Saint John, Virgin Islands: a Travel Guide
A natural treasure, more than two-thirds of Saint John, the smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, are protected as a national park. Though petite, stretching to roughly five miles wide and nine miles long, the island—and its beaches—is a veritable slice of paradise.
Its nature, unspoiled, counts as one of the biggest draws for many visitors that flock to Saint John. Though, its tranquil atmosphere, sparse population, and beautiful beaches are also great selling points. The locals, too, are most often welcoming--and, thanks to the lack of significant urban development on the island, much of what is manmade doesn’t contrast with the natural beauty of the island. The absence of anything truly imposing makes its hub, Cruz Bay, more of an extension of the island itself than something of its own.
While Saint John offers many visitors staying in the town of Cruz Bay a much-needed respite from the everyday drawl of work back home, there are plenty of things to see and do around the island. Though, much of it involves communing with nature. Eco-hikes, snorkeling, kayaking, sailing, and even horseback riding are some of the many activities that visitors can choose to take part in—and let’s not forget about the island’s array of delectable dining options, either.
When to Visit Saint John
Perpetually hot, there really is no truly cool weather down in the Virgin Islands. Though, from the months of December to March, temperatures are more bearable than during the months of July to November, which is the offseason.
The former sees exorbitant prices among hotels, B&Bs, and resorts as it is the peak season. Consider booking ahead of time to nail a room as finding one on an impromptu notice may prove challenging.
The shoulder season of April to May sees lesser crowds—and lesser prices, without having to bear through the hurricane season of July to November, where rainfall is aplenty. Consider booking within April to May for the best deals—and to have the island all to yourself!
Where to Stay
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Once you arrive in Cruz Bay by ferry from Saint Thomas (Charlotte Amalie or Redhook), you’re going to need a way to get around.
Taxis are widely available throughout the island, which can pick you up right when you get off the ferry from Saint Thomas. Relatively affordable and highly accessible if you aren’t planning on renting a vehicle, they are a great option for tourists looking to get around (a trip from Cruz Bay to Maho Bay Beach costs $11 for a single person). For the most current taxi rates, see here for more information.
There are also bus services to get around the island, offered by Vitran. Buses run between Cruz Bay and Coral Bay, costing only $1 to get around the island—though they only appear once every hour.
If you’re looking to rent a car, consider renting a 4-wheeler to easily traverse through difficult terrain and steep roads. There are numerous local rental services available such as St. John Car Rental, O’Connor Car Rental, Delbert Hill Car Rental, all of which offering vehicles that have 4-wheel drive.
Where to Eat
Fish Trap (5A Cruz Bay Quarter, Cruz Bay, St John 00831) – Acting as both an eatery and a seafood market, you can—and should—only expect the best seafood from this joint as all dishes are cooked using the freshest catch. Don’t miss out on their crab cakes, their signature fish trap jambalaya, or even their 6 oz. Mahi fillet sandwich. Be sure to finish off your savory meal with fried sweet plantain, too!
Woody’s Seafood Saloon (Prince St, Cruz Bay, St John 00830) – Unpretentious but always popular, Woody’s Seafood Saloon offers fantastic casual food at a great price! Have a go at their local favorite conch fritters, or delight yourself with their seafood platter, which consists of your choice of either grilled or blackened fish with two conch fritters and two scallops, served atop a crab pasta salad. Delicious.
- Rhumb Lines (Meada's Plaza, Cruz Bay, St John 00830) – Craving Asian? Rhumb Lines, inconspicuously located within the Bayside Mini Mart, offers some fantastic dining options such as the grilled banana mahi-mahi, the tempura rock lobster tail, or their Szechuan tuna. Wash it down with some delicious cocktails (try their Guava Wata, a guava rum and coconut water concoction).
Asolare (Virgin Islands National Park, St John 00830) – Dine at this open air Asian-Fusion restaurant whose name means “a leisurely passing of time without purpose.” Revel in some fantastic outdoor scenery as you start off your meal with a few drinks and appetizers (try the okonomiyaki). Order a plate of their miso Mahi or, if you’re craving something rich and permeating with coconut, try the Thai vegetable lemongrass curry, a Thai yellow curry served atop coconut jasmine rice.
What to Do
- Attend the Saint John Carnival – Taking place in the summer months of June to July, during two important holidays—Emancipation Day, a local holiday celebrating the abolition of slavery, and Independence Day—locals and tourists visiting Saint John can partake in the lively Caribbean and European-style parades, pageants, feasts, and masquerades whilst indulging in some of the best local foods and Caribbean tunes. Since it takes place during the off-season, accommodations should come relatively cheap!
Hike in the Virgin Islands National Park – With more than 20 miles worth of hiking trails, there’s plenty of routes to meander around (great for nature enthusiasts and photographers due to the lush flora and abundant fauna). Hike along the Reef Bay Hike trail, a 2.5 mile-long hike that is both arduous and highly rewarding. You’ll walk underneath the foliage of ancient trees and come across the ruins of Danish-run sugar plantations, ancient carvings, and other pieces of history left behind. Afterwards, unwind at the beach at the end of the trail as your reward. The experience—a highly popular one among visitors—is well worth it!
- Navigate the Waters of Saint John – Rather than just basking in the sun, why not engage in some water-based activities? Whether you’re looking to go scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, or parasailing, there is a bevy of companies that can allow you to traverse the waters surrounding Saint John. Cruz Bay Watersports offers a myriad of activities and excursions to take part in, all for a reasonable price.