They say that good things come in small packages, and Saint John just might be living proof that the old axiom is true. The smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands has won over the hearts of millions of visitors, many of whom swear it was the highlight of their trip and is the most beautiful of all the islands in the chain. Its beaches are said to be the best in the entire Caribbean, but you'll have to come and see for yourself.
If you're visiting Saint John, here are some of the things you may want to pencil into your itinerary:
-Nature tours: Two-thirds of the island is covered by the breathtakingly beautiful U.S. Virgin Islands National Park. Guided ranger tours can be arranged for affordable rates, and the shimmering tropical beauty makes the island an ideal setting for a wedding.
-Go for a hike: Grab a map and head for one of the hundreds of miles of hiking trails that cross the island.
-Explore by car: Write your own adventure by renting a car and cruising the island at your own pace. You'll find the island's most beautiful out-of-the-way corners, and it's ideal if you want to cap the day at a Saint John spa.
-Go snorkeling: The crystal clear, shallow waters around the island's coasts are ideal for snorkeling excursions. Equipment rentals are widely available and can be brought along with you if you want to go somewhere remote and private.
-Cruz Bay: The main settlement on the islands, Cruz Bay is a harbor town that offers many welcome sights to visitors who have spent their entire day in the wilderness. The town's Mongoose Junction neighborhood is home to exclusive boutiques, perfect for shoppers hungry for stylish souvenirs.
Make your visit to Saint John that much more memorable and enjoyable by staying in your very own vacation rental. Options include condos with staggering ocean and rainforest views, beachfront villas, and houses in Cruz Bay's residential neighborhoods.
From Saint John, it's easy to explore the rest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, as ferries and boats are constantly shuttling passengers back and forth. If you've brought your passport along, you can also head to the nearby British Virgin Islands to enjoy an exclusive high-end holiday adventure.
In the US Virgin Islands, you’ll find tiny, beautiful, and tropical Saint John. With a lush national park surrounded by white sand beaches on all coasts, endless watersports, friendly locals, a burgeoning culinary scene, shopping galore, and plenty of places to get your buzz on while relaxing – Saint John should top your list of places to visit in the coming years. Here’s a breakdown of everything you’ll need to know before you go:
A brief history of the island starts with sugar cane planation agriculture and the slave revolt in 1733 that left a quarter of the island’s population dead. The US bought it from Denmark in 1917, and John Rockefeller owned much of it by 1956. He donated it back to the US and it was declared a National Park, which is why most of the center of the island remains untouched and well preserved. Since then, tourism has exploded on this beautiful escape in the middle of a turquoise ocean.
Things to do
If you’re coming to Saint John and the Caribbean in general – your fun begins at the beaches. Hawksnest Beach has incredible scuba diving and snorkeling where you can see many species of fish. Trunk Bay is extremely popular, which is a good thing and bad thing. It is the most crowded area on the island, but perfect for people watching and sun bathing. Snorkel outside Water Lemon Cay where you’ll be closer to ocean life than anywhere else. Salmon Bay is a short hike away through the National Forest, and is worth the extra effort. Salt Pond Bay and Drunk Bay are two other must-visit beaches, and on Drunk Bay you’ll find eerie effigies of ‘human’ families made out of rocks, coral, and sticks left by tourists. Get to Cinnamon Bay early to ensure you’ll have access to a Jet Ski or scuba set.
Try out Maho Beach as well, a family-friendly environment with plenty to do. You’ll find boat charters all over the island for sunset cruises, deep-sea fishing, and much more adventure.
The most well known hike on the island is arguably along the Reef Bay Trail, a 4.9-mile route from Centerline Road to the beach below. The hike travels along the ruins of the Reef Bay Sugar Factory. A slightly easier hike takes you along the rocky trail on the Coral Bay side of the island. The trail brings hikers to the petroglyph pool, which features unique carvings most likely created by the Taino people, pre-Columbian islanders. The Ram Head Trail is a mountain hike that will leave you breathless, not just at the views either.
If you’re feeling wild, parasail or paraglide at one of the beaches or bays, or if you’re looking to live a bit of history, visit the Annaberg Sugar Plantation.
Even though Saint John is two-thirds national forest, that doesn’t mean it’s difficult to get around. Board a helicopter, water taxi, small charter plane or commercial airplane to jet from island to island, and there’s no passport required for U.S. citizens.
Car rentals are plentiful but remember two key things: you MUST drive on the left side of the road, and speed limits are 20mph at most. There are taxis available through three main companies – Paradise Taxi, Saint John Taxi Association, or Per Dohm’s. If you want to travel in style, book a limo through Executive One Limousines, Slimo’s, or Love City Limousines. There are also water taxis available for you.
Vitran operates air-conditioned buses over the length of the island. Buses leave Cruz Bay in front of the ferry terminal at 6am and 7am, then every hour at 25 minutes after the hour until 7:25pm. They arrive at Coral Bay about 40 minutes later.
From Saint John, it's easy to explore the rest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, as ferries and boats are constantly shuttling passengers back and forth. Ferries travel to Red Hook, Charlotte Amalie, and more leaving a few times per hour. Tickets are cheap at $5 for adults and $1 for children. If you've brought your passport along, you can also head to the nearby British Virgin Islands to enjoy an exclusive high-end holiday adventure.
Looking for perpetual summer? You’ll find it on any of the US Virgin Islands, and Saint John is no exception. The smallest and most protected island of them all experiences sunny days, infrequent showers, and gentle breezes every month of the year. Average weather during the summer season is 82 degrees Fahrenheit (though low 90s is typical too), with the winter dropping down to only 77 degrees. The gentle winds keep the weather from getting too hot or humid, and it remains just perfect, all year.
Rain showers are often short and typically occur early in the morning or at night. All day downpours over numerous days are not common. The driest months are typically February and March, and the wettest is November.
You may need to wear a jacket if you come during the winter, just a light one, for the early morning and late at night. Most of the time shops and restaurants will have AC on to combat the heat. The ocean temp is about 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, so swimmers can cool off but it is not going to stop anyone from jumping in!
Keep an eye on hurricane reports before you book your trip, but they are extremely rare and even if a storm event is happening in ‘the Caribbean’ it may not be anywhere close to Saint John.
As featured in USA TODAY and recommended by Travel + Leisure in its annual Villa Guide:
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