Free Things To Do in U.S. Virgin Islands
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You don't have to make a special effort to visit the Virgin Islands National Park; if you're on St. John, you're probably standing right on the edge of it. Two-thirds of the island is parkland, and most of Love City's top attractions — Annaberg Plantation, Caneel Bay and Trunk Bay — are within its confines. There are numerous ways to enjoy this tropical paradise. Adventurous travelers should hike at least one of the 22 trails, while families will enjoy camping overnight on the beach.
There is no fee to enter the park, but you'll have to fork over $4 per adult to enjoy Trunk Bay beach. One TripAdvisor user raves that a visit to Trunk Bay is well worth the price: "Trunk Bay is absolutely gorgeous and has all the amenities — sheltered picnic tables, restrooms and a good snack stand. If you want to sit, read and/or watch the world go by this is the very best beach!"
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The Estate Whim Plantation Museum chronicles the 18th century life of Cruzans, especially those involved in the production of sugar cane. You can tour the great house of this Frederiksted museum and stroll through the windmill and bath house.
St. Croix also has an Estate Mount Washington Plantation (a private residence that once was a sugar cane plantation), but of the two, travelers say the Whim is a richer, more enjoyable tour. You'll have to see yourself around Mount Washington, whereas the Whim has great tour guides on site who are full of facts concerning the island's sugar cane production and the lives of Cruzan slaves. In the winter you can visit the Estate Whim for its Candlelight Concert Series, an outdoor concert held on the grounds of the former plantation. The site also hosts wine tastings periodically.
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Caneel Bay is adjacent to the Caneel Bay Resort, but it's free for everyone to enjoy. And according to travelers, you should definitely take advantage. Very few tourists who aren't guests of the hotel ever venture to this northwest St. John beach, and as a result, it's one of the more romantic spots on the island. Settle into the hotel's top-notch restaurant for a leisurely lunch or dinner. Or for something more active, swim the 0.3-mile distance from the coast of Caneel to the even more isolated Honeymoon Beach.
If you are not staying at one of the nearby luxury resorts, reaching Caneel Bay can be difficult. If you can find a taxi near the shops of Cruz Bay, it's only a short jaunt from there. But you can also walk or bike the approximately 1.5 miles. The easiest option is, of course, arriving via boat.
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Sandy Point is a southern beach in St. Croix that moonlights as a habitat and natural refuge for the leatherback sea turtles. During the day, you can swim in the shallow waters or sunbathe along the buff-colored sand. If you're lucky you might catch some turtles nesting their eggs in Sandy Point's 2-mile stretch. One TripAdvisor reviewer notes that this off-the-beaten path locale can be a bit of a challange to get to: "Once you enter the park, follow the gravel road ... to the end. [G]o slow, it is a single lane with one or two turnouts for traffic coming the opposite direction." When you finally arrive, you may recognize the setting from the movie, "The Shawshank Redemption." The spot was said to be Mexico in the flick, but the final scene was actually filmed right on Sandy Point's beach.
The refuge operates very limited hours and only welcomes visitors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the weekends from September to March. For more information, check out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's official website.
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In its heyday, the Annaberg Plantation produced sugar, molasses and rum. Now, if you swing by this ruined (but partially restored) plantation and mill, you can learn about sugar production in the 18th and 19th centuries. And depending on the day, participate in a demonstration on basket weaving or bread baking. One TripAdvisor reviewer valued the chance to inject some history into a beach vacation: "The ruins are fairly extensive and well-preserved ... the signage is great and explains what you are looking at and some background on the sugar plantations and the slaves the plantations depended on." Down the hill from Annaberg is Leinster Bay, a perfect spot for some impromptu beachcombing.
The Annaberg Historic District, which includes the plantation, is run by the Virgin Islands National Park Service. The Cruz Bay Visitor Center is open 8 a.m. to5 p.m., and rangers lead tours throughout the day. For more information, check out the national park's website.
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If you want to recline in the sun; choose Magens Bay or one of the more peaceful shores of St. Thomas' southern coast. But if you want to literally swim with the fishes, there's no better spot on the Rock than Coki Beach, located next to Coral World Ocean Park on the northeast shore. The beach is lined with vendors selling quite the variety of goods and services (from hair braiding to meat pies to marijuana), but the translucent waters (some report visibility of up to 100 feet!) are full of tropical fish.
"The crystal clear water and soft sands were ideal for an afternoon of fun in the sun. Local vendors supply food and drinks (including adult beverages)," one TripAdivsor user said. "There are also paddle boards you can rent to explore more of the surrounding area."
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If you've got that gambling itch, book a hotel on (or take a day trip to) St. Croix. The U.S. Virgin Islands' only full-service casino is located in the town of Christiansted on the grounds of the Divi Carina Bay Beach Resort. The casino is small by big-city standards but according to TripAdvisor users, it will appease any visitors who love trying Lady Luck. In addition to video poker machines, Divi Carina Bay has more than 300 slots as well as live-action table games like blackjack, craps and Caribbean stud poker. One TripAdvisor user described the casino as "clean, modern, safe. All the usual games and gimmicks on a very small scale — snack bar (very basic), players club, bells, whistles and no natural light."
Part of the Divi Carina Beach Resort, the casino is open Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m to 4 a.m. The casino stays open until midnight on Fridays and all night on Saturdays. You can peruse the casino for free, but playing any games will cost you. Visit the casino's website for more information.
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