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Virgin Islands: The BEST water closest to the US

September 17, 2019

LOCATION

U.S. and British Virgin Islands

If you read my blog, I’m sure you’ve noticed a similarity in my travels – BLUE WATER. To many, this will come as no surprise, because I am obsessed with that crystal, turquoise-toned goodness. It’s my favorite thing in the world, and is my motivation to most all my travels. I’ve been slowly hitting up as many Caribbean islands as I can the past couple years, and I can now say that I feel I have found my favorite spot in that region! 

In relation to the mainland U.S., the quickest beach vacation getaways will be in the Caribbean or in Mexico. Mexico is known for being inexpensive, quick to get to, and great for all-inclusive resorts. But due to the recent seaweed issues facing the Caribbean, I’ve personally been focusing my travels to other areas that do have more consistent water clarity and beaches during this time (*Update – When I wrote this, the Virgin Islands did not have any sargassum issues. For the most current info on the sargassum, please check reports to be accurate. My post here is based on what I saw in the Virgin Islands vs. Mexico (Tulum and Playa del Carmen) within one week of each other.)

Which brings me to the Virgin Islands! I had always heard of them, but honestly thought they were too expensive for me to make happen. I was wrong! Turns out it’s safer and similarly priced to Mexico vacations (My pricing and advice below is based on flying out of Dallas/Fort Worth). 


Soggy Dollar by Travels of Skloss

OUR TRIP IN A NUTSHELL – Detailed information below in post: 

  • -Flight path: DFW – MIA – STT on American Airlines, $750 for Main Cabin Extra, round trip
  • -Based at: Cowpet Bay West, St. Thomas Island (rental from VRBO.com here)
  • -Transportation on land: Taxi and car rentals
  • -Transportation via water: Sonic Charters, with Pat (AMAZING!) on a 33’ Jupiter – Full Day rental
  • -Duration of trip: 5 days/4 nights
  • -Passport needed? Yes, if you go to the British side. You must have $65 cash on you to get clear customs.-Total trip cost for me: $2,050 USD

LOCATION:

The Virgin Islands (U.S. and British) are located about 70 miles right east of Puerto Rico, and are easily accessible from many U.S. international airports. I flew out of DFW, with a short connection in Miami (MIA), and total flight time was around 6 hours one way to St. Thomas (STT). We chose to fly and base out of St. Thomas as it was U.S. territory, and easy to get to marinas and such for boat charters – a HUGE yes if heading to the Virgin Islands! In my opinion, you should be prepared to charter a boat for at least 1-2 full days on this itinerary, as that’s the main way to see the best beaches, if that’s your thing. Most of the beaches are only accessible by boat. Not car. So do keep the boat thing in mind, which you will also see a lot more on below. I flew on American Airlines, and my ticket for Main Cabin Extra, round-trip was $750. When compared to flying DFW to Cancun, that’s about a 2.5 hour flight and about $450-500. So yes, it does take a few more hours and typically one connection to get to the Virgin Islands from DFW, but it’s a completely different environment. 

The Virgin Islands are a grouping of many small beauties, broken into the U.S. side and the British side. It’s crazy, because when you look on a map to see them, they look relatively far apart. But in actuality, they are about a 15-minute boat ride away. Some less and some slightly more, but you can do a 9 hour boat charter and see over 5 islands easily in one day. YES. AMAZING. 

Sonic Charters at Soggy Dollar

CULTURE AND ATTRACTION:

Great for: People who like adventure, blue water and who prefer not to stay on a resort their whole vacation.

Not Recommended for: People who like to stay at a resort for the majority of their vacation, or do not enjoy swimming. 

The Virgin Islands are an array of tropical beauty, pristine beaches and safety. What more can you really ask for? To really enjoy the Virgin Islands, most will recommend you chartering a boat for at least a day trip, portion of your stay, or staying on a boat itself. The Virgin Islands are best seen by boat, hands down. Most of the secret and secluded beaches, fun bars (such as Soggy Dollar and Willie T’s) are boat access only. The Virgin Islands are great for trips of any nature: Romance/Honeymoon, Family-Friendly, Girls/Guys trips, etc. If you’ve seen a Corona commercial, on a pristine aqua beach…this is exactly the realm the Virgin Islands has. 


