Things to Do 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
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.
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.
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.
Located in beautiful St. Thomas, Coral World is considered the best family attraction in the US Virgin Islands. Much of this integrated marine park displays the true habitat of its subjects, with both indoor and outdoor observation facilities meant to exemplify the diverse and plentiful nature of the area’s aquatic species.
One of the park’s most drawing qualities is the interactive aspect of the attraction. Feed the sharks, turtles and string-rays; come face-to-face with iguanas and pet baby sharks; or go take a visit to Oscar the Sea Lion, who has regular performances in front of live crowds.
Some of the park’s other major attractions include (and are certainly not limited to) its 50,000 gallon Deep Reef Tank, sporting some of the mother nature’s deadliest carnivore’s, including moray eels, tarpon and plenty of sharks. Also be sure to check out the Marine Gardens, complete with 21 aquariums exhibiting wonderful and exciting water-life such as seahorses.
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).
Back in its heyday, the Annaberg Sugar Plantation was one of 25 facilities on the island producing sugar, along with molasses and rum. All that remains today are ruins, but they are an important reminder of St John’s past, and visitors can walk a trail that leads them through important structures such as slave quarters, windmills and factory remains.
Learn about 18th- and 19th-century sugar production and the importance of Annaberg, where slaves were brought in to clear the dense hillsides and terrace the slopes, allowing for farming. Slaves were also involved in actual sugarcane production and completed tasks like planting, harvesting and processing. When slavery was later abolished, the plantation was subdivided into small farms. Evidence suggests there were at least 16 slave cabins at Annaberg, each constructed using branches woven together with a mud, coral and lime mixture called daub.
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