When most people dream about a vacation in the Caribbean, they imagine cruising from port to port in an elegant ship with nonstop buffets, or sitting in a lounge chair on a well-manicured beach being served a cold drink at an all-inclusive resort. There is, however, another alternative that is economical, environmentally friendly, and definitely more adventurous. Campers and beach lovers can spice up their time at Cinnamon Bay in the US Virgin Islands by camping overnight just a minute away from the waves and sand.

Getting to St. John (one of the Virgin Islands) may be complicated. Though it requires a flight to its sister island St. Thomas, a taxi to the ferry dock, and a twenty-minute ride on the ferry, it is well worth the trouble getting there. After disembarking at Cruz Bay on St. John, you can rent a jeep or take a taxi for the short ride to the campground at Cinnamon Bay.

Although some prefer to stay in the small cottages at the campground, you can either rent a tent or bring your own. Either way, you’ll find that camping here allows you to leave behind the hustle and bustle of normal hotels and slow down to take in the beauty of the island.

After setting up camp, you’re ready to experience all that St. John has to offer. A short walk through the coconut groves leads to Cinnamon Bay, one of the longest beaches on the island. Despite its proximity to the campground, the beach rarely seems crowded.

While you can relax on the golden sand or swim in the fabulously clear water, it would be a shame not to don a mask and snorkel to see what lies beneath the waves. While some islands have great beaches and others have superb snorkeling, St. John is magnificently blessed with both.


A school of fish you may encounter while snorkeling.

Besides Cinnamon Bay, there are more than thirty other postcard-worthy beaches on St. John. A short visit probably won’t allow time to visit each beach, but you should definitely spend some time at Trunk Bay. Just a mile from the campground, Trunk Bay is the only beach on the island where a fee is charged, but it’s hard to complain, as it is truly one of the loveliest beaches to be found in the world.

Like Cinnamon Bay, Trunk Bay has a small cay (island) close to shore, which contributes to the calm water. Here, visitors can follow an underwater snorkeling trail that uses plaques on the ocean floor to describe the wonderfully abundant marine life. As you glide effortlessly through the water, sea fans sway with the current, parrotfish munch on coral, and shy trunkfish putter about.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of camping in the Caribbean is that even when you’ve finished your activity-filled day at the beach, you don’t have to end your communion with nature. You return to the warm comfort of the campground and listen to the island fall asleep before you too drift off to more dreams of paradise.

—Tiffanie Abbott

Images courtesy of Bill Abbott’s personal collection.