I’ve had a fascination with the Virgin Islands since I was a teenager (blame it on Kenny Chesney), so a few years ago I checked off a huge bucket list item when I spent two weeks island hopping around the VIs with a couple of girlfriends. And I’ve been trying to figure out how to get back ever since.
The Virgin Islands are world renowned for their gorgeous white sand beaches, lush green islands, turquoise water, and famous beach bars. This group of islands in the Caribbean (southeast of Puerto Rico) have long since been a haven for sailors, but in recent decades, adventuresome beach bums, sun worshippers, surfers, and yachties (as well as everyone’s favorite Caribbean Cowboy) have put the islands on the map as a can’t miss destination.
In this post, I’m going to give you the lay of the land of the Virgin Islands, share my travel itinerary, pull together some tips and must dos for my favorite islands, plus share some “need to knows” for planning your own vacation.
Lay of the Is(land)s
The string of islands collectively known as the “Virgin Islands” are a little honey hole in the Caribbean. The islands are split into the “US Virgin Islands” (USVIs) and the “British Virgin Islands” (BVIs) and although they all operate surprisingly fluidly for being part of two separate nations, it does present some quirks for travelers.
The US Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix) are a US territory, which means that if you’re an American, you don’t need a passport to travel these specific islands.
The British Virgin Islands (mainly Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, and Anegada along with a smattering of small, privitish islands) are a British Overseas Territory and as they’re part of her majesty’s crown, if you’re American, you WILL need a passport to travel to them.
Wherever your final destination, St. Thomas (USVI) is most people’s entry point into the Virgin Islands. There are flights to St. Croix and Tortola, but they’re often more expensive. From St. Thomas, it’s fairly easy to catch a ferry to any of the other islands. And unlike Hawaii, these islands are pretty close together so often you’re only taking about a 20-30 minute ferry ride between neighboring islands. This makes it relatively easy to hop between several different islands on one trip.
St. Thomas is a major cruise ship stop (a few also dock on Tortola), and it has made St. Thomas a certain kind of island. There’s expensive shopping, fancy resorts, a lot “to do,” but also a lot of crime. It’s not an island where people get out and freely explore, it’s an island where most people stay close to the ship, go on prearranged excursions, or stay close to their resorts. If you’re a tourist on St. John, expect to be pressured and hustled into cab rides, tours, etc. when you’re out on the streets. I make it sound like a bad island, and while I’m sure it’s not (and it’s incredibly beautiful!), we chose to spend as little time as possible on the island. It just wasn’t the kind of vacation we were going for.
A short ferry ride from St. Thomas is St. John. It’s the choice destination for travelers “in the know” who want to experience the beauty of the Virgin Islands without all of the chaos. A large portion of the north shore of the island is preserved as a U.S. National Park so the beaches there are pristine, unspoiled, and downright magical. It also means that there aren’t many amenities. You’ll have to drive in everyday and pack in and out everything you want to bring with you. There is quite a bit built up on St. John in other places (Cruz Bay is the hub), but it not overly crowded with tourists. I think it has the perfect balance of an undiscovered vibe while still having all the creature comforts that you’d want on vacation (beach bars, restaurants, cute boutiques, etc.)
I’ve not been to St. Croix but geographically, it’s an outlier. If it’s your final destination, it’s probably most convenient to take a direct flight. It’s known for being a playground of the rich and famous and its golf game is reportedly strong. It’s also the island that’s the most culturally preserved. If you’re interested in learning about the historical significance of these islands, it has the most sites to see.
Among the BVIs, Tortola is the main island although it doesn’t have the same vibe as St. Thomas. It’s a beautiful island, but mostly known as being a gateway to the smaller BVIs. So many visitors to the Virgin Islands come to sail, and Tortola is where most pick up their charters. It’s north shore is also a surfing hot spot (as hot as things get in the Caribbean) during the winter.
Virgin Gorda is famous for the Baths, a geological formation that’s created a maze of boulders that form sea caves, tunnels, tidepools, and a lagoon. It’s a major daytrip/excursions from the other islands and it’s not to be missed. The island also has some gorgeous beaches, lookouts, and the famous Bitter End Yacht Club.
Jost Van Dyke is where the party is at. This small island has to have the highest concentration of beach bars in the Caribbean and some of them truly are world famous (hello, Soggy Dollar!) On any given day, White Bay is filled with boats whose patrons jump overboard and swim to shore for a famed Painkiller at one of the half dozen beach bars that front it. Although there are places to stay, the island is primarily visited by day guests coming from other islands or by yachties moored offshore.
Anegada is probably the least visited of the Virgin Islands. It has a barrier reef that makes it difficult for sailors to approach, plus it doesn’t have the same type of terrain as the other islands (lush, green, and mountainous). The island is more flat and scrubby like the Bahamas. But it has the longest stretch of beaches in the islands, it’s famous for its lobster, and it has one of the best places to stay in the Virgin Islands.
In addition to these main islands, there are quite a few private islands in the BVIs that are home to exclusive resorts.
My Travel Itinerary
This trip was for two weeks in April/May, which is considered off season.
Arrival: We arrived on St. Thomas, grabbed a cab at the airport and headed to Redhook to catch the passenger ferry. If you’re renting your car on St. Thomas, the auto ferry leaves out of Charlotte Amalie (where the airport is). The ferry to St. John only takes about 20 minutes.
St. John: Once on St. John, we picked up our Jeep (provided by our Airbnb host) and checked into our place. We went “budget” on this leg of the trip and all I can say is…yuck. We spent three full days beach bumming around (mostly the north shore) visiting at least a couple different beaches each day, snorkeling at Trunk Bay, driving to different lookouts, and checking out the far side of the island. It rained off and on pretty much all three days so we spent a lot of time hiding out in beach bars. We had a nice dinner each night.
