Spanish Virgin Islands Sailing Expedition

Harborside Academy - April 3 - 9, 2020 (7 Days)

Enrollment Deadline April 19th, 2019.

All enrollment applications will be reviewed and approved by Harborside school prior to acceptance. 

 Sailing in the Spanish Virgin Islands

The Spanish Virgin Islands are a series of 23 small islands and cays located between Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Island of Saint Thomas. With only 2 inhabited islands, Culebra and Vieques, this Caribbean archipelago is rich with bird sanctuaries, diverse protected marine life and colorful reef ecosystems. Endless bays and thriving reefs welcome visitors to explore the variety of marine species in the water, while the citizens of Culebra and Vieques eagerly open their doors to smiling visitors from all parts of the world. Following the 2017 double hurricane encounter with Hurricanes Maria and Irma, the resilient culture of the islands has continued to persevere as the local people banded together to rebuild their communities. The region is a calm, quiet and beautiful location to explore communities both above and under the sea.

On this sailing week to the islands, the group will live aboard 40 - 50 ft yachts to travel and conduct research. Each and every day we will drop anchor in a protected bay where students can jump off the boat and snorkel amongst sea turtles, stingrays and a multitude of other fish. Students will enjoy the opportunity to explore the uninhabited islands and then observe the wild horses of Vieques before drinking some refreshing milk from a coconut picked and opened right in front of them. Students will have a variety of projects to participate in throughout the week, matching both their passions and learning objectives. If interested, students will have the opportunity to experience the amazing phenomena of the bio-luminescence bay where oceanic plankton light up the water at night. The group will quickly find why this is the Robinson Crusoe or Jacques Cousteau Adventure of the Virgin Islands.

What you can expect

Daily Academic / Research Opportunities

Each day the students may help conduct marine life surveys, reef surveys, map the hiking trails, meet with the Marine Center to learn about the local marine ecosystem, Visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to learn about the plants, animals, and conservation on the islands, as well as visit the cultural center to learn about the people on the islands. Evenings are spent debriefing the day, playing group games, completing field notes and enjoying some stargazing

Marine Life

Sailing around the 23 remote islands and cays that make up the Spanish Virgin Islands are surrounded by incredible marine life including soft and hard coral reefs. Every time you jump off the back of the boat you may see eagle rays, common sting rays, green and hawksbill sea turtles, and a multitude of reef fish. It’s common to see a clam or two or three, as well


The islands of Vieques and Culebra have some of the best bays in the world to swim in and study bioluminescence!


Both the island of Vieques and Flamenco Beach were voted as one of the top islands and beaches to visit in 2016. You can find old tanks on Flamenco Beach, an interesting token to the past US military presence here. Vieques has a wild horse population. You can always find the horses strolling the beaches of Sun Bay or wondering aimlessly on the island.

Learn to sail

Students and chaperones will have the opportunity to learn how to navigate, handle rigging, tack and jibe, and steer the boats.

Service Project Possibilities:

Relevancy: following 2 hurricanes that hit the region in 2017, modern data on the local ecosystems and habitats is vital to measuring the current stage of diversity on the reefs

Project Possibilities:

  • Reef Studies: fish and coral studies are completed to measure the level of diversity and current state of the various reef location of the islands. Students use snorkeling gear, camera equipment, field guides and data sheets to record all data.

  • GIS Mapping: students use GPS units, depth recorders and various camera equipment to measure and map current bays and anchorage sites (critical information for captains and fisherman in the region)

  • Awareness Project: students collect both quantitative and qualitative data on the current state of the island culture. Students utilize camera equipment, conduct interviews and complete observational data sheets to develop a short film or photo essay on the region post-hurricane.

C turtle.jpg


Day 1

  • Group flies to St. Thomas and will be greeted by Global Treks staff, then travels to marina 5 min from airport

  • First day, everyone gets settled on the boat, boat orientation (boat safety)

  • Evening walk around St. Thomas waterfront

Day 2-6

  • Day 2 we sail 4 hours to the Spanish Virgin Islands (Culebra and Vieques)

  • 23 surrounding islands and cays all very close together and we can always see where we’re going to next

  • Anchorage each night in a quiet bay next to land

  • Each day we sail 1 – 2 hours to the next anchorage and research location

  • Students have opportunity to sail, navigate, collect marine life data, snorkel and conduct interviews ashore with local island citizens and professional scientists

  • All meals will be on the boat with optional opportunities to eat in small groups on the islands

  • Each boat has a small boat tender (dinghy) used to transfer people from boat to shore.

  • Once anchored, daily activities include: snorkeling, going to shore to hike the trails, visiting lighthouses, walking into town, meeting with local experts, and/or visiting the marine science center, etc.

  • Most of the islands are uninhabited except for two: Culebra and Vieques.

Day 7

Fly from St. Thomas to Chicago

Trip Highlights

While conducting research you may also have the chance to swim among bioluminescence at night as well as snorkel off the sailboat and dive with stingrays, sea turtles, reef fish, and vibrant soft and hard corals. You will also have the opportunity to explore uninhabited islands and observe wild horses on the beaches, hike through nature preserves and bird sanctuaries, and collect coconuts to eat and drink. 

expedition SAILBOAT

Travel Costs: $2,950

What’s included: Flights from Chicago to/from St. Thomas in the USVI, lodging, food, transportation in St. Thomas, sailboat charter, a licensed U.S.C.G. Captain, supplies, activity fees, snorkeling gear and mooring costs.  

What’s not included: Transport to/from Chicago, souvenirs, personal spending money, and optional travel insurance.

Please note: passports are required for this trip

Ready to Join?

Enrollment Deadline April 19th, 2019.

All enrollment applications will be reviewed and approved by Harborside school prior to acceptance. 

What past students have to say about their experience:

Jefferson G. | University of North Texas

     "I see global treks being an unforgettable learning experience first and foremost. I would love to work for Global Treks again on any other projects. Global Treks taught me how to apply the knowledge I’ve been accumulating for the last 4 years which was an invaluable lesson to learn for my career. Personally that allows me to have the confidence to take risks and put myself out there for future career options."

Bryan K. | Texan State University

   "This trip was much more than I expected. I know that this is what I am going to do the rest of my life. I have learned more in this one week than I have in one year of college."


Kendra H. | Century College

 "During my experience I was able to work with an amazing team that supported and encouraged me. I had an adventure of a lifetime. I was able to utilize and develop my skills that I hope to use in my future careers."