photo by denisema4, creative commons
Recently, some friends asked me to recommend a Caribbean island getaway that would put them beyond the reach of the cruise ship crowds while keeping them within their modest budget.
They wanted to go somewhere lesser-known, somewhere that wasn’t arduous to reach but felt like light-years from home—a place where they could wash all the woes of the world away with tropical cocktails, plenty of beach time and a dollop of Caribbean culture.
Without hesitation, I told them to go to…
Jost Van Dyke.
Nestled in the Virgin Island archipelago some 1,100 miles southeast of Miami lies the former Dutch pirate haven of Jost Van Dyke (pronounced “yost”), named after the obscure marauder who used it as a base for his illicit activities.
This eight square-mile island in the British territory has volcanic origins and a rugged landscape graced by some of the most beautiful beaches anywhere in the world. The approximately 150 inhabitants take great pride in keeping their island outside the boundaries of time.
As a Virgin islander myself, I can tell you that Jost Van Dyke (JVD) is the place where those of us who have already escaped the rat-race go when we want to escape completely.
Stress Free Zone
The relaxation capital of the Caribbean is Ivan’s Stress Free Bar at White Bay.
Imagine a mile of soft, plush, white-sandy beach coupled with electric-blue water.
Tall, svelte palms watch over the paradise like loyal sentinels determined to keep any reality spoilers from robbing you of your timelessness; hammocks sway; a tree-swing dangles; waves gently lap the shore–there are bikinis–and no one is behind the bar.
Wait a minute! No one behind the bar? Now, what’s so stress free about that?
No one is behind the bar because at Ivan’s, you make your own drink and record it in a ledger á la the honor system. There’s no chance of getting stressed out because your drink wasn’t strong enough or the barkeep wouldn’t make eye contact.
Ivan’s Stress Free Bar is a one-of-a-kind hangout. The insides are decorated with seashells as wallpaper and photographs of revelers. Live music can break out anytime.
If you are a Kenny Chesney fan, you’ll be interested to know that this is the famous Ivan Kenny sings about in the song, “Somewhere in the Sun”. In fact, Ivan’s Bar is the setting for Kenny’s video, “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems”.
Ivan even offers equipped and bare camping sites, as well as cabins. Up the hill, Ivan has a comfortable guesthouse for rent with A/C. He throws a traditional West Indian BBQ on Thursdays only, but meals can be found down the beach within walking distance.
Beyond The Bar
For travelers who don’t want to drink their entire holiday away, JVD offers plenty to do away from the bar. There’s no shortage of snorkeling and SCUBA opportunities, mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, sailing, bone-fishing, and one should not miss a visit to the natural wonder known as the “Bubbly Pool.”
This is a tidal pool with a narrow opening to the sea that catches any big swell and harnesses its energy through the opening to create a million tiny bubbles that tickle the skin in a whirlpool effect.
In addition to activities on JVD, one could easily visit the numerous enchanting islands that make up the US and British Virgin Islands via the convenient ferry network.
There are camping facilities on Jost Van Dyke, Anegada, Tortola, St. John and St. Croix.
Various accommodations await at White Bay from bare campsites to luxury villas on the hillsides.
White Bay Campground (Ivan’s)–Equipped campsites for $35.00 ($25.00 in summer); bare Campsites for $15.00; Cabins for $50.00 to $60.00 ($40.00 – $50.00 in summer). All with shared kitchen and rest room facilities.
White Bay has no shortage of eateries. Several places exist to cater to your savory needs from burgers to four-course dinners.
Expect to pay $6-12 for breakfast and lunch and up to $32 for a four-course candlelit dinner at the Sandcastle Hotel. That is, of course, at the extravagant end of the spectrum.
A short taxi ride away ($10) is Foxy’s Tamarind Bar at Great Harbour where you can find a comparable range of plates as described above.
It is impossible to know which nights will be lively and which ones mellow here. The best bet is to go on a walkabout beneath the stars and beside the waves and look for the lights and listen for the music.
One thing to count on is the above Foxy’s Tamarind Bar which has a crowded dinner rush and a consistent lively atmosphere, often with live music. You will be more than content no matter what you find; just accept the night for what it is.
With a 1,054-foot peak, numerous hidden coves, coral reefs galore, perennial trade winds and clear water, water all around; there is no shortage of activities to help purge the previous night’s indulgences from your pores.
A couple of adventure companies are there to satisfy your need to explore. Sea and Land Adventure Sports—Located in White Bay, this outfit offers a comprehensive selection of bikes, kayaks, boats and the like.
Jost Van Dyke SCUBA and Eco-Adventure Tours—Located in Great Harbour, this outfitter has a fuller list of options and a website that is worth a look.
Getting In and Out
While JVD feels like a world-away, it’s actually rather accessible without incurring great expense. The regional hub of St. Thomas (STT) is one of the cheapest places to fly into in all of the Caribbean.
My friend flew recently from LAX to STT for under $350 R/T with only one stop on Spirit Airlines.
I have seen fares for under $50 each way from Ft. Lauderdale on this airline. I can hook you up with great fares through my website.
Once on STT, you’re only a ferry ride (or two) away from complete escape. There are two ferry terminals on STT: Charlotte Amalie (CA) is a five-minute cab ride from the airport and Red Hook (RH) is about 30-40 minutes.
Pay attention to where your ferry is going from and to; some of the islands have numerous terminals and going to the wrong one can mean a long (and costly!) cab ride to the part you want to access. Here are ferry schedules throughout the US and British Virgin Islands.
A direct ferry goes from RH to JVD and back on Fridays/Saturdays/Sundays. For all other travel days (or if those times don’t work), it is best to go from CA to West End, (WE) Tortola and then transfer to a ferry to JVD.
And that works going the other way, too. Just check out the ferry link above and work it out. A roundtrip ferry ticket to JVD from STT will cost you between $50-$70 plus a $5 departure tax upon leaving JVD. The journey is 45 – 90 minutes depending on transfers and customs.
One More Thing
Both the US and British Virgin Islands use the US Dollar as their official currency and it is important to note that while Americans don’t need passports to travel to the US Virgin Islands, They DO need one to enter the British Islands. No visa required in either case.