Virgin Gorda: On the morning of the fourth day, we took the first ferry from St. John to Virgin Gorda. I believe the ferry stopped in Tortola first to go through customs. Once on Virgon Gorda, we picked up our car (you could easily just take a taxi if you were going to see the Baths and then go back to St. John) and checked into our apartment. It was a downright palace compared to the last place. It had AC and a bathroom I wasn’t afraid to go in. Too bad we were only there for a night. We headed to the Baths next and had lunch at the Top of the Baths restaurant and spent a few hours climbing around and chilling at the beach. We spent the rest of the day driving the island to Savannah Beach and Hog’s Heaven at the top of the island and wrapped it up with a nice dinner at the trendy CocoMaya.
Anegada: The next morning we took the ferry to Anegada where we spent five nights. It was the longest portion of the trip because the girls I was traveling with (VI expert travelers) hadn’t been there yet and they really wanted to soak it up. We splurged and stayed a the Anegada Beach Club which is GLAMPING ON THE BEACH. This place made it worth staying at the budget place on St. John : ) Staying at the ABC is a major reason to go to Anegada. Otherwise, we enjoyed having a lobster dinner every night, visiting the island’s best beaches (I did the most walking and beach combing here), and hanging out at the Cow Wreck Beach Bar and Grill. There’s not a ton to do on this island, but it did feel like the nicest part of the vacation. But for me, that’s largely because it was the nicest place we stayed.
Jost Van Dyke: After five days on Anegada, we took the ferry to Jost Van Dyke (I’m pretty sure we stopped in Tortola this time). On Jost, we stayed in a little hotel compound on the top of the island. The views were gorgeous, but we had to drive down to the beach each day. We spent most of the time at White Bay, but ventured out to other parts to visit other beach bars and grills and even rented a dinghy one day to ride out to Sandy Cay and Sandy Spit. JVD probably had my favorite vibe and atmosphere of all the islands that I visited. We stayed on JVD for four nights.
Departure: We left JVD and took the ferry back to St. Thomas to catch our flight. We got there a couple of hours early and thought we’d explore a bit but dragging our suitcases everywhere made us huge targets and after batting away hustlers for a bit at a market, we just hopped in a cab and headed to the airport.
Here’s what I liked:
IT WAS SO BEAUTIFUL.
Getting to see so many different islands.
Not spending much time in St. Thomas.
Traveling with girls who knew the ins and outs of the islands made getting around on the ferries super easy.
Staying at the Anegada Beach Club.
A lot of downtime just hanging around different beach bars. Beach bars in the VIs are usually located on the best beaches on the islands and have plenty of chairs set out for people to use. Drinks are cheap, and most also have a grill. So you’re not just sitting in a bar.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
In hindsight, I would’ve done the ratio of days per island different. Being on Virgin Gorda for one night felt like a hassle. I would’ve either gone as a daytrip or stayed for 2-3 days. 5 days was way too long on Anegada.
Staying at “budget” places. I’m just not a budget traveler and generally how I remember a trip usually depends on where I stayed. So if I did it again, I’d probably go for a shorter time period and stay at nicer places.
And now…here’s a guide for each island I visited. I’ve included favorites of mine plus places and things I would try next time based on research.
Even though I didn’t have the best part of my trip on St. John (yucky weather and yucky accommodations haha) I think it’s still the best overall island in the Virgin Islands and if you’re looking for one island to use as a basecamp for your trip, it should definitely be your go to. It has such a nice mix amenities and natural beauty. It feels discovered in the best way possible, not overly so but enough to make it comfortable. Here’s a quick guide to my favorites on St. John:
Where to Stay on St. John
There aren’t a ton of resorts on St. John (and you won’t find any of the mega, all-inclusive types) but there are a couple as well as some small inns:
The Westin St. John: This is the most traditional resort on the island and the property is beautiful after a recent renovation. The resort is beachfront, although not on one of St. John’s best. Service here seems to be a gamble. Check rates and availability here.
Gallows Point Resort: Gallows Point is the perfect place to stay if you want nice accommodations, close proximity to town (Cruz Bay), and an oceanfront location. This five acre resort located on a small peninsula just south of Cruz Bay has one or two bedroom options with either ocean or harbor views. Check rates and availability here.
Caneel Bay Resort: Caneel Bay is a historic resort (opened in 1956 by Laurance Rockefeller) nestled right in the middle of Virgin Islands National Park and is one of the only beachfront resorts of St. John. It has an understated luxurious feel and is perfect if you’re searching for the most relaxing experience on St. John. Check rates and availability here.
Estate Lindholm: This quaint 16-room boutique property overlooking Cruz Bay is housed on a historic estate amidst ruins from the 1800s. It’s also the only privately owned inn or hotel within the Virgin Islands National Park and while located conveniently near Cruz Bay, it’s also a short hike from Salomon and Honeymoon beach. Check rates and availability here.
I think the best option on St. John is to rent a house or vacation rental through Vrbo. Depending on what you’re looking for (number of rooms, location, budget, etc.) you’ll find PLENTY of options! Vacation rental accommodations are often nicer than at a resort and you’ll find a lot with spectacular views and even a private pool. What you won’t find a lot of are rentals right on the beach. I recommend starting with a search here to look into your options.
Where to Eat on St. John
If planning where you’re going to eat on vacation is a big deal for you, then you’re going to love St. John. Unlike some other Caribbean islands I’ve visited, St. John has plenty of dining options, from fancy places with killer views to basic beach bars with epic happy hours. The majority of restaurants on St. John are located in Cruz Bay although you’ll find a few in Coral Bay. Here are some favorite spots:
For find dining and great ambiance…
Asolare: The food has a fancy pants French flair, but let’s be honest…you’re really coming here for the view. You’ll need a reservation and ask for a table along the railing. You should plan your reservation to coincide with sunset, as it’s a fabulous spot for it. While the open-air feel gives a casual ambiance, you’ll want to dress up a bit. This place ain’t no beach bar!
For Kenny Chesney spotting…
Woody’s Seafood Saloon: It’s a St. John institution and in addition to a tourist destination (thanks Kenny) it’s also a local’s spot especially if you hit it during happy hour. It’s in Cruz Bay but not near the water so I wouldn’t make it your evening’s destination but maybe just a stop before.
