The U.S. Virgin Islands is full of gorgeous national parks, breathtaking beaches, and delectable Caribbean cuisine. Whether it’s exploring 18th-century architecture in the capital of St. Thomas, hiking up the rocky coastline of Ram Head trail in St. John, or conserving sea turtle environments along the beaches of St. Croix, each island has its own unique appeal and attraction for travelers. From surfing at Judith Beach to sunset sailing and island-hopping, read on for your guide to the 12 best activities for visitors to do during their next vacation to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Take a Scenic Drive in Virgin Islands National Park
The Virgin Islands National Park accounts for 60 percent of the land on the island of St. John, and the possibilities for exploration are endless. We suggest renting a vehicle for a day of exploration through the winding roads and overgrown forests of this iconic landmark in the U.S. Virgin Islands. (Take it easy on the turns, especially if it rains, which it often does in the tropical climate of St. John.) The mountainous landscape is breathtaking, and roadside observation points offer spectacular panoramic views of Caneel Bay, Maho Bay, and Trunk Bay (pictured here).
Taste the World's First Banana Daiquiri
Rum is a signature flavor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and rum cocktails, in particular, hold a special place in the culture. And while the British Virgin Islands claim ownership over the Painkiller—a concoction introduced at the Soggy Dollar Bar on the island of Jost Van Dyke in the 1970s—the Banana Daiquiri was introduced 50 years ago in St. Thomas. The original Daiquiri originated in Cuba in 1898 before it was immensely improved with the addition of Cruzan Rum (and homemade banana liqueur) nearly a century later. Taste one for yourself at Mountain Top, the historic establishment where it all began (and the highest point of the U.S. Virgin Islands). Sample the local flavors while appreciating panoramic views of Magens Bay, St. John, and—on a clear day—the British Virgin Islands.
Protect Sea Turtles on the Beaches of St. Croix
Sign up for a guided hike with the Nature Conservancy to protect the natural habitats of green and hawksbill turtles within the Jack and Isaac Bay Preserve. The Preserve protects the 301 acres around Jack’s Bay and Isaac’s Bay, accounting for some of the most pristine forests and white-sand beaches in all of St. Croix. Learn more about sea turtle conservation programs while monitoring their nesting sites located along the shore. The nesting season lasts from March through December, but if you visit in the off-season, go for a swim at the Jack’s and Isaac’s Bay beaches (and enjoy magnificent snorkeling, as well).
Go Island-Hopping on a Sunset Cruise
The Virgin Islands are famous for being a sailor’s paradise. The U.S. Virgin Islands is comprised of four main islands—St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas, and Water Island (the last of which is uninhabited)—alongside nearly 50 other smaller cays and islets located throughout the island chain. These islands were once a favorite destination among pirates who regarded the island chain as a perfect hideaway for sunken treasure (and sunken ships). Modern-day sailors may find themselves sharing this appreciation with these nefarious seafarers of yore—albeit for different purposes. The steady trade-winds and gentle current of the archipelago (not to mention the breathtaking beauty) make the U.S. Virgin Islands an absolute dream for both leisure sailors and professional racers alike.
Climb 99 Steps to Government Hill in Charlotte Amalie
Head to the capital city of St. Thomas, Charlotte Amalie, to climb the 99 Steps (actually 103) up to Government Hill. The Danes built the steps in the mid-1700s, and you will find similar staircases all over the city in downtown Charlotte Amalie. Whether or not you consider this vertical path to be the most effective way of going up and down the steep hills of St. Thomas, it certainly is a decorative method, nevertheless.
Set Sail for a Day Trip to Buck Island
Buck Island Reef National Monument is located just off the coast of St. Croix and is the perfect destination for a day trip during your U.S. Virgin Islands vacation. The uninhabited, 176-acre island is located a mere 1.5 miles off the northeast coast of St. Croix. From picnicking to boating, hiking, and snorkeling, there’s no shortage of activities once you arrive. And the latter excursion may be of particular interest to underwater adventurers, as the monument includes 19,015 acres of submerged, underwater lands, so you have endless wonders to explore.
Embark on a Sunrise Hike to Bordeaux Point in St. John
We’ve already addressed the highest peak in St. Thomas earlier on in our list—Mountain Top, of course—and our next selection takes us to the very top of St. John. Wake up early one vacation morning (we know it isn’t easy) to hike the two-mile Bordeaux Mountain Trail up to Bordeaux Point. Don’t be fooled by the hike’s deceptively short length—you will be ascending to an elevation of 1,277-feet. The view from the top, however, will be worth it, especially at sunrise; there’s no better way to start another day in America’s Paradise.
Scuba Dive Around the Islets Off the Coast of St. Thomas
The plethora of rock pinnacles in the waters off St. Thomas makes this part of the Caribbean a scuba diver’s dream. Located on the southeast coast of St. Thomas—a mere 45-minute boat ride from downtown Charlotte Amalie—Cow and Calf Rocks are suitable for beginners, and both sites are home to reef sharks, coral tunnels, and ancient caves. More advanced divers should consider navigating the more challenging, more rewarding, underwater terrain of French Cap Pinnacle or the world-renowned Sail Rock (pictured above).
Discover 18th-Century Ruins and Ancient Petroglyphs in Reef Bay
Embark on the 2-mile Reef Bay Walking Trail in Virgin Islands National Park, which is similar to the hike in the mountains of St. John. A word of warning: Even though the duration is only technically 2 miles, it is quite steep—you will be descending from a mountaintop down to the beach, after all. But the effort is well worth it, as you will enjoy gorgeous greenery and romantic ocean views, while also venturing among ancient petroglyphs and the 18th-century ruins of Reef Bay Sugar Mill.
Snorkel the Shallow Waters off the Coast of Waterlemon Cay
For a day trip, head out to Waterlemon Cay, an uninhabited island just off the coast of St. John. With its fringing reef, shallow waters, and easy accessibility from the beach, Waterlemon Cay boasts some of the best snorkeling in the entire U.S. Virgin Islands. Seahorses, stingrays, and yellow and orange Cushio starfish await. And be sure to mind the Green Sea Turtles nesting in their bed of seagrass.
Hike the Ram Head Trail in Virgin Islands National Park
Here's another hike option for you! This time, it's the Ram Head Trail in Virgin Islands National Park in St. John. Although the distance is relatively short (approximately 3 miles), the trail itself is demanding. Pack proper hiking shoes, as you will need to climb and traverse massive rocks along the shoreline. But it's all worth it for the views of the southern tip of St. John, onto St. Thomas, and beyond to St. Croix (and even Puerto Rico on a clear day).
Climb to the Scenic Overlook at the Annaberg Plantation in St. John
Within Virgin Islands National Park, you can climb to the scenic overlook and stone ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Mill, an 18th-century sugar plantation that is now overgrown with all manner of tropical flora and fauna. But that’s not the only picturesque sight to behold once you’ve reached the top: The scenic lookout offers a stunning panoramic view across Leinster Bay (and Waterlemon Cay) across the British Virgin Islands. When it comes to breathtaking mountain views, the U.S. Virgin Islands never disappoint.