Anyone who has been following my travels for a while knows how passionate I am about the Caribbean. Not only is my family from this region of the world, but in my humble opinion it also boasts some of the most flavorful food and people (ha!), the most pristine beaches, produces the best music – reggae, dancehall and soca. I could go on and on. What is there not to love? If someone tells me that they don’t like visiting the Caribbean, I have to give them the side eye… or check their pulse.
Because of my affinity to the Caribbean, I have visited islands from Aruba to Trinidad & Tobago, and for some time I thought the best of the best was behind me. I thought that I had seen and experienced all that was great in the region and that everything else would be a letdown.
But by divine intervention, I decided to open up and ask my Instagram fam for their suggestions on a Caribbean destination I should check out and the overwhelming response was USVI. To be honest, I never really had USVI on my radar. Because it’s part of the US, I always just assumed that it would lack that culture and Caribbean flavor that I needed. I had been to some Caribbean islands that had no connection to the US, but yet felt like I was just in Florida, Georgia or South Carolina. There’s nothing wrong with these states, but it’s not what you want when going to the Caribbean. What’s the point in getting stamped up and flying over bodies of water if I’m not going to feel transported?
But on the contrary, even though the US Virgin Islands IS a part of the US and does not require a passport or the customs process for US Citizens, it boasts all of the West Indian vibes that I needed. From the colorful homes, to the vibrant personalities, powdery soft sand and the clearest of waters, the earcandy of the VI accent, blaring soca and dancehall at every corner, unique and well-seasoned dishes, I was here for every single bit of it. Not to mention, but most importantly, The USVI has that “thing,” that inexplicable energy that you connect to in certain islands – the thing that words can’t describe but is so palpable. It completely surpassed my expectations and now I am telling everyone and their mommas that USVI should be there next Caribbean trip.
The main islands of the USVI are St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. Part of the experience is island hopping so make sure you book enough time to get around!
St Thomas was the hub for our trip. Staying here made it very easy to hop around as needed by boat to the other islands we visited, St. John and Tortola, which is a part of the British Virgin Islands (requires passport and customs for US citizens.) On all of the islands we got around by driver. Whether a pre-arranged vehicle or catching a taxi in the moment as they were readily available at the popular destinations.
NOTES: if you’re adding St. Croix to your trip, most opt for flying there from St. Thomas as it’s not as quick as the other islands by boat. I didn't get a chance to vist St. Croix this time but I definitely plan to in the future!
Also, as you're island hopping from St. Thomas, note that boats leave from two ports on the island, Charlotte Amalie (downtown) and Red Hook (another popular area with lots of bars and restaurants) - so as you're mapping out your island hopping, check the multiple schedules and also find out which port is most convenient for your location.
Where To Stay
Unfortunately, because of category 5 Hurricane Irma that devastated the Virgin Islands and other islands in the region, a lot of hotels are still in the rebuilding phase. Airbnb has become immensely popular, but we had the opportunity to stay at two of the hotels that are open and fully operational.
Wyndam Margaritaville St Thomas – a solid choice if you like the “resort” type feel in the Caribbean. The best parts: It’s less than a 5 minute walk from our favorite beach on the island, Coki Beach, and has a great infinity pool with a swim up bar that overlooks the sea. The staff is friendly and there are drivers with buggies that can shuttle you around the resort as needed which is clutch considering the drinks are ever-flowing in St. Thomas and after a late night the last thing you want to do is climb nonstop hills to your room. The plus side of the hills, views… everywhere.
Bolongo Bay Beach Resort – Very centrally located, one of the biggest benefits of this hotel is that nowhere you need to go is longer than a 15 minute drive away. Also, the sunset cruise is full of rum punch and snacks, and I mean, the photo says it all.
Where To Go & Where To Eat
One thing that I wasn’t expecting was how much I’d love the food on this trip. We didn’t have one bad meal, no matter how “hole-in-the-wall” or upscale the eatery. It was all finger licking good.
We highly suggest taking the St. Thomas Food Tour that explores some restaurants in the downtown area Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas. It’s easy to get swallowed up in this region of the island because it is the most touristy, especially considering cruise ships dock nearby. But there are some foodie gems in the area and St. Thomas food tours gives you sample size bites in each restaurant and they all hit the spot. Our guide is also very knowledge and friendly, and really helped us put the history and present day people in St. Thomas into context. Some of the restaurants we visited in the area include Gladys’, E’s Garden Teahouse, and a bakery with an amazing story – My Brother’s Workshop. At My Brother's Workshop, not only are the sweets delectable (especially the rum cake), but these are some of the nicest and coolest brothers on the island. They mentor and support at-risk young adults, and also had a great relief effort post-Hurricane.
Other restaurants we thoroughly enjoyed and places worth checking out:
Caribbean Fish Market
Shoreline Bar & Grille (walking distance from Margaritaville Beach Resort)
Miradoor by Chef Benny (walking distance from Margaritaville Beach Resort)
Duffy's Love Shack in Red Hook
Pesce Italian - I wasn't sure if we should rush to try Italian food in the Caribbean but it was one of the best meals we had. To die for!
Magen’s Bay - top rated beach on the island and consistently rated one of the top rated beaches in the world. Some amazing water and sand.
Coki Beach - the beach with the vibes! Lots of locals and local cuisine, music and more. Also great water and sand quality!
Day Trip to St. John
I cannot stress enough how much visiting St. John made our trip even more epic. We left on the earliest ferry of the day from St. Thomas and came back on the latest ferry. And we wish we would have spent another day there. Even though it's a small island and there's really one main road that leads you to everything, on that one main road we passed SO many perfect looking beaches it was insane. The views are out of this world. Aside from touring the island we had time for a great meal and beach day. We really had to be dragged out of the beach. Deets below:
De Coal Pot Restaurant
Huge thanks to Keisha Nelson and Desiree Wilkes from the USVI Tourism team for curating and facilitate this phenomenal experience. The US Virgin Islands are truly a collection if idyllic gems of the Caribbean. We cannot wait to return and explore more! Happy traveling!