Quiet Mon Pub: This Irish Pub is another St. John must do and definitely your best bet for a Guinness on the island. Its upstairs location (no water views though) makes it good for people watching and you’ll always find a game on TV. Stop by for a drink or two before dinner.
For a classic beach bar in Cruz Bay…
The Beach Bar: As the name suggests, this is the ultimate destination in Cruz Bay for laid back waterfront dining (and drinking). It’s a casual place just a stone’s throw from the water (they actually have some tables down in the sand) and they do a great happy hour ($3 Painkillers and $4 Bush Whackers).
Joe’s Rum Hut: Right next to The Beach Bar, Joe’s has rum (duh) but also really good eats. Don’t miss the lobster pizza. You’ll get an entire lobster tail worth of lobster on your pizza and it might just be the best thing you eat on St. John.
For breakfast in Cruz Bay…
Baked in the Sun: Baked in the Sun was my go to spot to grab breakfast in the mornings before heading out to the beaches on the north shore. They make a mean breakfast sandwich and their assortment of baked goods and desserts is mind-boggling. I tried something different each time and was never disappointed. You can sit in the bakery and eat or take it to go.
Waterfront Bistro: This is THE spot to sip mimosas at brunch on St. John. Or really anytime. Great eggs, great chicken and waffles, great eggs benedict, great everything. As the name suggests, it’s right on the water in Cruz Bay. They’re also open for lunch and dinner.
For a spot in Coral Bay…
Skinny Legs: Just a little local joint in Coral Bay, Skinny Legs is one of the best spots on St. John for a burger and beer. If you find yourself over on that side of the island (maybe visiting the Salt Ponds or hiking Ram Head) then make this your lunch spot.
Chateaux Bordeaux: This controversial little restaurant boasts some of the best views on the island but you’ll have to put up with the owner’s quirks. They’ve gone to a lot of pains to protect the view (“this is a restaurant, not a viewing spot!”) so don’t be surprised if you pick up on some of that. The food is good and while some say over priced, I’ll just say that no place I ever went on St. John really seemed all that cheap. Check it out for the view, but be prepared to order a full lunch! It’s a convenient spot if you’re spending the day at Maho, Francis, or Leinster Bay.
St. John Beaches
If you’re going to St. John it’s probably because you’re in search of those famed idyllic beaches and the good news is, they don’t disappoint! Most, if not all, of St. John’s famous beaches are located on its north shore starting in Cruz Bay and stretching all the way across the top of the island. Since St. John is part of the Virgin Islands National Park, the majority of the island (especially its shorelines) are protected so you won’t find many resorts or houses directly on any of its beaches. Most people visiting St. John will stay in a vacation rental and drive to different beaches everyday. If you’re staying a week, you could hit up a different beach everyday and still not visit them all. A lot of people spend the week “beach hopping” (one beach in the morning and another one in the afternoon) so they can check all of them out ad find the favorite.
Here’s a breakdown of St. John’s north shore beaches that included which ones I loved, which ones I didn’t, which ones have the best snorkeling, and which ones require a decent little hike.
Salomon Bay: This is the first beach you’ll come to after leaving Cruz Bay, and it requires a little trek to get down to it. Once you come up the first big hill leaving Cruz Bay, you’ll come to a small parking area with a national parks sign. Park there and follow the trail down to either Salomon Bay or Honeymoon Beach. Because of the hike, Salomon isn’t usually very crowded. Honeymoon beach has good amenities and some boat excursions stop to snorkel the reef in front of Honeymoon beach so it’s often more crowded. If you’re looking for an easier hike to Salomon, start in Cruz Bay behind the National Parks Visitors Center and you’ll be hiking a bit farther but parallel to the shore the whole time (this saves you the exhausting hike back up to get to your car).
Caneel Bay: Caneel Bay is one of the few places where you’ll find a resort right on the beach (Caneel Bay Resort) but unless you’re staying there, you probably won’t visit the beach there. You’ll either have to park your car along the road and walk in or pay $20 to park at the resort. If you’re only on St. John for a short time, skip it. You’ll find better, more accessible beaches elsewhere.
Hawksnest Beach: Hawksnest is the first wide-open beach you’ll come to on the north shore and that convenience makes it popular. It’s a beautiful wide-open beach but it’s pretty narrow and often times crowded. There’s quite a bit of parking though so if you can find a spot it’s easy to stop, check it out, and see if you want to set up camp there for the day.
Gibney/Oppenheimer Beach: A little further down the road, but still on Hawksnest Bay is one of my favorite spots. You’ll recognize it by the white picket fence (where there’s a few parking spots and there’s also a few more spots just down the road in front of the iron gate). It’s a small beach and the parking situation isn’t the greatest but you’ll want to stop here because this is where the famous tire swing is! I couldn’t resist a photo op.
Jumbie Beach: The next beach you’ll come to is Jumbie. It’s marked with a sign and has about four parking spots across the road. There’s a short hike to the bottom where you’ll find a small beach that’s a little rocky in places. It’s not the best spot for swimming but what I love about this beach are the beautiful cacti growing everywhere.
Trunk Bay: St. John’s most famous beach (most visited and most photographed) doesn’t disappoint. There’s a $5 entrance fee but this beach has all of the amenities you could need including showers, restrooms, a snack bar, and gear rentals (snorkels and chairs). There’s an underwater snorkel trail and you’ll see some incredible coral and fish. Trunk can get crowded so go early in the morning or pick a day when there’s no cruise ships docked in St. Thomas, as it’s a popular excursion.
Cinnamon Bay: If you’re looking for a longer stretch of sand with all of the amenities, Cinnamon is hard to beat. It actually even has a campground. It’s easy to spend a whole day here as there’s plenty of parking, a full service restaurant, showers and changing rooms, gear rentals (including kayaks) and of course a beautiful beach.
