The Nature IslandFor nature lovers, the math alone is cause for excitement. Roughly two-thirds of 19-square-mile St. John falls within the boundaries of Virgin Islands National Park, and there’s plenty of emptiness outside the park too. Nothing plus nothing equals a green and glorious outdoor playground. You must plunge into it.
Explore Arawak Expeditions’ kayak tours
Not that you shouldn’t also find time to loll. Lolling is a first-rate occupation on St. John, thanks to beaches that look like the ones you see in magazines — Trunk Bay’s beach has appeared on more magazine covers than many celebrities — and feel like satin. Yes, this means the beaches are no secret, but you can skirt the crowds at popular beaches like Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay by coming in the early morning or late evening, or you can just drive a little farther (a relative term on small St. John). Down the road from Cinnamon Bay, Francis Bay has sea turtles in the shallows and yellow-bellied sapsuckers and banana quits in the nearby mangroves. Beaches on the southern and eastern ends of the island are even quieter. Rent a car and go there — and everywhere — on St. John. This is an island begging to be explored.
Given the plethora of parkland, it’s no surprise that St. John has great hiking. On St. John, the right-minded hiker goes high to low. This is not for fear of ascent — the island’s highest point, Bordeaux Mountain, measures in at 1,277 feet — but for the delightful opportunity to work up a sweat and then dive into blue waters very much like the sky. Most of St. John’s hiking trails fall within the park (pick up a trail map at the park visitor center in Cruz Bay), and most fall all the way to the sea. Ranger types wisely advise that you wear sturdy hiking shoes and insect repellent. I would add to that list a dawdling attitude and a mask and snorkel; the three-mile downhill Reef Bay hike offers not only tropical jumble but petroglyphs and sugar-mill ruins. You can do the Reef Bay hike alone (advantages: serenity and solitude) or take the same hike with a park ranger (advantage: serenity, and this time you’ll actually understand what you’re seeing). A $21 fee includes transportation to the trailhead and a boat ride back to Cruz Bay. In fact, the park has all kinds of fun offerings, most of them cheap ($4 for a snorkel tour in the waters off Trunk Bay), many of them free (bird-watching at Francis Bay). Check the event offerings on the park website, or ask at the Cruz Bay visitor center.
Sample great food at Asolare restaurant
St. John boasts plenty of other outdoor fun too. Carolina Corral offers countryside horseback rides, Arawak Expeditions offers kayak and mountain-bike tours (if you really want to get away, sign on for a kayak camping tour), Low Key Watersports will take you diving, and Virgin Island Ecotours combines the lot (kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, and education). Boat charters like Sadie Sea and Cruz Bay Watersports will take you to hard-to-reach beaches, snorkel spots, and fishing holes, all while running with the breeze. Frankly, it’s ridiculous; an all-you-can-manage outdoor buffet.
Happily, you can line up your buffet while ensconced within some of the Caribbean’s most luxurious and innovative properties, from the opulent Caneel Bay, a Rosewood Resort (spring for a beachfront room and do your lolling mere steps from the Caribbean Sea), to The Westin St. John Resort & Villas to the famed eco-digs (made, pretty much, of recycled everything) of Maho Bay Camps and Estate Concordia Preserve. Try one of Concordia’s recently completed Eco-Studios: bedroom, living room, bathroom, kitchen, and spectacular ocean-view deck, all crafted with the latest green materials. St. John has the full range of lodging options, albeit on a smaller scale than many of the Caribbean islands. Which, of course, is the beauty. Food spans the same spectrum, from the upscale (Equator Restaurant at Caneel Bay; bed-and-breakfast) to down-home West Indian (Vie’s Snack Shack and Miss Lucy’s Restaurant).
Relax at The Westin St. John Resort & Villas
Though nature steals the show on St. John, there is shopping at Mongoose Junction and Wharfside Village in Cruz Bay and local handcrafted jewelry and artwork along the roadsides and in the village of Coral Bay. Some stores, like the luxury jewelry retailers Little Switzerland and Jewels, make it très simple for shoppers by offering their chic boutiques on both St. John and St. Thomas. There’s a certain delight in indulging in the bustle of savvy St. Thomas before taking the 20-minute ferry ride that makes the outside world seem to disappear.
(A Rosewood Resort)
Maho Bay Camps
(Estate Concordia Preserve)
The Westin St. John Resort & Villas
Equator Restaurant at Caneel Bay
Miss Lucy’s Restaurant
Vie’s Snack Shack
Cruz Bay Watersports
Low Key Watersports
Virgin Island Ecotours
Virgin Islands National Park
(St. John and St. Thomas)
(St. John and St. Thomas)
U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism