Travel Diary: St. Thomas + St. John

Last month, I visited St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The islands are home to incredible beaches and nature, rich history and vibes so laid-back, I found myself questioning where I was in the world (when, in fact, I was technically still in the United States).

I’m back at school now, so writing this and looking through the photos was like a mini-vacation. Follow along as I share travel insights, pictures and the story of an interesting encounter I had on one of the islands!

St. Thomas

My stay in St. Thomas (the largest of the three islands and home to the capital of the USVI) consisted of long days at the beach – not to mention the obstacle of getting to and from the beaches. My parents rented a car for our week on the island, but in the USVI, people drive on the left side of the road. The cars are the same as the US with the wheel on the left side. The whole “stay on the left” thing was not too bad (from my perspective in the backseat), but the poorly marked streets, nonexistent road lines and lack of street lights made every car ride an adventure, to say the least.

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The product of minute-long rain showers in St. Thomas.

Many tourists rave about Magen’s Bay, one of the most famous beaches in St. Thomas. However, some of the more quiet and hidden (a.k.a. nearly impossible to find) beaches were incredibly beautiful and less crowded than the popular cruise ship locations. I visited Cowpet Bay and Secret Harbour Beach, both toward the East End. Cowpet Bay was a fun place for snorkeling, the sand was soft, and the scenery around the beach was gorgeous. Secret Harbour Beach was even more serene, and it also featured an amazing restaurant, Sangria’s.  

St. John

St. John is smaller and more secluded than St. Thomas, making it feel like a complete paradise, a parallel-universe. Our main destination on the island was Trunk Bay, which is considered one of the most beautiful, pristine beaches in the world. (At first, I thought, “OK, I’m sure it’s really nice, but how special can a beach be?”) Well, that’s what I thought until I took one glimpse at the shimmering turquoise water and doughy white sand (pictured below). This place is breathtaking, spotless, picturesque – and somehow not overcrowded. It deserves all the recognition in the world. The beach even features a snorkel trail, an underwater attraction where snorkelers can swim along while following a marked path.

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Trunk Bay is a U.S.V.I. National Park, which may explain how and why the water, sand and surrounding areas are so well-preserved.
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Trunk Bay in St. John. (Not pictured: the donkeys and chickens I saw roaming around!)

While visiting St. John, I had a unique encounter that provided a lens into the life of someone who has essentially “checked out” from normative life in America and moved to the Caribbean. (It reminded me of an episode of International House Hunters.)

There was a waitress who asked my parents and I where we were from and how long we were on the island. We said we were from Ohio, and she said she was originally from Missouri. (We had the instant “Oh, you hate the snow, too!” bond.) She said she moved to St. John a couple years ago because she always wanted to live near the water. (Side note: Maybe there were other reasons for her move, too, because you could definitely “live near the water” without living on a Caribbean island.)

The woman then said how quiet the Virgin Islands have been this year – usually they were much more crowded with tourists than when we were visiting.

She said, “I just think people don’t know how to have fun anymore.”

She walked away to another table, leaving my parents and I with this statement and a million different ideas of what she meant. We may never know what was running through her mind, but it made me wonder what it must be like to permanently live on island time – away from “normal” stressors that fill our daily lives here in the contingent United States.

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I think one of the best parts of traveling is being able to reflect on the memories and experiences. It’s kind of amazing how one picture or little paragraph can transport you to another place and time – and I like to think that is why the art of storytelling will never die.

Until the next adventure,

Darcy

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