Maho Bay: This is my favorite beach on St. John. It has an amazing overlook, you can park right next to the beach, the water is super calm, the snorkeling is pretty terrific, it’s a decent sized stretch of sand, and it has a pair of epic palm trees. This is definitely a beach to spend the day at.
Francis Bay: Francis is the last main beach on the north shore, which usually makes it a little less crowded. It also faces a different direction than all of the other north shore beaches so it often has less wind.
Leinster Bay: Leinster Bay and Waterlemon Cay are pretty much the end of the road when it comes to north shore beaches. To reach Leinster, you’ll park at the Annaberg Ruins (ah-mazing!) and take a flat but long trail along the water’s edge until you come to a tiny (and thin) stretch of sand. While Leinster isn’t the best beach on the north shore, the snorkeling is a favorite spot. Wade offshore and snorkel across to Waterlemon Cay. It’s only about 0.1 miles at the closest point (keep hiking past the sandy beach) and one of the best places on St. John to find starfish.
So there’s my rundown of 10 of St. John’s best north shore beaches. But don’t take my word for it, part of the fun in a trip to St. John is exploring them all and finding YOUR favorite.
Snorkeling at Trunk Bay
Besides beach bumming and making the rounds to the beach bars, snorkeling at Trunk Bay is my number one-don’t miss on St. John. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it’s the best snorkeling in the Caribbean (it’s not), but the overlook and beach is GORGEOUS and the snorkeling is very accessible. Plus I’m a National Parks bucket-lister so I couldn’t pass it up. Since it’s part of the Virgin Islands National Park (it’s highly protected and kept in pristine condition), this means that a trip to Trunk Bay isn’t entirely unlike visiting the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone (a lot of rules and regulations, park fees, and swarms of tourists).
The National Coral Monument is the big draw (besides the pristine beach) and it’s what you’ll be snorkeling around. Trunk Bay actually has an underwater snorkeling trail that guides you along in the beginning and the underwater plaques contain info on the various species of fish and coral you’ll see as well as the local ecosystem. As part of your $5 entrance fee, you’ll get to use the facilities including restrooms, showers, a snack bar, and a gift shop where you can rent snorkel gear.
Here’s my two cents on snorkeling here: The markers were interesting to read but honestly the snorkeling didn’t get good until after the trail was over. I’m not sure what most people do but I snorkeled all the way around the little island (National Coral Monument). You have to go pretty far out before you’ll start seeing anything much. At first the coral seemed pretty brown, yellow, and orange but after awhile I started seeing some pretty amazing fish and purple fan coral.
Once you reach the end of the island, I would suggest turning back if you’re not a confident swimmer. While the interior side of the island is calm and sheltered, the backside is pretty windy and choppy (at least on the day I was there) and I think nervous swimmers might get kind of freaked out being so far away from the shore in such conditions (but check it out for yourself when you’re there).
Now the other side of the island (heading back to the beach) had some amazing coral formations. I call it “brain coral.” That’s a very technical term.
I’m not sure how long it took to snorkel around the little island but I’m a pretty strong swimmer and I was left feeling a little winded. Also, I wasn’t wearing fins. Dumb. If I’d had fins on, I don’t think it would’ve been a hard swim at all.
Overall, I’m not sure if Trunk really lived up to the hype for me, but then again I had just come back from snorkeling in Turks and Caicos (ah-mazing) and I’ve snorkeled quite a bit in Hawaii so it’s all perspective. I still think it’s a must do on St. John (definitely something everybody should see for themselves!) but the real gem here you guys is the beach!! Oh wow. St. John has some pretty amazing beaches, but it’s possible that this was my favorite. I’m sure it can get pretty crowded in the afternoons and I would definitely avoid going on days when there’s a cruise ship in port in St. Thomas.
If you’re visiting the British Virgin Islands (BVIs), Virgin Gorda has got to be on your list. Whether you’re staying on the island, coming over for the day from another island or dropping anchor offshore, is not to be missed!
Where to Stay
Even though most people come for the day, there are a few nice places to stay:
Leverick Bay Resort: Right on the beach, Leverick Bay Resort is a great place to stay if you like to be in the middle of a lot of action. They have a marina which makes it a bit of a hang out spot. Check rates and availability here.
Mango Bay Resort: This would be my pick for the most relaxing resort like accommodations on the island. The resort sits on a wide stretch of white sand beach, but it’s much more intimate than a big mega resort.
Vrbo: Like St. John, I think the best option on Virgin Gorda is probably a house rental. Try a search here and I bet you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for. We stayed at the Bayview Vacation Apartments in Spanishtown and it was perfectly nice.
Where to Eat on Virgin Gorda
I was only on island for a short time so I don’t have many recommendations, but the two I do have are pretty fabulous:
Hog Heaven. This little dive bar sets high up in the clouds and offers the most beautiful views of Virgin Gorda and the North Sound including the Bitter End Yacht Club and Saba Rock. Because this spot is so high up, it gets pretty windy (and chilly) so you’re probably going to want a jacket!
Coco Maya. For some of the best beachfront dining atmosphere in the BVIs, make a reservation at Coco Maya for sunset. It’s sleek and cool yet has a laid back atmosphere which compliments the Asian fusion cuisine and there’s some adorable little couches nestled around a fire pit in the sand for after dinner drinks.
Things to Do on Virgin Gorda
Spring Bay. Right next to the Baths, Spring Bay is quite beautiful and a great stop either before or after the Baths. It has a similar vibe (big boulders, white sand beach, gorgeous water) but isn’t nearly as crowded as The Baths.
Savannah Bay. This might be the prettiest beach in the Virgin Islands. Seriously. It’s a huge white stretch of sand on the most beautiful water you’ve ever seen (and you’re more than likely to have the whole thing to yourself). But while the beach is awesome, it’s made to be seen from the overlook above. Even if you’re just on VG for a short time to see The Baths, consider hiring a taxi to drive you to the overlook. You won’t regret it.
