Known for its white sandy beaches and turquoise warm waters, the islands of St Thomas, St John and St Croix draw tourists from all over the world. Although these islands are a territory of the US, they were once part of the Danish Empire, and known as the Danish West Indies before being sold to the United States in the Treaty of the Danish West Indies in 1916. Aside from its beautiful islets and cays, the USVI also boasts a diverse history, having been sought by the Dutch, French, English, Spaniards, Maltese, and of course the Danes in the past.
My friend Karen and I decided to set camp in St Thomas, home to the capital of the US Virgin Islands. We opted to stay in Red Hook (also known as the East End), instead of staying in the capital—Charlotte Amalie (pronounced SHAR-lut AH-muh-lee), as it was closer to the activities we planned to do, and had more restaurants.
In terms of getting around, we decided not to rent a car. Technically, being underage (I’m 20 and Karen turned 20 during the trip), the choice of renting a car or not was already made for us. Finding a car rental company that rents to people under 25 is difficult, and even if you do find a rental company, they will usually charge you an exorbitant amount of money as an “age surcharge.” Honestly, I don’t blame them—statistically speaking, people under 25 are more likely to get into car accidents. Luckily for us though, public transportation in St Thomas was fairly accessible. There are cheap Safari Taxis that go all around the island; they charge $1 for a trip within town, and $2 for a trip to a different town. For example, a trip from Charlotte Amalie to Red Hook costs $2 per person. We ended up saving a lot of money as compared to if we had rented a car. On top of that, St Thomas is super hilly, and the roads were really steep with numerous sharp turns—I’m not sure if I’d have the guts to drive there!
Aside from the beautiful beaches, snorkeling and scuba diving are also popular activities to do in the USVI. I would say that although the diving wasn’t bad, it wasn’t spectacular either. I probably wouldn’t stay for a whole week in the US Virgin Islands just to scuba dive, like I did in Cozumel. However, I still enjoyed the morning dives I did with Red Hook Dive Center. We managed to see a Spotted Eagle Ray as well as a Sting Ray; not bad!
The highlight of our trip was definitely hiking in St John. Somehow, we managed to hike half the island. Yeah, half the freaking island! Basically, we wanted to do some hiking, and we heard that St John has some nice hiking trails, so on Monday we decided to take the ferry from St Thomas to St John. After arriving at Cruz Bay, we hopped on a taxi and asked the driver to drop us off at the start of the Reef Bay Trail. The trail was great and all, and we managed to finish the trail in about 2.5 hours (including some minor detours). It was around 17:30 when we finished the trail, and the trail ended at this remote beach called Lameshur Bay.
Now, this is when things started going downhill, or if you wanna look at it the other way, this is when things started getting really interesting. Despite the shitty service reception, we managed to call the taxi company to ask them to pick us up. To our surprise, they said they can’t pick us up. We were like, uhh, what do you mean you can’t pick us up? How are we supposed to get back to town? They replied saying that the roads were too bad around there, so if we want them to pick us up, we’d need to hike back up the trail, and they can pick us up at the beginning of the trail. To better illustrate our situation, here’s a map of St John.
Cruz Bay, which is on the western-most point of the island, is where we need to take the ferry from; the star in the middle of the island is where the trail ended; and where it says “Virgin Islands National Park” is where we started the hike. We were in the middle of nowhere; no houses, no street lamps… Heck, the street wasn’t even paved. It was a dirt road. We also didn’t see anyone else during the whole trail except for two other people who were hiking the other way. We didn’t even consider hiking back up the trail; it was starting to get dark, and the trail would take us another 2.5 hours. What makes matters worse was that we had no flashlight, our phones were dying, and we had exhausted our water supply. At this point I was already thinking of what we should do if we couldn’t get back to Cruz Bay, and Karen was already thinking about calling 911 if we couldn’t our way back. If you’re thinking of calling the emergency numbers, that’s when you know you’re really panicking.
We took another look at the map, and spotted Concordia Eco-Resort on the eastern-most part of the island. For all we know, the resort might have closed down a couple years ago, or it might not even exist, but we decided it would be our best chance of getting back to Cruz Bay. If my phone weren’t nearly dead, and if I had better cell service, I would have probably tried to Google other options, but unfortunately luck wasn’t in our favor. We ended up walking for about an hour or so before finally reaching Concordia Eco-Resort. Thankfully, it was open! We quickly ordered iced tea at their café, and let me tell you, it was the best iced tea I’ve had in my life lol.
Now, the fun doesn’t end there! At this point, the receptionists at Concordia Eco-Resort said that taxis don’t go to this side of St John. Ha ha, of course they wouldn’t, what were we thinking. They said that our best bet of getting back to Cruz Bay (i.e., the other side of the island) would be by taking the bus, which leaves in about 10 minutes, give or take. So we hurried to the bus stop, and waited. And waited. And waited. It was already 10 minutes past, and the bus still wasn’t there. Luckily for us, a lady driving a Jeep stopped and asked if we needed a ride. She was heading to the grocery store, which isn’t where we were trying to go to, but she said that at least there’s people around there, whereas the bus stop we were standing at was really dark (no street lights, remember?). So we ended up hitchhiking to the grocery store, from which we finally managed to catch the bus back to Cruz Bay. I cannot tell you how relieved we were when we reached Cruz Bay that night.
Overall, we definitely had a fun and memorable trip. Aside from hiking and scuba diving, I would also recommend night kayaking and horseback riding in St Thomas. Though I wouldn’t say the US Virgin Islands are the most beautiful islands I’ve been to (I’d have to give that title to Raja Ampat, sorry), they’re definitely a nice alternative, especially given their close proximity to the US.