After leaving home at midnight, driving 3 hours to O’Hare, standing in countless lines, 2 3-hour flights, a 2-hour layover in Fort Lauderdale and a cramped taxi ride, we finally arrived at Bolongo Bay Beach Resort on Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands at around 5 PM. All three of us–my mom, little brother Ian and I–were understandably exhausted and starving. We had dinner at the restaurant at the resort, Iggy’s, and spent the rest of the night watching crappy TV and sleeping off the long day.
Everyone we’d spoken to had told us that Saint John, another of the US Virgin Islands, was an absolute must see, and they were all 100% correct. On Tuesday, we took a 15 minute ferry ride to Cruz Bay, one of the two towns on Saint John, and rented a Jeep Wrangler for the day. With several maps in hand and the confidence inducing advise of “stay to the left and watch out for donkeys”, we set out to explore the vast Virgin Island national park that takes up 2/3 of the island.
At first, the driving was terrifying. They drive on the “wrong” side of the road. There are no guard rails or shoulders. To the left of the road was a steep drop off into the Caribbean sea, and to the right was forest and mountains. The roads were also extremely steep and wound around the mountainous island like a serpent, sharply turning at a 60 degree incline.
All of these treacherous conditions, however, made for stunning views once you could get past the anxiety of it all.
We eventually got to Trunk Bay. Being Saint John’s most famous beach–the local’s frequently boasted that it was the second most beautiful beach in the world–it boasted stunning views, crystal clear water, white sand and a snorkeling trail around a small island offshore. I’m happy to say that it definitely delivered. I was in absolute awe of the place I was submerged in, and Ian faced his fear of the possibility of sharks and other creatures and fell in love with snorkeling.
After leaving the beach, we returned the Jeep and had dinner at a place called Banana Deck, which had amazing steak and lobster.
We then caught the sunset before catching the ferry back to Saint Thomas and turning in for the night.
Wednesday, we took a tour with our favorite cab driver, Shamari, who mom would later try to convince me that I needed to move to the islands and marry. The tour covered a lot of the history of Saint Thomas, including the forts built to protect the islands from pirates, Blackbeard’s castle, stories of strong women who fought for fair wages and why they drive on the left (simply put: donkeys).
We then took the winding roads toward the very highest point of the island, dubbed Mountaintop, which also happened to be the birthplace of the banana daiquiri. The daiquiri featured plenty of one of the island’s main exports, rum. It was even topped with rum. I’m more of a whipped cream girl, myself.
On the tour we also stopped at a few waysides to take in the views and meet some friendly donkeys. This one was graciously named Monica Lewinsky.
Learning about the island’s rich history was very interesting, and the beautiful sights were an added bonus. That night, we had dinner at Buddha Sushi which was delicious despite some fish eggs.
We loved Saint John so much the first time that we decided to return. We took another ferry, rented another Jeep and some snorkel equipment and set out again toward the national park. This time we started at a hiking trail that featured the ruins of a sugar cane plantation.
After the hike, we again headed to the beach in search of more snorkeling adventures. Some locals recommended Francis Bay and Hawksnest Bay to us, so we made our way, starting at Francis.
After seeing countless fish, a barracuda, two sting ray, an eel and a cuttlefish at Francis, we moved on to Hawksnest.
At Hawksnest, Ian and I followed a stingray around for a solid 5 minutes, and mom and Ian saw a sea turtle. We eventually left the beach, ate more fantastic food, returned the Jeep and took the Ferry back to Saint Thomas.
On our last full day on the island, we went on a snorkeling tour with the resort. A sailboat brought us to a small off shore island that was promised to be teeming with sea turtles.
After a good hour of snorkeling and being absolutely beat, we relaxed by the pool until dinner which we had at a more upscale place in Red Hook, a port city.
On our last day of vacation, we had to check out at 11 am. However, our flight wasn’t until 5pm, so we killed some time by having a very interesting lunch at Coki Beach where we all received our meals at separate times and spent a good 2 hours waiting.
We also explored a park that had an underwater observatory where you could see the fish in their natural habitat without getting wet!
At around 3, we called our favorite cabbie, Shamari, to take us to the airport and began the journey home.