What I learned at an eco-retreat in the US Virgin Islands

It’s easy to forget that the Virgin Islands are part of the United States. St. John in particular is so green and pristine that it feels like it’s worlds away from the States, yet in reality it’s only a three-hour flight from Washington DC’s main Virgin Islands, while St. John is only 20 square miles, but two-thirds of it is protected national park land.

After landing at St Thomas Airport we took a 45 minute boat ride to St John which was a treat in and of itself. The warm winds, blue water and friendly captain waiting for us with refreshments made it feel like an excursion. When we arrived it was clear that this is not a tourist destination. Up to this point, there are no all-inclusive resorts in St. John. This island offers both lush, mountainous terrain and stunning white sandy beaches. Beaches like this anywhere else in the world would surely be overrun with resorts and tourist traps.


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Instead, St. John’s has managed to make their island an unspoilt destination that embraces and openly shares its rich history, parts of which can be found on almost every hike. It’s the mix of cultures, especially African, European and Caribbean; unparalleled natural beauty; warm, friendly people; and most importantly, the ability to take it all in without the hordes of crowds and pretenses that make this a truly special place. It also doesn’t hurt that tasty painkillers can be found in almost every store.

I spent 3 days glamping at Cinnabay Bay Beach & Campground, an eco-retreat in St. John that sits right on the beautiful shoreline of Cinnamon Bay Beach. After the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017, Cinnamon Bay reopened in November 2022 and reopened with a renewed focus on sustainability. Working with local communities to ensure the environment and continued growth of the area are top priorities, Cinnamon Bay aims to offer travelers a special opportunity to literally immerse themselves in St. John’s unspoilt countryside.

Cinnamon Bay Beach & Campground
Cinnamon Bay Beach & Campground (Photo via Cinnamon Bay Beach & Campground)

Staying at an eco-resort doesn’t mean roughing it.

Cinnamon Bay Beach & Campground is a welcome alternative to the all-inclusive resorts that dot much of the Caribbean. Being at a campsite allowed me to feel a connection to the place where I lived. I was actually absorbed into the fabric of the island in a way that isn’t possible in a hotel room.

There are different types of accommodation at these campsites, from eco-tents, which offer a fan, light, power outlet, queen-size bed, linens, and a porch to relax on; Group tents that are perfect for groups of 4 people; bald sites with tent rentals that include comfort kits; and the most recently opened cottages are concrete buildings offering most of the comforts that a hotel room would have.

Additionally, there is an on-site restaurant, the Rain Tree Cafe, that serves breakfast and dinner daily, while lunch is served at the food truck. When food isn’t being served, the space is great for relaxing, group activities, or catching up on screen time — it’s one of the few spots on-site with Wi-Fi.

When it comes to showers, there are four bathhouses with sinks, showers, and toilet stalls. As someone who needs their comfort, I was pleasantly surprised that I had everything I wanted despite not being in a convention hotel.

Aerial view of Cruz Bay, St. John in the US Virgin Islands
Aerial view of Cruz Bay, St. John, US Virgin Islands (Photo via cdwheatley / Getty Images / E+)

You don’t have to spend insane amounts of money to experience exotic travel destinations.

Most people assume that vacationing in the US Virgin Islands will cost you a lot of money. For the 2 person eco tent I stayed in the average is $175 per night for a property that is literally steps away from one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen . Guests looking for an even more affordable option can opt for a bare side for just $50.

Since St. John is simply stunning, you don’t need to spend too much money on excursions. Some of my favorite activities during my trip didn’t come with high prices.

At Cinnamon Bay Campground, you can rent affordable kayaks and experience the crystal clear waters of the Virgin Islands. This area is known for its sea turtles and here we easily spotted three species: the hawksbill sea turtle, the green sea turtle and the loggerhead sea turtle. Turtle habitat at Cinnamon Bay remains undisturbed, unlike the more popular snorkeling spots in the area. It was an absolute treat to see her so close and undisturbed.

Adjacent to the property, the Cinnamon Bay Loop Trail is a non-strenuous 1 mile trail that explores the sites of a historic sugar plantation and culminates in breathtaking views of the surrounding islands and ocean. A short drive away is St. John’s most famous beach and one of the most photographed in the world. Trunk Bay, a quarter mile of white sand, was one of the most spectacular places to spend an afternoon sipping painkillers.

Another incredible and rewarding hike was on the Reef Bay Trail. This incredibly lush trail is open to the public at no charge and features ancient petroglyphs dating from 900 to 1500 AD; magnificent ruins of the Reef Bay Sugar Mill; and breathtakingly dense jungle terrain. We made several stops along the way to cool off at beautiful, rushing waterfalls. The trail culminated at Reef Bay, a pristine stretch of beach that looks like it’s straight out of a postcard. It makes sense considering it’s not accessible by car.

Cinnamon Bay Beach & Campground
Cinnamon Bay Beach & Campground (Photo via Cinnamon Bay Beach & Campground)

If being one with nature isn’t your thing, this is a great way to push your limits

I consider myself an outdoory, but not an outdoory under the stars. While friends of mine on the trip accepted being away from their screens and technology, I initially felt an increase in anxiety about it. While most people loved falling asleep to the cacophony of waves, birds, frogs, insects and rain, I felt a heightened sense of stress the first night.

I admit it took some adjustments and I had to get used to being in a new environment. With no other choice, I focused on deep breaths and calming techniques to release the discomfort of being in a place that is literally nature. It took me some time to feel comfortable not checking my email, texts, or social media, but once I let go of the urgency of being connected, I felt great. Minus the bug bites – be sure to bring bug spray.

There is something very special about waking up to the sound of the waves and being able to step out just a few meters to feel the same cool water under your toes. At Cinnamon Bay Beach & Campground, you can do just that. The fact that this is right on such a stunning beach – one that’s practically empty all day – is reason enough to push your limits and stay here.

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