The Baths are the reason why most people visit Virgin Gorda. The huge boulders that descend in a mazelike fashion to beautiful white sand beaches and a tranquil turquoise bay are world famous. I wrote a whole post about how much I loved this place and it’s got some good tips for visitors. This is Virgin Gorda’s #1 attraction and something you CANNOT MISS.
I’ve got to say, of all of the things I had planned during my trip to the Virgin Islands, seeing the Baths on Virgin Gorda was the one I was most excited about. I see amazing pictures of the smooth boulders and the maze like path they make as they descend to the ocean ALL THE TIME on Pinterest and could not wait to finally experience them in person.
It was around noon when we arrived and we were STARVING so we stopped at Top of the Baths for some lunch. This place is a must do to get the total Baths experience. Top of the Baths is like a little resort right at the Baths entrance (minus the rooms!). There’s a lovely restaurant with incredible views of…you guessed it…the top of the Baths, several shops and even a fresh water pool that feels so good during the heat of the day.
After our lunch, we paid our admission ($3) and began the hike down to the Baths. They can get pretty crowded during the day so most locals recommend visiting before 9 or after 3 although we started about 1 and it wasn’t crowded at all.
For the first part of the trail, you’ll most likely want shoes. It’s a slow decent with some of the path being rock and some being sand and a few steps every now and then. Also, expect to see a lot of cacti! Once you reach the bottom you’ll find a little bar serving up drinks and snacks as well as small lockers. There are a few picnic tables and a nice little beach if you want to hang out awhile but here is where the real fun begins.
At this point you’ll either want to go barefoot or wear some kind of water shoes (they have them available for rent) as you hang a left and follow the sign towards the Baths and Devil’s Bay. For the next 20-30 minutes you’ll navigate through caves, across boulders, up small ladders, and through short tunnels until you finally reach Devil’s Bay. Once you get there you’re rewarded with a swim in a beautiful little bay. When you’re ready to head back up to the top, you can either go back up the way you came (keep in mind you’ll be going upstream and against the crowd) or you can take the trail that leads towards the “car park”. It’s still quite a hike (I was huffing and puffing) but it’s straightforward and packed with cool terrain.
Once you’re back at the top, stop in at the gift shop and get the obligatory souvenir t shirt and I’m telling you, that swimming pool is going to look so dang good you WILL jump in.
We stayed the night on Virgin Gordo to see the baths and a few other things, but it’s very doable as a day trip from other islands. The cheapest way to go is by ferry. There’s a direct ferry from St. John a couple of times a week. It usually runs about $55 round trip (you’ll have to pay around $25 in taxes when you leave the BVI also) and takes a little over an hour and a half if it’s running on time (which it isn’t always). The ferry docks in Spanish Town (you’ll have to clear customs) and then you’ll need to grab a cab to the Baths (it’s not far though). Just be sure to keep an eye on the return time for the ferry (it’s usually around 3:45 or so) and leave the Baths in plenty of time to get back. You can also catch a ferry from Tortola (closer) and St. Thomas (farther and it may stop in St. John).
If you’re familiar with the British Virgin Islands, you’ve probably seen the Baths on Virgin Gorda, been to the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke, or maybe even chartered out of Tortola, but fewer people make it out to Anegada. It’s one of the four main islands in the BVI but its location and topography keep it a little more under wraps. It’s the northeast most island in the chain and about an hour (by fast ferry) from Tortola. It’s also completely flat (the only non-volcanic island in the chain) and surrounded by a sizeable reef. The reef situation keeps less experienced captains away (many charter companies won’t let you go there) and its isolation leaves many yachties foregoing it in favor of more popular and convenient spots.
But let me tell you, if you’re looking for the undiscovered BVIs, Anegada is it.
So first off…how to decide if you’ll like Anegada…
You’ll like Anegada if…
- You like places that are a little off the beaten path.
- You like wide-open long stretches of white sand beaches. The beaches here are perfect for long walks unlike the little coves and bays on some of the other islands.
- You like quiet and solitude.
- You like to snorkel, bonefish, or kite surf.
- You LOVE lobster.
You probably won’t like Anegada if…
- You need a lot to do. There are about three different beaches on the island and that’s it.
- You’re expecting epic views and lush green mountainous landscapes. It’s a flat island and Tortola and Virgin Gorda are a little too far away to be seen any other way than very faintly in the background.
- You like to fly by the seat of your pants. It’ll take planning to get to Anegada (limited ferry schedule) and there are only a handful of restaurants on the island all of which require you to make a reservation for dinner and place your order in advance.
- You can’t stand bugs. The mosquito situation was worse here than anywhere else in the Virgin Islands.
Getting to Anegada: This is the tricky part. Most people come by boat (either their own or a charter), but keep in mind that many charters have rules about letting you take their boats to Anegada. Only a very experienced captain should attempt sailing into Anegada (several people told us that their boats were moored in less than four feet of water). Anegada has also been the site of quite a few shipwrecks due to its reefs. We came by ferry. The ferry service is limited and you’ll most likely be coming from Road Town (Tortola) although the ferries make stops a couple of days a week in Virgin Gorda. There’s also a teeny tiny airport on the island if you’re daring enough to brave an island hopper from Tortola.
Where to Stay on Anegada
Anegada Beach Club: “Glamorous” and “camping” are two words that I don’t normally associate with each other, but glamping at the Anegada Beach Club has made me think differently. The ABC blends the perfect mix of luxe amenities with undisturbed rugged beauty to create a truly unique and magical experience for guests. Check rates and availability here.
The resort has five tents that front the beautiful white sand beach (there were two others set back on a second row as well as some more traditional guest rooms situated more towards the pool and restaurant area), and obviously, apart from it being a tent, there was nothing rustic about our setup.
So besides the ah-mazing beachfront tents at the ABC, the resort has quite a few nice amenities. The resort boasts the only pool on Anegada (and they keep it at the perfect temperature) and up by the restaurant/bar/pool areas are plenty of hammocks and places to lounge around in.
The restaurant had some of the best food we had on the island and they served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The staff was also nice enough to fill our Yeti tumblers up with ice for us so we’d had cool drinks down at the beach. Speaking of the beach, the ABC had plenty of beach loungers and palapas that provided shade.
