Monday, June 28, 2010

Virgin Islands Campground

I sought out eco-lodging in the Virgin Islands because I think it is important for tourism dollars to support independent places with minimal impact on the natural environment, rather than corporate resorts. I also don't mind roughing it a bit, if it means I get to have an ocean view and a place to prepare my own food, all for less than I'd pay at most hotels. My other criteria were easy access to scuba diving and a relatively car-free vacation where I wouldn't need to rent a car or take a taxi all the time.
I ended up at the Virgin Islands Campground on Water Island, a short ferry ride from St. Thomas, which fit all of these qualifications for a peaceful, eco-sensitive trip. It's not camping as you know it, but luxe camping with conveniences: private wood-frame-canvas-screen tent-cottages tucked into the trees, each with a comfortable bed, deck, electricity, and even wireless for iPhiles. To make up for lack of air conditioning, there are fans and the magical feeling of sleeping in a treehouse. There is also a hammock and a cooking pavilion that is a wonderful place to have coffee and eggs and read in the morning light, or to enjoy a breeze while grilling dinner in the evening and chatting with fellow campers.







I was impressed by several sustainable measures at the campground: electricity powered by onsite wind turbines, composting toilets (which didn't smell!), captured rainwater that is filtered for drinking and heated by solar energy for showers. Water is also conserved by spring-loaded faucets and pull-cord showers, which is especially smart because conservation is built into the design and doesn't require any extra thoughtfulness on the user's part.



Water Island is small, peaceful, relatively undeveloped, and sparsely populated, with only about 150 full time residents who are on the friendly and laidback side. People drive around in old jalopies and golf carts, and will sympathetically offer a ride if you are walking along the road in the hot sun.



The island is home to the aforementioned Honeymoon Beach, which has it all: A shallow sandy bay that feels like a warm saltwater pool. Decent snorkeling - in one afternoon you can swim with a sea turtle, see a school of fish, and a stingray. Palm trees and picnic tables for shaded spots to kick back. Joe's Beach Bar for drinks (the closest thing to nightlife on the island), and Heidi's Honeymoon Grill truck for lunch as well as a weekly gourmet dinner, which was the best meal of the trip.



The campground is a fairly easy half mile walk to both the beach and the landing where a commuter ferry shuttles back and forth to St. Thomas every hour or so. In less than ten minutes, the ferry docks at a marina with a restaurant, grocery stores, and a great dive shop, Blue Island Divers. I only needed cabs for trips to and from the airport and an excursion to St. John, which made me especially happy because squishing into stuffy and sweaty taxis there was not fun.



As for the daytrip to St. John, I shelled out more money than appropriate to rent a car for a death-defying tour of the island. The harrowing hair-pin turns had me so nervous we would drive right off a cliff. I was so relieved when I finally touched back down at Water Island at the end of the day. My recommendation for daytrippers: save your money and just take a safari cab to one of the beaches nearest the main town on St. John.



Ironically, St. John is supposed to have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but it was the hottest day of the week and I had a hard time finding comfortable shady spots on the national park beaches, so I traveled all the way there just to wish I was back at Honeymoon Beach, which I think tells you how much I enjoyed staying on Water Island.


For those of you who have been enticed by my tale and are interested in a trip of your own, I found this website to be the best listing of Caribbean eco-lodging.

11 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh this looks absolutely amazing!! I stayed on St. John 2 years ago, we stayed at an all inclusive resort for dirt cheap thanks to a wealth of frequent flyer miles and it being the hurricane season(weather don't scare me). But this looks absolutely gorgeous and I love how you were concerned about the environment while traveling, very inspiring. Next vacation I too will look into eco tourism.

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  2. Camping with beds? Um, heaven. Looks like you made such a good choice.

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  3. What a cool place. It's places like that that really make you feel at home. There is something to be said for not having everything done for you on vacation.

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  4. Love that deck with the ocean view! And the wind turbines for electricity - so cool! Fabulous choice. I'm so happy to know about this place. If only the Caribbean weren't so far from the west coast...

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  5. SO COOL. Andrew and I should look into something like this for our post-wedding trip... (honeymoon just sounds so cheesy haha).

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  6. so jeally! Love this place and am dying to check it out!!! thanks so much for posting this and helping get inspired to plan our next vacay :)

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  7. this looks amazing! that picture of the bed is making me happy right now.

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  8. Wow! Really awesome pictures of your "camping" adventure. The colors of the water there are enough to make me jump on a plane!

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  9. Miz November - you hit the nail on the head - whenever I go on vacation, I'm always looking for a place with a little privacy and the option to do my own cooking, a place that really feels like a home away from home.

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  10. This looks like such a cool place! Love the almost tree house style tent cottages!

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  11. We took two small children there for a week. With the single room cabin and "roughing it" with kids, I expected the worst. Instead I had the best vacation of my life. It was really easy to get lazy on Honeymoon Beach; shallow, uncrowded and open. I could see the kids at all times and got quite a bit of help from the locals and other visitors. Snorkeling on the other, more remote side of the island was very cool too. We planned to take the ferry a few times during the week but wound up never leaving the island.

    Great vibe at this place. Already planning a return trip.

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