What to see in St. John and – above all – why decide to visit it?
The smallest of the 3 major US Virgin Islands is literally a little paradise on earth.
And I don’t refer only to the classic dream beaches, to the hot weather all over the year and to the turquoise sea neighboring a good part of the Caribbean islands.
I refer to a nature – tied to a surprising history – that allowed ¾ of the island to become National Park (together with Hassel Island, an islet in the near Charlotte Amalie Bay in St. Thomas).
I refer to the several colonisations and traditions which had origin from it and that influenced savors, legends, even events and anniversaries: like the incredible Carnival taking place here every year between the last week in June and the first one in July. It reaches its highlight during the Independence Day celebrations on July 4th.
St. John has something special, hard to explain by words, a feeling of calm, joy and peace you start to feel just arrived and that then you find non-stop reflected in its people’s eyes, in their smiles, even in the way they stress the accent or in the little daily gestures.
The ideal thing is dedicate to it at least 3/4 days – what with St. Thomas and St. Croix tour – to enjoy calmly everything the island has to offer and then get the time to relax for a bit on that is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world – according to the National Geographic and not only – Trunk Bay Beach.
What to see in St. John: Cruz Bay
You arrive to St. John by sea from St. Thomas.
The Red Hook Ferry shuttles between the two islands each hour about, from 5.30am to Midnight.
The route from Red Hook (St. Thomas) to Cruz Bay (St. John) takes 20 minutes and allows to enjoy a suggestive view of many US (and in part British, too) Virgin Islands.
Cruz Bay is the lively center of the island.
From here the tours by boat or by Safari Bus – you find them going out the small harbor in the parking on the left – to discover the beaches and the most important places of St. John leave. And here the Visitor Center of the island (where you’ll find maps, mini-guidebooks, info and other more) and the US Virgin Islands National Park one, where it’s possible to book trails and excursions with Rangers, are located.
The central core of Cruz Bay – nightlife included – develops in the central King, Second and Bay Street.
Among pubs, restaurants, souvenirs little stores, even a mall, a few resorts, offices and a well stocked supermarket besides a little beach of white sand, palms and mangroves opening on the bay.
What to see in St. John: a short itinerary
The first thing to do once arrived is to rent a Safari Bus and dedicate a half day discovering the most suggestive points.
The first dutiful stop is Trunk Bay Beach. My tip is to stop first on the hill to admire the views of the bay and of the near British Virgin Islands. Then go down as far as the beach to give yourselves a bit of relax or dedicate to snorkelling following the suggestive underwater path among corals.
After a stop at the beautiful Cinnamon Bay, reach the Annaberg Sugar Plantation’s ruins to discover how cane plantations of the Virgin Islands worked – through the trail and the explicative notices – and to enjoy another amazing view of the near islands.
Not to miss a stop at Coral Bay – the second town of St. John – to visit the ancient Emmaus Moravian Church and the creepy ruins of the Carolina Estate, the plantation protagonist of a bitter slaves’ rebellion in 1733.
The Reef Bay Trail Hike is – among the several trails for trekking and the walks through the forest of the Bordeaux Mountain – the most emotional trail (more or less 5 hours total) of the National Park.
Three hours walk through woods and streams, accompanied by a Ranger discovering plants, animals and trees, petroglyphs dating back to the age of Taino Natives, waterfalls, plantations’ ruins and Danish age constructions.
From the surprising vision of the hermit crabs’ climb to nest as far as the arrival to the wonderful Reef Bay where’s possible to stop snorkelling waiting for the boat taking back to Cruz Bay in an hour about.
It’s advisable to get comfortable cloths and shoes, water, repellent and sun cream, packed lunch, towel and swimsuits. And it’s better to book in advance the excursion according to the availability considering the great demand, above all in the high season.
What to see in St. John: where to sleep and eat
St. John offers a variegate choice or resorts, hotels, accommodations and B&B to stay overnight and typical taverns and starred restaurants where to taste an excellent local cuisine.
What are my tips?
The Gallows Point Resort is the most beautiful and suggestive resort in the island, in my opinion.
It’s a complex of little two storys large houses with all comforts, swallowed by the greening of the Gallows Bay Resort promontory – with a view of St. Thomas Island – at a stone’s throw on foot from Cruz Bay.
The second floor of the reception holds one of the most famous and appreciated restaurants in the US Virgin Islands, the Ocean 362.
Have dinner by candlelight here with a view of St. Thomas, tasting local delicacies re-elaborated by the starred chef Shaun Bryan it’s worth it alone a stay on the island.
De’ Coal Pot – in Cruz Bay, King Street – is the perfect place to try the just caught wahoo, goat stew, rice and vegetables typical cuisine at definitely affordable prices. Recommended for lunch and dinner.
Then if you cannot do without the Italian cuisine – on the Virgin Islands, too – so you must reserve a pizza (good, thanks to the skilled Italian pizza maker) and Lombard cuisine at Livio’s.
The ideal place also to drink a good Espresso, maybe together with Livio (ask for him at your arrival), the owner – he comes from Lombardy – who has been living in St. John for 10 years.