After spending 5 nights at the ABC, here’s my takeaway: the Anegada Beach Club is like a really cool summer camp for adults! Now mind you, I never went away to summer camp but I have my ideas. Maybe it’s the tents, or maybe it’s the small but super friendly staff or the other tent dwellers that were oh-so-happy to sit around the beach bar and chat over Pain Killers, but the ABC has a real community feel that makes it perfect for a true getaway.
If you’re skeptical about sleeping in a tent, here’s the deal: 1) the bathrooms were probably the nicest I’ve ever had ANYWHERE, 2) it was downright luxurious, 3) everything is netted to keep out mosquitoes plus there was an electric mosiquito killer, 4) fans kept up plenty cool at night, 5) we had a couple of stormy and windy nights and even though it sure sounded like we were going to blow away, I’m happy to report that we didn’t ; )
Anegada Reef Hotel: This is a good option also. It’s pretty bare bones but it’s right near the ferry dock and they have a nice restaurant. It’s lacking a good beach through (you’d need a car to go elsewhere). Check rates and availability here.
Big Bamboo: These are cottages on Loblolly Beach, which is one of the prettiest beaches on the island. There’s also a great beach bar on site (the oldest on the island), which serves lunch and dinner. Check rates and availability here.
Besides these spots, you’ll find more options on VRBO. Look into Keel Point Cottages and Lavender Breeze while you’re there.
Where to Eat
So here’s the low down on restaurants on Anegada. For breakfast and lunch you can just show up. For dinner, you’ll need to make a reservation by 4 PM and place your order in advance. Restaurants don’t cook to order. Also, don’t miss having a lobster dinner on Anegada…it’s what they’re famous for!
The Wonky Dog is one of the newer restaurants on the island and always a popular spot. I had the full lobster dinner here (grilled, but they have several variations) and it was ah-mazing. The bartender, Aaron, is fun and puts on quite the show. If you’re only on Anegada for one night, make this your dinner spot.
The Anegada Beach Club does breakfast, lunch, and dinner and I thought they had the best overall menu on the island. It’s not on the water but still has a fun atmosphere. For dinner, the lobster fettuccine alfredo is awesome. They also set out bug spray on every table. : )
Cow Wreck Bar and Grill is a spot you definitely don’t want to miss! This is a place you can hang out all day. Cow Wreck beach was my favorite beach on the island and this little beach bar has plenty of shady spots. Great drinks, perfect views, good food (homemade pie!) and friendly staff make this a very popular hang out spot during the day.
Big Bamboo on famous Loblolly Beach is the oldest restaurant on the island. You can’t see the beach from the restaurant but it’s a nice spot to get out of the sun for awhile. They also do dinner.
The Anegada Reef Hotel is a popular spot in town (right next to the ferry dock) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’ right on the water and the lobster omelet was pretty good!
Neptune’s Treasure is a dinner spot (didn’t get to try it out) but Pam’s Bakery is also on site. She does baked goods and breakfast on a covered porch right on the water. This is a great spot for breakfast with a view.
The entire island honestly feels like one long beach but some spots are more popular and accessible than others.
Cow Wreck Beach: Named after a ship wrecked on the reef carrying cow bones, this spot was my favorite beach on the island. The sand is pristine, you can walk for miles in either direction, and the beach bar has plenty of Adirondack chairs and shade. You can also snorkel off of the beach.
Loblolly Beach: This is the most famous beach on the island and it’s very idyllic. I was a little disappointed in the conditions when I was there (high winds made the water choppy and the beach was covered in seaweed) but normally it’s quite beautiful. The Big Bamboo also provides benches covered with little palapas. This is a popular snorkeling spot. If you’re a beachcomber, you’ll be in heaven if you walk to the right of the Big Bamboo and explore along the rocks. I literally found hundreds of sea urchins!
Keel Point: This is the beach the Anegada Beach Club is located on and it’s about a 45 minute walk east of Cow Wreck Beach (park at the ABC though for direct access). They provide sun beds and palapas. The snorkeling is good off the beach with the sea grass attracting turtles.
Things to Do
Beach bumming is the main activity on the island, but here are a few others:
Snorkeling: Anegada’s reefs make it a popular snorkeling destination. Loblolly is a popular spot as well as Cow Wreck and Keel Point.
Bonefishing: This is a popular sport and many fishermen will come over for the day from Tortola for bone fishing excursions.
Kitesurfing: Perfect conditions make Anegada a popular spot with kite surfers. Tommy Gaunt Kitesurfing at the Anegada Beach Club is the place to learn. Keep in mind that it’ll take three lessons before you’re actually on the board, in what water, with the kite.
Flamingo Spotting: Anegada’s protected salt ponds are home to a flock of pink flamingos! They stay far away from the closest road though so you’ll likely only see a blur of pink dots.
Jost Van Dyke
If you’re sailing the BVI, I’m willing to bet you’re making a stop on Jost Van Dyke. You should be at least…it’s BEAUTIFUL! It’s a tiny little island and most day visitors are really just on a mission to get to the Soggy Dollar, but if you’re on a boat, or even staying on St. John or Tortola, plan to add on a stay on the island for a couple of days. There are plenty of things to do on Jost Van Dyke that make it much more than just a day trip.
Where to Stay on Jost Van Dyke
So now you can see that there’s definitely enough to do for at least a couple of days on Jost Van Dyke. If you’re not staying on a boat, here are a few places to stay on the island:
Evening Star Villas: This is where I stayed and I’d highly recommend it. It’s on the very top of the island and the views are ah-mazing. The only downside is you have to drive to the beach.
Ivan’s Stress Free Campground: If you’re willing to go rustic, Ivan’s is right on White Bay. We looked into staying here and the cabins looked nice but they had a shared bathroom.
