Friends Trip to the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico
Living on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands diffidently has it perks. Having girl friends who love to travel wanting to explore the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico makes for an even better combination.
Since I was working in the school district on the island of St. Thomas, my vacations and travels had to correspond to the school calendar. Thankfully, one of my best friend’s had a flexible schedule. Together, we were able to make her vacation work with my schedule. I wanted to be able to show her around the islands myself, and not have her fend for herself.
We started talking about her visiting to St. Thomas almost immediately following me signing my school contract. That’s a long 10 months if you think about it.
Before I knew it, the end of the school year came, and my friend was boarding her flight from Phoenix to St. Thomas. It was a bitter sweet end as I truly became good friends with my co-workers and many were not returning for the next school year. But, I was also super excited to have my best friend on the island.
My friend was lucky enough to be able to get a total of 12 days off of work; 10 days total minus travel days. Ten days is a long time for only St. Thomas and St. John. In the end, we made the decision to also include Puerto Rico in her vacation. We would spend seven days on the island of St. Thomas, with a few day trips, and four days in Puerto Rico.
Her trip took place in June, which is a beautiful time to visit the islands. The weather is hot, less humid, little rain, and most importantly, out of hurricane season. It can be busy because St. Thomas is a major port for cruise ships, but the island has hidden gems that can help you avoid the crowds.
This general overview of our itinerary shows the breakdown of how you could spend your trip in the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rice. This itinerary can be used for friend trips, couple trips, family trips, or solo trips. The Caribbean Islands have something for every one.
- Day 1: Travel Day
- Day 2: Beach Day
- Day 3: Kayaking to Hassel Island
- Day 4: Boat Day around St. Thomas/St. John
- Day 5: Day Trip to the BVIs
- Day 6: Rest Day or Beach Day
- Day 7: St. John Day Trip
- Day 8: Travel to Puerto Rico
- Day 9: Spend the Day exploring Old San Juan
- Day 10: Day Trip outside Old San Juan
- Day 11: Bacardi Factory Tour
- Day 12: Travel Day
Beaches in the US Virgin Islands
The first day of my friend’s vacation was actually my last day of school. Unfortunately that meant I had to work in the morning. However, since it was the last day, the Special Education department was hosting an End of the Year party. The party was being hosted at one of the most popular beaches, Magen’s Bay Beach. It was honestly the best way to spend her first day on St. Thomas. Swimming, drinking, laying out in the sun, and hanging out with friends.
Magen’s Bay Beach
Magen’s Bay Beach is the most popular beaches in St. Thomas. It is also the largest beaches, measuring at close to a mile long. Magen’s Bay is located on the north side of the island, and don’t forget to stop at Drake’s Seat on your way for a perfect view point of the beach.
This beach is a picturesque Caribbean beach with blue waters, white sand, and palm trees. The water is typically calm and a perfect spot for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boards.
There is a local bar at the North end of the beach called Magen’s Point Bar and Grill. You can also rent water sport items, like kayaks and stand up paddle boards here too. If you stop by say hello to my friend, HL!
There are tables and several large cement areas perfect for large gatherings. This beach is a must see when in St. Thomas.
Located on the northeast end of the island, Coki beach is a popular destination for locals. The road to get to the beach can be difficult to find for tourists, and if you’re not driving a truck, SUV, or jeep can be a little rough.
This beach can get a little rough at times, but is great for swimming, snorkeling and occasionally you’ll find wind surfers. There are food stands, places to rent gear, and there use to be a scuba shop for diving.
Adjacent to Coki Beach is Coral World Ocean Park. It is a good place for children, however, I didn’t always feel comfortable with the practices and ethical aspect of this aquarium.
One of my personal favorite beaches. Located on the east end of St. Thomas just north of Red Hook, Sapphire Beach offers perfect views of the BVIs. The water can be rough at times, but the water is always Caribbean blue. There is a beach bar, places to rent gear including chairs, and plenty of space to spread out away from people.
