By: Sharon Betts
The island of St. John has to rank as one of my favorite places in the world. The smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean Sea, St. John is situated about four miles east of St. Thomas, another popular destination which is beautiful in its own right and a fun place to do some great shopping; however, St. John offers a little respite from the masses of cruise ship passengers who slam into St. Thomas on a daily basis. St. John offers pristine beaches and some of the most beautiful bays in the world, along with an abundance of wildlife, tropical vegetation, low-key shopping, snorkeling, diving, water activities, boating excursions and general outdoor exploring opportunities.
Getting to St. John requires a ferry ride from St. Thomas and there are two options: Charlotte Amalie or Red Hook, both of which take you into Cruz Bay, which is the main town and port of St. John. I prefer the smaller Red Hook ferry, but that does require a 30-40 minute cab ride from the airport in St. Thomas. Getting from cab to ferry, with luggage in tote, can be a little stressful, but once you’re there, you’ll realize it was worth it.
I recommend renting a vehicle in St. John because there is so much to do and so many beautiful bays to explore, especially the string of bays in fairly close proximity on the island’s northwest side – Cruz, Caneel, Hawksnest, Trunk, Cinnamon, Maho and Francis — each of which have a different feel and personality to call their own. Cinnamon Bay and Trunk Bay both offer beautiful panoramic vistas from above and gorgeous beaches and fabulous snorkeling at water level. Be sure to time your visit to Trunk Bay, which can get very crowded with snorkeling excursions from the St. Thomas cruise ships on certain afternoons. If you’re in the mood for a frozen concoction in the heat of the afternoon sun, make sure to try a Bushwacker from the Trunk Bay Snack Bar, or a Painkiller over at Cinnamon Bay’s restaurant. For a little peace and solitude, Maho Bay can be one of the most tranquil spots for a beach walk or swim in the mornings, with its calm waters, limited parking and protected beach. Caneel Bay is home to the fabulous Virtuoso property, Caneel Bay Resort.
On the southwest shore, the bays are similarly picturesque – Chocolate Hole, Rendezvous, Fish and Reef – but they are a little harder to get to water level, except on foot, with the exception of Great Cruz Bay, home to the Westin St. John Resort. Over on the East side is beautiful Coral Bay, which is subdivided into several smaller inlets (e.g., Round Bay, Hurricane Hole, Coral Harbor). While over on that side of the island, check out Skinny Legs Bar and Grill, a great place for burgers. But be sure to watch out for goats alongside the road! For a beautiful view of Coral Bay, drive up to the lookout point on Centerline Road atop Bordeaux Mountain.
Finally, after a day at the beach, or a little shopping in Cruz Bay, be sure to visit Woody’s in downtown Cruz Bay during their late afternoon happy hour!
St. John is a beautiful place to visit. I’ve been there several times and I as I write up this summary, I realize I can’t wait to get back there!