We just got back from St. John, and it was one of the best vacations we’ve had in a long time. If you dream of impossibly beautiful turquoise water lapping at pristine, white-sand beaches, this is the place. It’s so breathtaking, you’ll run out of adjectives on the first day. And the views just keep getting better and better.
Because it’s a U.S. territory, it’s easy to get to from the states, U.S. dollars are the currency, and getting through customs is a snap. What we like best about St. John is that two thirds of the island is National Park, so compared to many Caribbean islands it’s really undeveloped.
Chances are, you’ll fly into St. Thomas. From there, you can take a 45-minute ferry from Charlotte Amalie. Or you can take a taxi to Redhook – it costs about $20 – and then take the 15-minute ferry from there. It’s a lovely ride.
You’ll arrive at Cruz Bay, a bustling little town with dozens of bars and restaurants – some of them quite good – some nice shops, and a couple of grocery and convenience stores.
There are remarkably few St. John hotels – two, in fact. Caneel Bay and The Westin St. John Resort & Villas. Both are expensive and a fair distance from Cruz Bay.
The Cinnamon Bay Campground is another option for the young and/or adventurous. Located on a gorgeous beach, Cinnamon Bay has tents, campsites and a few small cottages.
For our money, St. John vacation rentals are the way to go. You can rent anything from a studio apartment to a five-bedroom home. We opted for a one-bedroom condo overlooking Cruz Bay and loved being walking distance to all the restaurants.
If you like to hike, there are dozens of trails throughout the National Park. When you arrive in Cruz Bay, the National Park Visitors Center is to the left of the ferry dock. They can provide you with more information. The Lind Point trailhead is right behind the visitors center. The trail leads to Caneel Bay, Honeymoon Beach, and Salomon Bay. It takes about 45 minutes and is well worth doing.
Take or wear a swimming suit and keep an eye out for mongooses and bananaquits, a bright yellow bird.
The most popular hike in St. John is the Reef Hike which begins in the mountains and ends at the beach at Genti Bay. The National Park service will take you by van to the trail head and then bring you back to the visitors center by boat. But during the season, you’ll have to make reservations is advance as the trip fills up fast. Along the way, you’ll see old petroglyphs and the ruins of a sugar mill.
We especially enjoyed the Leinster Bay and Johnny Horn trails which lead up to the ruins of Windy Hill. From up there, the views of Tortola, Peter Island, Jost Van Dyke, and Waterlemon Cay absolutely take your breath away.
If you don’t feel like making the hike, the views from the Annaberg Plantation, which can be reached by a stairway from the parking lot, are well worth it.
If beaches are your thing, you can visit a different one every day of your stay. Trunk Bay is the best known and perhaps the most photogenic. It has an underwater trail for snorkelers. But there are dozens of beaches and if you arrive by boat or trail, you’ll only share them with a few others.
Every visitor should snorkel at least once while they’re here. You can see fish and coral off virtually any beach, but for the best snorkeling, take the Leinster Bay trail to Waterlemon Cay. You can rent equipment at Low Key Watersports next to the Beach Bar.
Be sure to take your passport along so you can visit the British Virgin Islands. Snorkel trips that go to the Baths in Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke are great fun and a must-do.