St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Value for Money:
Personality Types that Like it Best
Did You Know…?
- Laurance Rockefeller donated 9,500 acres to make the Virgin Islands National Park possible.
- The only mammals native to St. John are bats — six species of them.
- There are no traffic lights on St. John.
- The nickname for one St. John tree is Tourist Tree; it has a reddish, peeling bark.
- Most of St. John’s plants are second-generation growth; the island was almost totally clear-cut in colonial days.
St. John is the smallest and quietest of the three main islands that comprise the U.S. Virgin Islands. Almost two-thirds of the 19-square-mile St. John is national park, which puts Mother Nature very much front and center on this patch of the Caribbean.
Not to say this island was untouched by human hands. Indigenous peoples had arrived long before Christopher Columbus and others wandered into these waters. Then, Europeans found St. John handy as a base for privateering, but later for plantation development and commerce. Tourism became the major commercial activity early, beginning in the 1920s.
The Virgin Islands National Park (which includes Hassel Island just off St. Thomas) was born in 1956, and the Virgin Islands National Coral Reef National Monument was created in 2001. Some of the first park is under water, too.
The result is a destination of particular appeal to travelers who want to do things outdoors and soak up the restorative aspects of a largely untrammeled environment. The island is called Love City, referring to the promise of romance suggested by its pristine nature.
Visitors can be as active or as laidback as they wish, opting for biking, diving, fishing, hiking or sailing, for example, or lazy days on beautiful sandy beaches and in the island’s small towns for dining, shopping and even some barhopping. Accommodation choices range from camping in the park to the comforts of luxurious beachside resorts.
With reference to previous habitation, the U.S. National Park Service, when describing the park’s features, says the park preserves the stories of St. John’s prehistory in more than 100 sites “that together complete one of the most undisturbed and comprehensive Caribbean landscapes.”
Dating from 840 B.C. to the arrival of Columbus, the prehistoric sites can be found on nearly every beach and bay in the park, the NPS says. The archaeological sites include rock art, which tourists may see during their explorations.
By the mid-18th century, there were 88 plantations on St. John; park visitors can spend time at two former plantations: Annaberg and Catherineberg. Annaberg is the more developed, and the park offers some living history demonstrations there.
Things to do for Venturers
- Camp in the Virgin Islands National Park, at Cinnamon Bay.
- It’s Nashville with a lot of sand. Visit in May for the Love City Country Music Festival. Or, consider the one-day St. John Blues Blowout, a bit earlier in the year.
- Dive in the deep waters off St. John to see colorful reefs and wreck sites.
- By air, by land, by sea: Sightsee from a helicopter. Drive around the island in a rented Jeep or 4X4. Round that out by exploring the coast in a kayak or a small powerboat.
- Get your exercise and introduction to St. John atop a mountain bike.
- In winter, compete in the St. John 8 Tuff Miles Road Race. The route starts and ends at sea level, but takes runners to 999 feet above sea level and involves roughly 1,400 feet in elevation gain in the first five and a half miles.
Things to do for Centrics
- Discover ancient Arawak Indian rock carvings on the Reef Bay Hike Trail, one of 22 self-guided hiking trails within the Virgin Islands National Park.
- At the former Annaberg Plantation, inside the national park, each week there are demonstrations of cultural traditions, such as basket weaving, bread baking or music and dance. Choose the session or sessions that interest you.
- Settle in for the longest Independence Day of your life — at St. John’s monthlong series of celebrations and events, which include concerts, food fairs, pageants and sporting races.
- If not a certified diver, take the snuba route, a sport that combines snorkeling and basic diving skills.
- Rent a small sailboat, join a sailing tour or take a sailing lesson. There are choices for sailors at multiple levels of proficiency and enthusiasm.
- Opt for a trail ride, by horse or donkey, up mountains and hillsides for the scenic views.
Things to do for Authentics
- Go to the beach. A couple of beauts are found at Trunk Bay and Hawksnest Bay.
- Fishing is a natural choice in such waters. Charter a captained vessel for the purpose and toss your line into the deep.
- Shop in the boutiques, but, if serious shopping is imperative, take a 20-minute ferry ride to St. Thomas and go at it for the day.
- Sightsee on a boat trip around the island. Or, take a sunset cruise.
- Snorkel at Trunk Bay, where underwater placards on the snorkeling trail describe the surrounding ecology.
- Join the national park’s bird-watching trip to Francis Bay.
For more information, consult the Virgin Islands Department of Tourism at www.visitusvi.com