If sparkling turquoise waters and lush emerald landscapes are your idea of an idyllic Caribbean escape, then St. John is your ultimate paradise. This droplet of white sand and thick forest in the U.S. Virgin Islands is home to both Virgin Islands National Park as well as some of the most luxurious villas in the region. Unsurprisingly, prices can rise quickly for these villas -- as well as essentials like groceries and gas -- but fear not. We rustled up four ways to stay and play that don't break the bank.
1. Camp out on the beach
Nature-lovers who like the idea of waking up with their toes in the sand can head over to the Cinnamon Bay campground. You'll have the pick of reserving a bare site and bringing your own tent, or, for an experience that's a notch finer, getting a ready-made canvas tent with linen service. Screened-in cottages are also available at slightly higher prices. It might not be the Ritz, but you’ll be sleeping right on one of Virgin Islands National Park’s most popular beaches with easy access to sun and surf. Rates range from $37 for bare sites up to $163 in the high season for cottages with the most coveted locations (compared to lower-priced cottages in other locations).
2. Go eco above Salt Pond Bay
On the far side of the island, the Concordia Eco-Resort offers an earth-conscious island experience with fantastic ocean views from a steep hillside. While apartments and studios are on offer, Concordia’s wood and canvas tents help shave off a few extra lodging dollars. Regardless, all options take advantage of trade winds instead of air conditioners to bring in cool breezes, and showers use water heated by the Caribbean sun. Concordia has an on-site restaurant, a freshwater pool, and direct hiking access to the beach and snorkeling at Salt Pond Bay. Rates start from $126 in low season and $185 in peak season.
3. Crash in Cruz Bay
While the beaches and the outdoors are St. John's star attractions, the nightlife and restaurants shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Cruz Bay -- home to a hub of bars, restaurants, day tours, ferries, and shopping -- also encompasses hotel options with lower price tags. Check out the Cruz Bay Boutique Hotel, right by the ferry dock, for minimalistic rooms starting at $155 per night. Bonus: Breakfast and WiFi are included.
4. Rent in the Hills
Like we mentioned, the villas that immediately come to mind on St. John evoke beachside bedrooms, sprawling pools, impressive decks, and other high-end features. But more modest and reasonably priced options await if you're willing to set deeper into the residential neighborhood -- which is a great way to get a taste of local life, anyway. We found studios and one-bedrooms starting as low as $60 per night on rental sites like Airbnb and HomeAway.