Planning Guide for Visiting Virgin Islands National Park
when should we go
The best time of year to visit VINP is March through June, with less rainfall and slightly cooler temperatures (with highs in the mid-80s instead of the 90s) and fewer visitors. The island’s rainy season, from July to October, is characterized by high humidity and the threat of hurricanes, but barring extreme events, the daily rains pass quickly. Peak season runs from November to February, with larger crowds and less availability for accommodation and transportation.
How to get there and on arrival
Most USVI visitors land in St. Thomas, about a two and a half hour flight southeast of Miami. US citizens do not need a passport to enter, just a driver’s license or other government ID, but having one can make the entry process easier. To get from St. Thomas to St. John, take a 20-minute ferry from Red Hook Harbor, on the east side of the island, to Cruz Bay, west of St. John. Passenger and car ferries depart frequently.
When you arrive in St. John, look for the VINP Visitor Center, located at the edge of the harbor in Cruz Bay. Here you can pick up free maps or buy guidebooks, view history and nature exhibits, and get tips from the information officer. At the trailhead behind the center, you can begin exploring the park by hiking to beautiful Honeymoon Beach just over a mile away on an often hot but fairly easy trail.
Jeep rental is the best way to get around Saint John if you’re staying for several days, as local taxis can be slow to respond to transport requests and are expensive. They charge a flat fee, usually $10 to $14 per person, so a family of four can pay $80 or more (plus baggage fees or other extras) for a short round trip, and the driver can stop for other passengers. Be sure to get a quote before entering a taxi. Jeeps are useful for navigating St. John’s winding, steep roads (and house driveways), but parking is scarce, so get there early to the beaches, trails, historic sites, and in town for dinner . And always remember that traffic drives on the left side of the road in the USVI. If you opt for a day trip, consider visiting the park and the island with a company such as STJ Tours. You’ll maximize your time, as you’ll get a personalized overview of the island, learn some history, and won’t have to worry about driving.
what to pack
Pack plenty of sunscreen and be sure to use it while sailing or on the beach, where the cooling offshore breezes may trick you into thinking the sun isn’t that strong – but it is. The USVI has officially banned non-reef safe sunscreens, so bring a zinc oxide-based brand (usually with a “reef safe” label). You will also need insect repellent. The notorious native no-see-ums will leave the flesh unprotected with itchy bites. Also, wear long pants and light shirts in the early morning and evening when insects are most active.
Note that regular US cell phone service works well on the island at no additional charge. The only quirk: At the east end of St. John’s, near the British Virgin Islands, phones can connect to a European carrier, which may incur additional charges.
Where to stay and eat
There is no accommodation on official National Park land except for the Cinnamon Bay Campgrounds – recently reopened after renovations with four new bathhouses, 31 tent sites (with tent platforms benches and picnic benches), 50 “eco-tents” (prefabricated canvas cabins with beds and electricity) that can accommodate two to four people, and 40 chalet units in seven buildings. The Rain Tree Café serves breakfast and dinner, and a food truck near the beach brings lunches. Purchase basic groceries and take-out food from the camp store.
Beyond the campgrounds, the formation of the park in 1956 left many privately owned “properties” within the park boundaries. Many now operate as vacation rentals – some luxury beachfront or mountaintop homes with pools, others more modest retreats. Even more rental options can be found just outside the park boundaries, so scan Airbnb, VRBO, and local sites to find a location and price that works for you.
Typical hotels and resort options are limited, with the main one being the Westin St. John, a sprawling 252-room time-share property near Cruz Bay that’s available for nightly rentals. After settling into studios or villas with up to three bedrooms, guests enjoy a myriad of resort amenities, including a pool and small beach with equipment rentals, plus a grill. on the beach and a delicatessen.
The town of Cruz Bay is the main hub of St. John, with a few blocks of restaurants, bars and shops. For a family-friendly, casual eatery, start your day at Cruz Bay Landing by biting into its excellent Crab Cake Bennie, a crispy local crab topped with a poached egg covered in a savory Hollandaise sauce. At dinnertime, it pairs live music with a menu featuring Caribbean lobster. On the other side of the island, in tranquil Coral Bay, rub shoulders with visiting boaters and local beachgoers at Skinny Legs, a legendary bar and grill where you can grab fish and chips and swap stories of pirates while watching sports on TV.