Popular with honeymooners, vacationers, yachters, and the odd celebrity or two, this collection of idyllic islands are nestled in the Caribbean but officially belong to the USA. The US Virgin Islands consists of three main islands, St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix, as well as several dozen smaller islands. Although each has paradise-like scenery and a laid-back Caribbean vibe, you should head to St Thomas for water sports and gorgeous hotel resorts, St John for protected parkland and pristine beaches, and St Croix for excellent diving and rum factories! Here are the best and most beautiful places to visit in the US Virgin Islands…
Water Island, St Thomas – one of the most stunning places to explore in the US Virgin Islands
Just south of Charlotte Amalie harbor on the main island of St Thomas is Water Island. Known locally as the “Last Virgin” because it was the last island to become part the Virgin Islands of the United States in 1996. There is a regular passenger ferry service from the capital to Water Island taking less than 15 minutes. On arrival, you can hire a golf cart to explore the almost 500 acres of island rich in wildlife and cactus. There are no hotels on Water Island but accommodation can sometimes be booked in advance at one of the island villas, glamping or B&B.
If you need a bit more than nature and beaches the abandoned Fort Segarra is an interesting visit; it’s an unfinished World War II installation with tunnels and underground chambers perched high on the southern tip of the island with panoramic views.
Honeymoon Beach, St Thomas – a popular and romantic beauty spot
On the west side of Water Island at Druif Bay lies the beautiful Honeymoon Beach. A scenic white sand and palm tree beach staring due west to capture the daily unimpeded sunsets. Yachts anchor in the sheltered bay and giant turtles can be seen in the clear blue-green waters. This is a neat, clean, never-too-busy beach with plenty of shady spots under the trees. There are a few facilities; you can hire a sun-lounger, rent a kayak or buy a snack from a beachside hut, but it’s not commercialized so bring a book to read and maybe do some people-watching until the sun slowly sinks into the Caribbean Sea.
There is another place known as Honeymoon Beach on the north shore of the island of St John. This is equally as beautiful yet more remote as it sits within the National Park. This second location, although it does not enjoy the spectacular western sunsets, has the added bonuses of snorkeling facilities, solitude, and a stunning jungle backdrop – worth the short hike from Cruz Bay.
Secret Harbor, St Thomas – a lovely and small tranquil beach to explore
In the Nazareth Bay area on the main island of St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands is the popular Secret Harbor beach. A cozy tropical white sand and palm tree beach with a neat resort behind it. This is an excellent location for moderate-level snorkeling, the water is gentle enough for kids to paddle and the beach is kept spotlessly clean by the resort.
There is limited car parking nearby, which stops the place getting too busy, so get here early if you want a space. Alternatively, it’s a beautiful location for a cocktail at dusk in the Sunset Bar & Grill or Cruzan Beach Club where you can watch the sun sink into the distant mangroves.
Drake’s Seat, St Thomas – for gorgeous views
High in the almost exact center of St Thomas Island is Drake’s Seat. A viewpoint on the Hull Bay Road with panoramic views of the entire island with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. Legend has it that Sir Francis Drake would sit here to watch for gold galleons of the Spanish fleet – although the bench was constructed in the 1930s, never let facts ruin a good tale!
There are a few breath-taking panoramic viewpoints along the central hills of St Thomas Island. The Charlotte Amalie Lookout, Drake’s Seat, Mountain Top and Magens Bay can all be visited in the same trip.
Magens Bay Beach, St Thomas – one of the most scenic destinations in the US Virgin Islands
Magens Bay Beach is one of the best-loved beaches on St Thomas. It is central to the island on the north shore, just a short distance from Charlotte Amalie so used by tourists and locals alike.
Remarkably it is relatively undeveloped with one mile of very beautiful, a white-sand beach which never gets too crowded; perfect for swimming and water sports in the calm, transparent blue water of the bay. There are nearby equipment rentals, a restaurant, restrooms, a shower, and beach rentals. The calm waters, huge sky, and green encircling hills give this place a permanent air of unhurried tropical isolation.
The park around the beach consists of 68 pristine acres: a six-acre arboretum consisting of large trees from four tropical continents, a two-acre camping ground with parking, 5 acres of coconut groves, and 15 acres of mangroves and wetlands. Plenty to explore if you get tired of sitting in the sun.
Brewers Bay, St Thomas – a beautiful place to visit and snorkel
Brewers Bay is a beach for the slightly more adventurous. It’s a great snorkeling spot without the crowds you often find around St Thomas. The north side of the bay, towards Black Point, has many corals and fish for the more experienced swimmer – be careful there can be strong currents. Turtles and small rays hang in the sandy, seagrass areas just offshore between the beach and the boats. Underwater visibility here is excellent as the massive sandy areas create a great natural canvas.
The beach is white and sandy with shade from palms and trees. There are no facilities, other than a small food truck, yet there’s a large car park making this a perfect place for a last-minute stop for relaxation and solitude.
Virgin Islands National Park, St John – a must-see destination in the US Virgin Islands
Two-thirds of the island of St. John is a national park, making it a unique destination for visitors from around the world. Virgin Islands National Park has staggeringly beautiful unspoilt tropical beaches. Those on the northern Atlantic coast can be dramatic in winter with crashing waves, the southern Caribbean beaches are much calmer, but everywhere is vulnerable to hurricanes from July to October.