ACCOMODATIONS:

There are three ways to stay and see the Virgin Islands. Honestly, any of these would be great! I personally enjoyed the boat route the best because I love to be on the water, and I feel that being on a boat utilizes all the islands and areas to see as much as possible. But you can’t go wrong! They are:

  • Hotel/Resort: There are a number of resorts and hotels scattered across the many islands. There is non-all inclusive and all inclusive, luxury and budget options. We stayed around the Red Hook area of St. Thomas, which was nice. The island does not have many new structures, so most all resorts there are a little older, but kept up nicely. For luxury, I recommend the Ritz or Scrub Island. For budget friendly, I recommend the Westin. 
  • Home Rental (Airbnb, VRBO, etc): This is what we did. We rented a condo at the Cowpet Bay West area, 43 Leeward to be exact. It was nice and great for what we needed. And it was right next to Jeffrey Esptein’s island. That was a tad odd, but we did get to wake up to a view of the little blue and white temple every morning. Haha. Our condo was a little dated, but we were never in our room and it was on a nice bay with a great beach too. One huge plus to private rentals is some come with a car included for you to drive! Look and watch for that when searching. Ours did and you can click the link above on the address to see it’s availability. 
  • Boat charter with sleeping quarters and chef onboard: Self-explanatory! If you love water, and want to island hop via the sea, this is the best option. It’s the priciest option, but for a reason. Anytime we are to return to the Virgin Islands, we will go this route for sure.  * Update: We just booked our 2019 Christmas aboard the Sail Starlight with Captain Toby, and are returning in December! Stay tuned for a post on that trip, as we will be taking our drone and getting some great shots!
Jeffrey Epstein Pedo Island by Travels of Skloss
Our view of Jeffrey Epstein’s private island and odd blue and white temple from our balcony

TRANSPORTATION:

This is a HUGE one. In all my travels, transportation has been relatively easy and very accessible. NOT in the Virgin Islands. Here’s my best advice below as I saw it.

  • Taxis: There are private taxi services, but they are not easy to find, and are not super reliable. On our 5 day stay (especially in St. Thomas island) trying to get one to pick you up at your condo/hotel was nearly impossible. And if you did get one, it was super expensive. Typically $8-20/person for a one way trip that was about 2-5 miles. We had 4 people in our group and each time we grabbed a taxi van, it was $35-50 to go 5 mins down the road. If you want to do a taxi van, the best way to do it is get a driver’s card, and try to book him for all your rides in advance, kinda like a private driver. They will keep a running tab for you and you pay at the end of each day. This was our best luck with a taxi service, BUT 2 of the 5 times we had a scheduled ride lined up they no-showed us and stood us up like a bad date.
  • Renting a car: This is the most affordable transportation option, being about $50-75/day. But I will throw in the fact very quickly that driving in the Virgin Islands is pretty damn scary. It is left-sided driving, which normally doesn’t effect me much. But the drivers are very defensive and the roads are pretty torn up. If you rent a car, be ready for an adventure and I recommend buying the extra insurance, haha!
  • Boat: This is the most FUN option to getting around the islands! And in my opinion a MUST for at least a portion of your stay. It’s pointless to go to the Virgin Islands and not get on a boat at all, because that’s what the culture is about there. You need to see the water, the other islands and the private beaches. It’s a must. Full day charters for 8 hours run about $700/day for up to 9 people. Live on charters run about $1000-2000/day starting price, but come with a chef and a captain. On this trip, we were based in St. Thomas close to Red Hook, and hired Sonic Charters after doing a ton of TripAdvisor research. Our captain’s name was Pat, and he was amazing. The boat was a brand new Jupiter with a stereo, swim ladder, tanning pad and all the goodies. All of the amazing beaches you see in my photos in this post are beaches only accessible by boat and that we saw while on this day trip. For our full day boating itinerary with Sonic Charters, see below!
Sonic Charters at Soggy Dollar by Travels of Skloss
On our chartered boat by Sonic Charters at White Bay (Soggy Dollar)
Sonic Charters at Soggy Dollar
Our 33′ Jupiter boat we booked with Sonic Charters

