear. The fish are used to people at this popular beach, and have even been known to eat from your hand (BYO dog biscuits).
Magens Bay is just one of the reasons why the US Virgin Island of St. Thomas is such a popular holiday isle. The island’s favorite beach is a curving arc of white sand and bright blue water. It’s protected by a forested arboretum and palm trees, ensuring calm waves for swimming and kayaking. From the vantage point of Mountain Top, you can easily make out the bay’s unusual rectangular shape and mile of white-sand beach, but the best view is up close from the sand. Being so popular, the beach has some great facilities, including lifeguards, showers, snack stall and windsurf rental. A nature trail winds from Magens Bay Road down the beach, just over a mile, taking you through tropical forest and mangroves via boardwalks and well-maintained steps and paths.
Caneel Bay is one of the first beaches you come to as you drive up North Shore Road out of St John’s main port, Cruz Bay. Much of the coastline here is monopolized by an extensive resort, but they guarantee access to Caneel Bay and their restaurants adjacent to the beach are accessible also. The area was once a plantation and the ruins of the old sugar works make an atmospheric detour. The beach itself is a three-dimensional postcard, while snorkelers will delight in sting rays, barracudas and other sea life.
Want to get away from it all? Once you get to Buck Island, there is no more "all" to get away from – this is about as secluded as the Caribbean gets (presuming you don’t own your own island). The ravishing clear waters of the Buck Island Reef National Park protected area are teeming with busy tropical fish darting around colorful coral. Accompanied tours along the underwater trails mean even first-time snorkelers will get the most out of this sea haven. And after that burst of activity, the soft, white sands of Turtle Beach – voted by connoisseurs as one of the world’s best – invites you to lie back and do precisely nothing.
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