- Emerald’s Beach
- Brewer’s Bay Beach
- Lindquist Beach
- Hull Bay Beach
- Secret Harbor
- Abi Beach (this beach is hard to access and unfortunately, I don’t believe the beach bar is open)
Kayaking to Hassel Island
On my friends first day on the island, one of my guy friends asked if we wanted to come kayaking with him over to Hassel Island, an island off the South coast of the island near Water Island. I had never ventured to Hassel Island, which is a historic district of the VIs. I knew this would be a unique opportunity and I didn’t want to pass up the offer.
The weather didn’t really cooperate with us as it was ridiculously windy. But, it didn’t stop us from heading into the wind to kayak the 3/4 mile. The island was ABSOLUTELY worth every ache, pain and worrywe endured. The views were stunning, the ruins were unique to the island, and the memories were unforgettable.
Other Kayaking Opportunities
Kayaking to Hassel Island isn’t always an option for tourists. However, there are multiple places to rent kayaks throughout the island. There are also a few places that offer unique tours including night tours and mangroves tours.
My recommendation for kayaking adventures and tours is Virgin Islands Ecotours. They offer a wide range of adventures and have been in business for over 20 years.
Another recommendation would be Night Kayak, which offers night time kayaking and stand up paddle board adventures in St. Thomas and Puerto Rico.
Day Trip to the British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands can been seen from many locations around St. Thomas and St. John. Located roughly 10 km from the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands make for a perfect day trip on the water.
With several options to get there and explore, my friend and I opted for an all inclusive guided tour with Bad Kitty Charters. This was a 4-island trip through the BVIs including Virgin Gorda and the Baths, Cooper Island, snorkeling at Norman Island and drinking pain killers on Jost van Dyke.
The best part of going through a charter like Bad Kitty, is that it’s one price all inclusion, minus lunch at Cooper Island. It’s great for friend groups, couples, and is child friendly. Visiting the Baths in Virgin Gorda is an absolute must and this type of excursion makes the trip seamless and easy.
You can also privately hire a charter boat through a multitude of companies in St. Thomas, however they can get pricy for trips to the BVIs. If you have a group less than 8, these private charters are not budget friendly.
Even privately hiring a charter boat for St. Thomas and St. John can get expensive. Since I was living here, I had some friends who owned a boat. We were blessed to take a “work” boat day during her stay. This option isn’t always available on vacations for travelers.
Day Trip to St. John
Spending the day on St. John was the last thing on our US Virgin Islands Friend’s Trip. St. John, might be the smallest of the USVIs, however it is the most beautiful. It is home to the Virgin Islands National Park, which covers nearly half the island. There is no fee to enter the national park, but several beaches do have a fee, including the famous Trunk Bay Beach.
Taking a day trip from St. Thomas to St. John is so easy. The ferry runs nearly every hour from Red Hood Ferry Terminal to Cruz Bay starting at 5:30 am. Return ferries from Cruz Bay, St. John run as late as 9pm. If you have a car, you can also take the car ferry, but public transportation does exist in the form of taxis
Cruz bay is the largest settlement on St. John. It’s home to countless restaurants and shops. If you spend any time in Cruz Bay, don’t miss out on Virgin Islands Brewers for some locally brewed beer and root beer. In Cruz Bay, you can easily jump into a taxi immediate after disembarking the ferry dock.
My friend and I took my vehicle, which did give us more opportunities to explore. However, many of the best beaches are easily accessible with taxis.
My top four places to visit on St. John are Honeymoon Beach, Cinnamon Bay Beach, Hawksnest Beach, and Maho Bay Beach. I like Honeymoon Beach, because you can actually hike from Cruz Bay to get to the beach. Cinnamon Bay Beach and Hawksnest Beach are my go to “chill” beach spots. Maho Bay Beach is the best location to snorkel and see turtles.
This is where my “true” summer vacation started-ish. It wasn’t my first time in Puerto Rico, as you’ve probably already read about Arecibo/Rincon and El Yunque, so I had a tiny bit of knowledge about things to do and places to see in Old San Juan and the outskirts of town. This doesn’t make me an expert in anyway, shape or form and in fact, many of the things we did came from friends social media (La Perla) and talking with the locals on past trips (The Caves of Puerto Rico). Thankfully, my friend was on board for my random Mapless Adventures.
