There are many ways to explore the landscapes and seascapes of the Virgin Islands: by air, by boat, by car, on foot, or by swimming. But if you have limited and time and money, it makes sense to try to combine two or more of these activities – to get the most bang for your buck, as it were. Which is exactly the concept behind the trips offered by VI Ecotours, the most popular excursion outfitter in the Virgin Islands.
Mangroves, St. Thomas — Photo courtesy of VI EcotoursThe company's flagship tour is a three-hour combined kayak-snorkel-hike trip in and around the protected St. Thomas Marine Sanctuary, a unique mangrove lagoon which flanks the island's south shore. Throughout the tour experienced guides provide expert (and often humorous) commentary on the ecology, history, and biology of the shallow mangrove, which is a breeding ground for hundreds of species of fish and birds as well as a hurricane "hole" (refuge) for boats.
Kayakers on the mangrove lagoon, St. Thomas — Photo courtesy of VI EcotoursThe tour starts with visitors loading into two-man kayaks and paddling for about 30 minutes to the outer edge of the lagoon. Guides stop periodically to point out various fish and birds, and to explain in greater detail what ecological function the mangroves serve, and how they came to be protected.
Hikers watch hermit crabs racing, Cas Cay, St. Thomas — Photo courtesy of VI EcotoursAfter you arrive at Cas Cay, a small offshore island, you'll hike a short distance to the tip of the island, where a rocky point thrills visitors with its spectacular display of crashing surf. Along the way the guides point out indigenous species of trees and bushes, as well as hundreds of thousands of hermit crabs which constantly scurry underfoot.
Snorkeling in the mangrove lagoon, St. Thomas — Photo courtesy of VI EcotoursAt the end of the hike, the group dons snorkel gear and hits the water. You'll explore the 10-foot deep lagoon and glimpse all manner of sea life including nurse sharks, barracuda, blowfish, octopus and the occasional lobster. There is even a small shipwreck you can swim around.
Porcupine pufferfish, mangrove lagoon, St. Thomas — Photo courtesy of VI EcotoursThen it's time to head back to base camp. Another 30-min paddle brings you back where you started, tired and slightly sunburned, but rich with the knowledge of St. Thomas's nature and ecology.
The tour is open to guests of all ages and paddling abilities. If you find the paddling too difficult (which rarely happens, since the lagoon is so calm) the guides can tow you where you need to go. All equipment is provided, and a photo CD of the excursion is available for an extra fee at the end of the tour.
VI Ecotours also offers similar combination kayak-snorkel-hike tours around Hassel Island (in Charlotte Amalie harbor, St. Thomas) and around Caneel Bay, St. John.