Powder sand on Cinammon Bay Beach, St. John.
Things to do
Cruz Bay, this lively seaside town situated on the west coast is St John’s main commercial centre with the principal port, Cruz Bay Harbour where visitors are required to pass through US Customs and Immigration. The town offers delightful shopping areas such as the Marketplace, Mongoose Junction and Wharfside Village. The Virgin Islands National Park Visitors’ Center is also located there.
Coral Bay is a sheltered port on the southeastern side of the island, once the main town of the St. John until the current ferry service was introduced to Cruz Bay. Coral Bay has a handful of shops, cafés, bars, restaurants and a bohemian air – compared to Cruz Bay. Although it takes half an hour by car from Cruz Bay, it’s worth driving the route for the magnificent view from Centerline Road (RT10) and to grab a snack at Skinny Legs Bar & Grill, a fun place.
St. John National Park, the principal reason to visit St. John, covers two third of the island, not to mention most of St John’s long and lovely beaches. The National Park Service has, with non-Caribbean efficiency, set up 22 hiking trails ranging from 0. 5 miles to 3 miles (15 minutes to 2 hours), along with detailed maps. The Park service also offers guided hikes and activities such as Reef Bay Hike and Sky Watch.
Trunk Bay beach.
Most of the best beaches embrace the north coast of St John along North Shore Road (RT20), with plenty of the obligatory powder white sand and clear, calm waters.
This stunning beach with iconic little islets offshore is the most photographed beach in US Virgin Islands. You cannot leave the island without visiting it, even if the huddled masses shadow its scenic beauty it’s worthwhile. Trunk Bay is a Blue Flag beach with modern, efficient facilities including changing rooms, showers and a snack bar. Although you can enjoy a pretty good snorkelling here, the underwater trail is overrated as the coral is sadly dying. Such is the effect of mass tourism.
A long stretch of soft sand with inexpensive accommodation at the campground and plenty of water activities such as kayaking, windsurfing as well as nature trail hiking.
A calm roadside beach backed by pretty Maho (or Mahoe) trees with heart-shaped green leaves and hibiscus-like flowers, Maho is popular with locals for weekends picnics. Sea turtles are frequent visitors here.
Salomon Beach and Honeymoon Beach, both on Caneel Bay
Next to each other, separated by rocks and as beautiful as the famous north shore beaches but without the crowds, because access is by a challenging mile long hike (Lind Point Trail) from Cruz Bay unless you’re staying at a nearby resort.
Salt Pond Bay
For those who staying at the Coral Bay or want avoid crowds, Salt Pond Bay is the best ‘non-North shore’ beach and is an excellent alternative when the surf is breaking on the north (usually in the winter).
Waterlemon Cay, off Leinster Bay
This small island off east Leinster Bay Beach is known for the best snorkeling in St. John and one of few places to home to large orange cushion stars. It is accessible by swimming from the Leinster Bay Beach, though the current can be powerful. Nearby is Annaberg Sugar Plantation, the most intact sugar mill ruins in the Virgin Islands.
Trunk Bay beach.
Three companies operate hourly car barges (kind of ferries) between Cruz Bay and Read Hook in St. Thomas.
Passenger ferries run also hourly between Red Hook and Cruz Bay, a 20 minutes ride, or Waterfront (Charlotte Amalie) to Cruz Bay, taking 45 minutes. Ferry services connect St. John with BVI, Tortola, Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda.
The rates of tourist taxis are regulated and reasonable. You may save a few dollars using a public bus, collective/shared taxi or safari bus. The public VITRAN (Virgin Island Transit) operates the length of each main island for $1. Two hour Island tours are also offered for not-unreasonable rates.
St. John is one of the safest destinations among the Caribbean islands.
Tap water is perfectly safe, and indeed sweet, to drink.
Equator Restaurant in Caneel Bay. Photo by Fred Hsu.
There are several exclusive retreats hidden away in the secluded bays as well as the more conspicuous all-inclusive resort hotels. However, St. John also offers plenty of low-key, eco-lodging alternatives such as the campgrounds at Cinnamon Bay and Maho Bay.