The day after we arrived, we decided it was going to be our explore, by foot, every inch of Old San Juan, with no plans and little to no use of maps. And that is exactly what we did. My only goal was to find a beautiful picture of the neighborhood of La Perla, which is lined of colorful houses on the North end of Old San Juan.
On our way through the city, we took a pit stop to explore Castillo san Cristobal, a Spanish fort built in the 1700s to protect the city of San Juan. Castillo san Cristobal is a historical site through the US National Park Service and during it’s time, was the largest fort of the New World.
While we were exploring the fort, we learned about the three flags that flew among the fort-
the American Flag, the flag of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the Burgundy Cross (Spanish Military flag). In addition to learning about the flags, the fort offered spectacular views of both the main town of San Juan and of the coast line. As a hobbyist photographer, I’m always looking for unique perspectives of each place I visit. Castillo san Cristobal gave me just that. I was in photography heaven.
Since I was able to spot La Perla from san Cristobal, we headed in that direction and thankfully beat the storm. La Perla was everything I wanted it to be, just unbelievable beautiful and packed full of color!
Caves of Puerto Rico
The next day was another “first” for me and an adventure I’ve been waiting for since I first found out about them- The Caves of Puerto Rico! We had to rent a car in order to get to the Camuy Caves and Cueva Ventana, but it did make for a great day trip outside the city. I’m such an outdoor feen and love any chance I get to hike or bike or explore mother nature.
Each of these caves are unique in their own way. The Camuy Cave is a cave and sinkhole combination and very “tourist”. They shuttle you down to the entrance of the cave and then you follow a path through the cave listening to the information via headphones, as the tour guide can be far away, as it was for us. Then again, we purposely stayed in the back to avoid the crowd.
Next it was Cueva Ventana, which although still a bit touristy, was WAY more of the cave I was expecting. Dark, damp, and flashlight required. The tour guide was very informative and provided enough time at each “stop” to allow for pictures, questions, and simply enjoying the scenery.
This particular cave is located along a cliff edge and it is know as the Window Cave and full of bats! I’d consider this to be the highlight of our day…well until we found a restaurant.
Leaving the caves, we both knew ONE thing…we were STARVING. Thanks to good ol’ Yelp, we found a restaurant which is known for Mofongo, a local Puerto Rican dish, drove straight there and proceeded to stuff our face of delicious and customizable Mofongo. By the time we made it back to our AirBnB, we were beyond exhausted.
However, our vacation didn’t end with the caves. We still had the Bacardi Factory Tour, which we booked prior to our arrival. There are three different kinds of tour offered at Bacardi including a walking history tour, a Bacardi Rum Tasting tour and a Mixology tour. Each tour includes a factory tour, which provided an insight into the largest rum distilling operation including the history of the Bacardi family.
We opted for the rum tasting as my friend was a huge fan of Bacardi Silver, so why not extend our rum palate and experience other blends. So following the walking tour, we ventured into the tasting room. This is where my “rum palate” failed me.
The tasting was comprised of 5 different rums: Carta Blanca (silver), Special Reserve, Legacy, Reserva Limitada, and Gran Reserva Aged 8 Year.
The tasting started with the famous Carta Blanca, commonly known as Bacardi Silver in America and almost immediately after the first few sips of the second rum, my esophagus and stomach were NOT cooperating. The rums were so powerful, more than what I was expecting, and I could barely finish the tasting. I still managed to at least TRY the other 3 rums, but with nothing to calm my stomach, I really had to pull back.
These types of “occurrences” happen when you travel whether you are ready for it or not. One thing I know for sure, is I NEVER let them damper my time and I refused to let it take away from Bacardi.
By the time we returned home from our Bacardi Adventure, it was time for our last supper, which included a mini bar hop before calling it a night. By the time the sun rose, we were off to the airport and going separate ways. I returned to St. Thomas to finish a few things before my next Mapless Adventure, and Kristin was jetting off back to Phoenix.
If you’ve never been to the USVIs, BVIs, or Puerto Rico, I cannot RECOMMEND it highly enough. There is so much culture that lies within these islands and for fellow USA citizens, NO PASSPORT NECESSARY! Well, except for the BVIs. In that case, you can use a passport card, just make sure you remember your custom fees (now set at $60 per person/per entry).