ISLAND-HOPPING:

In my opinion, this should be the main reason to visit the Virgin Islands. There are SO MANY islands to see…. Some of which are remote and untouched, some commercialized and some private (like Jeffery Epstein’s Pedo Island – skip that, unless his crazy-ass shrine interests you, haha). And the only way to see some and many is by boat. 

Here’s the breakdown of the islands we did with Sonic Charters, all of which I highly recommend and with photos below! You can view my TripAdvisor review here.

*All the below islands and locations to require a passport if coming from the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Jost Van Dyke – Hands down my favorite stop on the whole trip. The best beach on it was White Bay, where we stopped for lunch and drinks at Soggy Dollar. It’s pretty cool that the name of that remote bar came from the fact that you have to swim from your boat to the shore in order to access the bar and restaurants. So your money gets wet – meaning a soggy bill. Don’t worry, you only have to swim in waist-deep water about 15 feet to get out. So you can hold your bag over your head. White Bay was the most amazing water on the whole trip. Basically Bora Bora quality, that looks like a gigantic swimming pool! And VERY clean with no hurricane damage or tourist destruction.

White Bay Jost Van Dyke by Travels of Skloss
White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands

Northside Tortola – This was the most untouched beach area we went to. We were the ONLY ones on the beach. It was amazing. This is the beach that looked like the Corona commercial!

Tortola Beach by Travels of Skloss
Tortola Beach, Northside Tortola Island. We had the whole beach to ourselves!

Virgin Gorda – This was my ‘bucket list’ stop, and while it was very pretty, it was a lot smaller than I had pictured it to be. But as all British Virgin Islands it was impeccably clean. One thing I admired about this trip. No trash, litter, or pollution for tourism. It was so refreshing! We did visit The Baths park as well ($5 fee) and it was pretty. A little crowded and kinda anti-climactic in my opinion. The rock formations were nice to look at, but do know you have to swim in very deep water to access them, and kind of a long way. If you are not a strong swimmer I would not recommend it. Also, water shoes are needed to access The Baths, because it is a cave system and the rocks are sharp in some areas. 

Virgin Gorda Baths by Travels of Skloss
Virgin Gorda Baths

Norman Island – This area was so impressive because it was VERY deep water with amazing snorkeling! There are caves on the edge of this island that have some pretty spectacular snorkeling and diving opportunities. The water was sapphire blue, and you could see the bottom of the reef 45 feet down perfectly clear. This was also an excellent spot to jump off the boat and swim and float because the water was very calm. 

Willie T’s – Once an old tanker and turned into a floating partier’s paradise, this crazy, spring-breaker style bar is loud and ready to get you….drunk. You can access it only by boat and tying up to it. If Shotski’s are your thing, this is the place for you!

St. John Island – St. John is a great U.S. island very close to it’s busier neighbor, St. Thomas (where we stayed). The hurricane damage here was a lot worse, and they are still rebuilding as of August 2019. The main street has many amazing restaurants and shops along it’s marina though and it super fun!


Soggy Dollar by Travels of Skloss
White Bay, Jost Van Dyke

CONCLUSION:

For a quick and close beach getaway to the U.S., I highly recommend the Virgin Islands. For the quality of the beaches, and the consistency of the water clearness and quality, I would go here over competitors such as Mexico or Dominican Republic, since it is the same investment (my personal opinion) . It’s amazing for all travelers with and without children, and easy to get to! The Virgin Islands are a terrific location for jetsetters seeking boating adventure, clear blue water and seeing a lot with variety.

Questions? Email me at travelsofskloss@gmail.com!

White Bay Jost Van Dyke by Travels of Skloss
Me swimming in White Bay near Soggy Dollar
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