Sandcastle Hotel: **Still closed from Hurricane Irma** Located at the Soggy Dollar, the Sandcastle Hotel has two oceanfront cottages, two garden cottages, and two standard rooms with A/C. Each cottage has its own enclosed outdoor shower. All guests here have to be 16+. The pro here is you’re steps away from beautiful White Bay and those famous painkillers. The drawback is it’s always crowded and busy.
Pink House Villas: Also on White Bay (but to a secluded end) are the Pink House Villas. The property includes two 3-bedroom/3-bathroom houses right on the beach. If I were coming with a group, I would definitely stay here.
Check for vacation rentals here.
Where to Eat on Jost Van Dyke (A.K.A., the beach bar situation):
Soggy Dollar Bar: This is the most famous bar on Jost Van Dyke and the #1 stop on pretty much everybody’s itinerary. The bar got its name from sailors who dropped anchor, swam ashore, and paid for their drinks with soggy dollars. Yachties and tourists alike keep the tradition alive today by jumping off their boats and swimming up for one of the Soggy Dollar’s famous Pain Killers. White Bay, which is one of the most beautiful beaches in the BVIs, is packed with boats bringing people to the Soggy Dollar everyday (many tour boats make the Soggy Dollar a stop on their route from St. John and Tortola). Soggy Dollar is a well oiled machine with great (and quick) bartenders, plenty of beach chairs, and or course, a gift shop. They usually serve a limited breakfast and lunch with appetizers from 4:30 to 6 and dinner by reservation only. Soggy Dollar is THE place to be on Jost Van Dyke when the sun’s up.
Foxy’s: Located in Great Harbor, Foxy’ is a Jost Van Dyke tradition with its namesake being a larger than life personality famous for being a legendary host and patriarch to most of the island. If Soggy Dollar is the place to be when the sun’s up, Foxy’s is the place to be when the sun goes down. Come for dinner and stay for karaoke and dancing. You won’t be sorry. Foxy’s also has a great gift shop with more than just logo wear. They also sell bikinis, cover ups, and everything you need for a great beach vacation.
Ivan’s Stress Free Bar: Located at the far end of White Bay (you’ll have to take a little trail along the rocks to get there if you’re coming from the Soggy Dollar), Ivan’s is the only bar on this section of the beach so it’s usually pretty quiet ad they have plenty of sunbeds. Come for the Thursday night BBQ and the karaoke and dancing afterwards.
One love Bar and Grill: This little hideaway is located at the opposite end of White Bay than the Soggy Dollar and therefore it usually has a much quieter and more laid back atmosphere. It’s a classic beach bar but in addition to great drinks, owner Ceddy Callwood (Foxy’s son) serves up some truly delicious grub (people go nuts over his lobster quesadillas). So get your drinks at the Soggy Dollar if you must, but go chow down at One Love.
Gertrude’s: For another option on White Bay, head to Gertrude’s (right next to the Soggy Dollar). You’ll get a very local experience here. Gertrude turned 100 this year and she’ll flat out tell you how it is. You make your own drinks here and pay by the cup so that’s always fun. They also serve lunch.
Hendo’s Hideaway: The last spot on White Bay is a new one. Hendo’s Hideaway has a slightly more upscale feel than other spots on White Bay (and by that I mean it has a wooden floor). It’s still new so they’re working out the food menu but the drinks are great and they have plenty of tables and chairs and even a few hammocks.
Corsair’s: Located on Great Bay, Corsair’s is one of the best beach bars on the island where you can actually get proper food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They’re famous for their Pirate Sandwich, which is a fried egg, peanut butter, and red onion on toast with a shot of rum, but they have plenty of other less “eccentric” options as well. I particularly like Corsair’s for breakfast.
Foxy’s Taboo: Foxy’s definitely has it down when it comes to beach bars but just for kicks, they opened up Foxy’s Taboo which is a quieter full fledged restaurant with a Mediterranean inspired menu. You’ll need reservations for dinner but I love to stop here for a late afternoon snack (the baked brie, hummus, and Mediterranean chips and salsa are all winners).
Beeline: Just across the bay from Foxy’s Taboo on Little Jost Van Dyke is the Beeline. It can only be reached by boat, which adds to the fun. It’s also cash only. This is a fun stop after a trip to Sandy Cay or Sandy Spit. There’s a small dock for dinghies.
Things to Do on Jost Van Dyke
Karaoke night at Foxy’s. Foxy’s is a Jost Van Dyke institution and THE place to be every night but when it’s karaoke night (usually Wednesdays), you don’t want to miss it. Make reservations for dinner and the bar will be hopping. You’ll hear some of your favorite Kenny Chesney songs before the dance party starts and then it’s everybody on the floor! Karaoke is more of an audience participation kind of affair as everybody ends up dancing and singing together. Trust me-you’ll want to join in. Ivan’s has their BBQ grill and karaoke night on Thursdays so hit that one as well.
Bubbly Pool: One of the only hikes on Jost Van Dyke will lead you to the Bubbly Pool, a natural phenomenon that will feel like your very own spa if you time your visit right. I didn’t time my visit right (I think it was low tide) so the Bubble Pool was more like a tiny puddle but it was still pretty neat! Water rushes in from the ocean through the rocks and fills the pool up with bubbles. To start your hike, park behind Foxy’s Taboo ad follow the shore around (to the east) until you pick up a trail through the trees. It’s fairly well cleared and marked (there’s also signs to avoid poisonous trees) and it’ll turn rocky right before you reach the pools. Just use caution and don’t get too close to the rocks. After your hike, have some pizza or appetizers at Foxy’s Taboo or there’s also a little bakery right there. If you’re coming by boat, you can use the dinghy dock at Foxy’s Taboo.
The next three spots can only be reached by boat. If you’re not on a boat, you can rent a dinghy, which will be more than capable of getting you to all of the spots. We rented ours from Dave (he’s the chef at Foxy’s and all of the locals seem to know he rents out a couple of dinghies so it’s easy enough to procure his number) and picked it up at the dock in Great Harbor in front of Corsair’s. You’ll also see flyers and rack cards all over the island for rentals.
