St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
If you want a hotel room that sits right on the beach in the Caribbean, St. John isn't for you. But if you want a beach all to yourself, there's no better place. With nearly two-thirds of the island protected by the Virgin Islands National Park, St. John has an undeveloped beauty and solitude that's rare among its built-up neighbors – and the best way to explore it is by hugging its deserted coastline in a kayak. "Some of the spots are accessible only by boat or by hiking in," says captain Arthur Jones of Arawak Expeditions. "So you can get to beaches you wouldn't otherwise see."
Don't let the word expedition fool you – kayaking here couldn't be easier, because you'll spend about 20 percent of your time paddling and 80 percent swimming or lying on the beach under the shade of a palm tree. The national park covers 7,000 acres of St. John's 20 square miles, encompassing almost the entire north shore, a stretch of lush green forest with cove after cove of empty white-sand beaches. A kayak trip all the way around the island takes four or five days, but you can also get a taste of that same solitude with easy day trips from the main town, Cruz Bay. This is not only where the ferry from St. Thomas drops you off, it's also where you'll find Arawak Expeditions. Grab one of its sit-on-top kayaks and within 30 minutes you can be pulling into Salomon Beach, which no roads lead to, and a further 30 minutes will bring you to Henley Cay, a tiny island with some of the best snorkeling on the north shore.
For an even more unforgettable adventure, have Arawak shuttle you and your kayak 40 minutes away to Haulover Bay to begin a self-guided two-day trip back to Cruz Bay. The predominant east winds will blow you pretty much to your first night's destination, so don't rush it: Stop off at Brown Bay, the first hike-in-only beach you come to, and at Waterlemon Cay, where you'll want to snorkel around one of the most vibrant reefs on the island. From here, it's only two hours to Cinnamon Bay, where you can either camp or stay in a rustic cottage right on the water. Day two is just five more downwind miles back to Cruz Bay, but just before pulling your boat ashore for good, paddle right up to the exclusive Caneel Bay Resort for a late lunch and an umbrella drink. "It'll probably be the most expensive lunch you've ever had," says Jones. "But it's amazing, and you've earned it.
More information: Fly to St. Thomas on Delta, United, or American, and take the 45-minute ferry to Cruz Bay. Once you're on the island, haul your luggage up to The Fish Trap, a seafood bonanza not far from the docks. Order snapper if you really want to get in the swing of things. Ask the Rastas who work in the bay which of the island's small bars will be putting on a show. There's always a show.
Credit: Photograph by Robert Zaleski