There are more than 20 hiking trails in the park with everything from accessible boardwalks that meander through historic ruins, to a bird viewing deck on one of the lovely salt ponds. For the more adventurous, there’s the rugged Reef Bay Trail down to the ancient Taino Indian petroglyphs and then continue to the old Sugar Mill which is near a lovely beach. Finally, there’s endless snorkeling and boating to enjoy around the coral reefs to discover hidden marine life.
Ram Head Trail, St John – a great place to walk/hike
One of the lesser-known hiking trails, but well worth seeking out, Ram Head can be found in the furthest southeast corner of St John. Access is from the south end of Salt Pond Beach. Allow a good couple of hours and bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a bathing suit to enjoy the swim at Blue Cobblestone Beach part way.
It’s a moderate trail with lots of elevation changes and rocky paths leading to the peak at Ram Head from where you get magnificent views across the Caribbean Sea in the direction of St Croix. This hike is all about flora and views with some of the most amazing cacti teetering on rocky surfaces all around.
Coral Harbor, St John – a stunning large and protected harbour
Coral Harbor at the head of Coral Bay on St John island is a natural protected sanctuary for yachts. There is a collection of eateries, accommodations, and stores spread around the broad curve of the harbor entirely encompassed by the Virgin Islands National Park.
A perfect base to stay for exploration of the numerous trails and unspoilt beaches. The town of Coral Bay was once the main commercial hub of St John with a population that has diminished over the last 200 years as sugar plantations closed. Successive hurricanes and encroachment of jungle reduced most of the abandoned buildings to rubble, traces of which can still be spotted amongst the remaining homes.
Maho Bay Beach, St John – a breathtakingly beautiful spot to explore
Maho Bay in the north of St John is the place to go for sea turtles. It is sheltered from Atlantic waves by Mary Point enabling a unique ecosystem to flourish. The seagrass beds in the middle stretches of this shallow bay provide habitat for the green sea turtles that are seen more frequently in the early morning or late afternoon.
There’s coral and fish along the western waters of this long beach, they are more abundant the closer you get to the point between Maho and Cinnamon. To the northeast, the rocks and reef supports abundant fish populations, including angelfish. If you are lucky, you may see octopus in the coral crevices.
The beach is a postcard tropical paradise with white sand and curving palms looking out on turquoise water. There are a few facilities but, as with everything in the National Park, they are restricted to allow the park to fully breathe.
Francis Bay, St John – a fantastic vacation beach
Just above Maho Bay is Francis Bay. Even more secluded, quieter and slightly wilder than its popular neighbor. Here you will find the tropical white sand, blue sea, shady trees and snorkeling with more parking and less visitors than its better-known neighbors.
Francis Bay Beach has the added attraction of an easy trail through the mangroves across the headland to Mary Creek where you encounter the picturesque ruins of Annaberg School perched on the edge of the ocean.
Trunk Bay Beach, St John – one of the best places to visit in the US Virgin Islands
Trunk Bay has everything you want from a tropical beach with the beautiful white sand, shady trees and turquoise waters. Just off the beach is Trunk Cay, a small coral island teeming with life in its warm, shallow waters.
It is the perfect snorkeling destination with a swim around the cay. Just behind the beach are restrooms, showers, a small snack hut and bar. Like most of the beaches in the National Park car parking is deliberately limited to keep visitor numbers down so get there early to enjoy one of the best beaches on the north shore of St John.
Buck Island Reef National Monument, St Croix – a picturesque small, uninhabited island
Off the north coast of St Croix is this uninhabited island with a long coral-reef underwater trail, accessible by guided one-day or half-day snorkeling tours. Buck Island is a designated National Monument and wildlife sanctuary, so tours are limited, but it’s definitely worth the trip from St Croix if you get the chance.
Snorkeling here is probably the best in the Virgin Islands with the opportunity to see blacktip sharks, eagle rays, barracuda, beautiful schooling fish, and colorful coral. After snorkeling, on the other side of this small island is one of the finest tropical beaches in the Caribbean. Sit in the sun or roam along the blue shoreline for more chances to see barracuda and sharks in the shallows.
Annaly Bay Tide Pools, St Croix – unique natural beauty spot
The tide pools at Annaly Bay are reached by a tricky hike from Carambola Beach on the north shore of St Croix. This experience is as much about the journey as the pools. The trail takes about 45 minutes each way and includes some difficult rock ascents – make sure you wear some strong boots and get a guide to escort you!
On arrival, there is a series of calm, clear pools filled by seawater at high tide, perfect for a quiet bathe. The views and the sound of the waves pulling the rocks over each other is terrific; when the waves are strong it can sound like firecrackers going off along the shore.
Rainbow Beach, St Croix – the perfect beach for watching sunsets
Rainbow Beach at the extreme western end of St Croix is the perfect sunset beach. Clear, calm waters and a wide sandy beach are the draw at this serene locale, popular among divers and families. It is a nice, quiet little beach where colors change as the sun slowly sinks into the sea.
There’s a restaurant next to the beach that serves food and drinks, beach loungers and jet skis can be rented and it’s the ideal place to take a few snorkeling lessons in the gentle waters. An excellent place to meet locals and begin your tour of the US Virgin Islands.
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