Let me quickly state that if you’re on the fence about a trip to U.S. Virgin Islands, don’t be. It’s a beautiful territory with tons of picturesque beaches and laidback people. In order to help you prepare for your trip however, there are a few things you should know. I’m breaking down those five things based on my own vacation to Saint Thomas and Saint John. Here’s the 411:
1. You Don’t Need A Rental Car
Plenty of travel bloggers and tour guides will tell you renting a car is the way to see the island, but that’s just not true. I mean, if you have an extra $100 a day to blow on an economy two-door Chevy, go for it. But it’s not essential unless you’re traveling with a posse in tow. If you’re riding solo or with your BFF, it’s more economical to get around by safari taxi. The vehicles – spotted everywhere – are pickups with benches placed on the truck bed. The vehicles essentially do loops around the island and only cost $2 each way. You can also hire a private safari taxi, but the fares are going to be higher. On the island of St. John, safari taxi rides are a bit more since there aren’t as many locals riding them, but it’s still cheaper than renting a vehicle. Keep in mind that the USVI is expensive so save your $100. And did I mention that people drive on the left-side of the road here?
2. The USVI is really expensive.
I cannot emphasize enough how expensive this part of the world is. Neighboring Puerto Rico and Dominican Republican might be budget-friendly, but you may as well be in Norway or Japan when in the USVI. Lodging and food are going to chew up the bulk of your budget, there’s no way around it. On average, my partner and I spent about $100 a day on food and we weren’t fine-dining. If you walk into the wrong place, a jerk chicken dinner can set you back $25 by the time you add a Coke and gratuity. It’s not any better at the grocery store where avocados are $5 each. By the end of our trip, we figured out how to make our dollar stretch by eating at the local spots a bit off the beaten path and taking advantage of happy hour. I’ll be blogging about some of those spots later. We also bought a bottle of rum so we could make our own cocktails when we wanted a buzz.
3. Spend All Your Time On St. John
The USVI is comprised of several islands including St. Croix, St. John and the mothership, St. Thomas. I would imagine that if you’re going to the Caribbean for a holiday, it’s to lay on a beautiful beach void of loud tourists and people hawking souvenirs and overpriced drinks. My lady friend and I spent our first three nights on St. Thomas and final five on St. John. If we had any idea of how perfect St. John was before arriving, we would have spent every night there. Approximately 80-percent of the land is United States National Park, so it’s not overrun with massive resorts, shopping centers, fast food joints or people peddling stuff on its beaches. In fact, most of the beaches are void of any manmade structures. And since cruise ships disembark on St. Thomas, you don’t have an influx of tourists here. There were times we found ourselves on beaches alone, and even when the sand did get busy, there weren’t more than a dozen people around. That was never the case on St. Thomas. And honestly, the beaches on St. John are infinitely better than the beaches on St. Thomas, which is saying something since the latter has some gorgeous spots.
4. Don’t Drink … Too Much Rum Punch
Most hotels and bars serve a concoction called rum punch. It’s a mix of Cruzan rum and fruit juice. DRINK THEM SLOWLY. Or just avoid them all together. This is the sort of sweet and cold beverage that goes down fairly easy. During a regular sitting at our hotel’s complimentary happy hour, I put down no less than five of these bad boys in an hour. Rum is big here. So much so airport employees pass out shots of Cruzan when you walk through the terminal. Of course, I enjoy drinking on holiday as much as the next person, but boozing and being out in the sun all day are not a good idea. I found myself exhausted and in bed by 9 p.m. just about every night. Drink aged rum on the rocks.
5. There’s Wildlife In The Ocean
I have a great respect for wildlife and avoid disturbing animals in their natural habitat. But that’s a little hard to do while swimming. On multiple occasions I found myself wading dangerously close to sting rays. And I had a panic attack when I noticed a nurse shark swimming next to me. That shark vanished after a few meters, only to repeat his Houdini routine three more times during a single snorkel session. It’s a nurse shark, so logically I had nothing to fear, but it just kept me honest while swimming and I never let myself get too far away from the shore or other snorkelers. These are wild waters, and that’s something to keep in mind if you plan on doing some aquatic sightseeing.
That’s it for this article, but make sure to check out my guide to Coki Beach on St. Thomas below.