Sandy Cay: If you’re looking for a picturesque beach with few croweds, check out Sandy Cay just off of Jost Van Dyke. It has a beautiful beach and some nature trails and it’s a great spot for photos as well as to lay out and enjoy the sunshine for a couple of hours.
Sandy Spit: Even smaller than Sandy Cay, Sandy Spit is just what it sounds like, a sandy spit in the middle of the ocean. A pristine white beach (with perfect little pockets for beach combing) is home to one lone palm tree and the opportunity to feel like a true castaway.
Little Jost Van Dyke: Just a stone’s through from Jost Van Dyke is Little Jost Van Dyke and really the only thing here is the Beeline beach bar. It’s a great sop if you’re on a boat for the day. Have a cold drink with your feet in the sand while you play a bar game or two.
Top of the Island: There’s a great overlook above White Bay that can be reached via a VERY steep road. It’s just a little dirt road heading back up the island from the small road in White Bay (behind Soggy Dollar). Ask around for directions if you can’t find it but if you have a car, it’s definitely worth the drive up.
Who are the Virgin Islands perfect for?
If you’ve made it this far (golly, it’s been a long post!), you’ve probably gotten the vibe that each island is a little different and worth seeing, BUT overall the Virgin Islands have a similar feel and travel within them works the same way. This makes it ideal for certain types of travelers and less so for others.
Here’s who will LOVE the Virgin Islands:
People who like to get a real feel for the places they travel to.
Serious beach bums who don’t mind packing up all their gear, hiking, and setting up camp to enjoy some of the best beaches and prettiest water this earth has to offer.
U.S. National Park aficionados.
Sailors, yachties, or anyone with enough money to charter one.
Kenny Chesney mega fans.
People who enjoy a slow pace when on vacation and are content with a lot of “sitting around” but not many luxury amenities.
Budget travelers who like to snag cheap accommodations and spend time in beautiful surroundings where there aren’t a lot of hoops to jump through (like trying to find beach access on resort row).
Here’s who MIGHT prefer to vacation somewhere else:
People looking for a top notch resort experience. There are some resorts in the Virgin Islands, but they don’t compare with what you’ll find elsewhere in the Caribbean (and that includes both mega all inclusive resorts and more exclusive luxury resorts).
People who want to stay right on the beach. Most places to stay aren’t right on the beach. The VIs are more rugged and mountainous so most nice accommodations will be set back from the ocean.
People who want to only unpack once. The VIs are an island hoppers paradise. The beauty of them is how easily you can move from island to island. If you’re just going to camp out in one place, you can probably find a better setup on other islands in the Caribbean.
People who want luxury. Unless you’re on a yacht, you’re just not going to find it here.
People who need a lot to do or be entertained. It’s all about nature in the VIs. And beach bars.
People who need things to run on a schedule. “Island time” is very real here. Locals are not in a hurry and even ones who work in hospitality don’t seem particularly concerned about prompt or attentive service.
People who can’t handle mosquitoes. They’re seriously bad here. Most about that below.
Tips for YOUR Trip
Here are a few helpful things to know before you head to the Virgin Islands:
Mosquitoes can be pretty bad in the Vis, especially on St. John where the majority of the island is preserved as a national park and some of the outer islands like Jost Van Dyke and Anegada. Bring or buy plenty of bug spray (the kind with deet!) and consider using the wristbands as well. I’m pretty much immune to mosquitoes (didn’t wear spray on St. John, Virgin Gorda, or Jost Van Dyke), but my friends (who covere themselves in spray) were completely eaten up after one day on St. John. On Anegada, I didn’t get any bites but was completely swarmed by them several times and one time at dinner we had to pack up our food and head back to our room because they were absolutely everywhere (I’m talking clouds of them).
It’s not unusual to see chickens, cows, donkeys, and goats roaming the islands (especially in St. John) so drive carefully.
Most of the islands have SUPER steep roads (especially on St. John’s famed north shore) with some pretty tight turns. If it’s raining or the roads are wet, you’ll probably want 4WD.
Island time is a very real thing in the VIS, but here’s what it really means: THEY can be late but YOU can’t. Plan to arrive early for excursions, ferries, and appointments, but don’t be in a big rush if they’re not on time.
The VIs are a very laid back place. Unlike other Caribbean islands, you won’t find many people getting dressed up for dinner (unless it’s a very fancy place). Swimsuits, tees, hats, and flip flops are perfectly acceptable most places.
The currency in both the British and US islands is the US dollar and most imports come from the US Virgin Islands (St. Thomas) so it doesn’t feel very British.
What does feel very British is the fact that they drive on the left side of the road (including in the US Virgin Islands. Try to figure that one out!).
If you’re relying on ferries, check, double check, and triple check the schedule. Check it online and call to verify (especially on ferries that run on a limited schedule to the outer islands). By far the most complicated part of island hopping is figuring out the ferries. Some run every day, multiple times a day. Some only run a day or two a week. Some are direct, and some have stops. We arranged the entire order (and duration) of our trip because of ferry schedules.
When leaving the BVIs, you’ll have to pay exit taxes. Depending on where you’re leaving from and how long you’ve been there, it’s usually between $25-45.
The drink of choice in the BVIs is the famous Pain Killer (really anything with rum). It was created at the Soggy Dollar Bar in the 1970s.
My Two Cents
The next time I travel to the VIs will be on a boat. The big draw of the area is the water and island hopping, but it’s not necessarily a great “vacation” to be packing up and moving every two days. There’s also a surprising lack of good places to stay in the islands. Some of the “resorts” aren’t super nice and it’s most Vrbos and rentals which aren’t my favorite. But sailing through the USVI and BVI chartering your own itinerary and always coming back to the boat at night would be an absolute dream.
Assuming you’re not chartering a boat, I think the easiest way to see the VIs is to stay on St. John and use it as a hub. Anegada is a bit far away for a day trip, but all of the other islands are very doable for the day. If you’re staying on St. John for a full week, day trips to Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke are a MUST.
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