…let’s clarify a few things. The Virgin Islands are divided into two political entities: the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) and the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
The USVI group consists of 50 smaller islands and three main islands: St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John, which is the smallest of the three.
In the past, St. John was associated with the Taino and Arawak Indian settlements, and America purchased it from Denmark in 1917. Although Americans are not required to have a passport, having one will speed up your travel.
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So, where is this heaven on Earth? It is located in the eastern Caribbean Sea, east of Puerto Rico.
When you arrive, you won’t miss Cruz Bay, the capital, or the location of the ferry docks that connect St. John and St. Thomas. Unfortunately, the island of St. John was hit by two devastating hurricanes in 2017, Irma and Maria, from which it is still trying to recover.
But enough with the introduction. Let’s start with travel tips and the best things to do when you visit St. John.
Trunk Bay Beach, St. John, US Virgin Islands. Photo by Yogi Misir, Unsplash
1. Trunk Bay and Coral Reef Underwater Park Trail
White sand, palm trees, and turquoise water—everything we fantasize about on Monday mornings exists, and it’s called Trunk Bay Beach.
It frequently appears on lists of the world’s most beautiful beaches: National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and Condé Nast Traveler all love it, as do TripAdvisor reviewers. Content creators will appreciate the fact that this is the most photographed beach in the world, and I believe its photogenic qualities turn even inexperienced photographers into skilled ones.
Long story short, virality is guaranteed, especially if you bring an underwater camera. Of course, today’s algorithm makes no guarantees, but you get the idea.
However, this beauty is more than just pretty: active vacationers will enjoy the numerous hiking trails and water activities, which include kayaks and paddleboards; and history buffs will appreciate the fact that Christopher Columbus was here.
But marine world enthusiasts will enjoy a special world-class treat: the Coral Reef Underwater Park Trail, an underwater snorkeling trail with incredible scenes of coral reefs, tropical fish, and, if you’re lucky, leatherback turtles.
Also, this white sand beach is part of the Virgin Islands National Park, and anyone over the age of 16 will pay $5 to enter. But, what’s $5 for this beauty? Just keep in mind that there are a limited number of parking spots and shaded beach areas, so don’t sleep in too late that morning.
St. John, US Virgin Islands. Photo by Bradem Egli, Unsplash
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2. Cruz Bay and Your Daily Bitter Sugar Dose
Even paradise isn’t always just paradise, as you’ll see when you visit the 18th-century Annaberg Sugar Plantation. So, why is its sugar so bitter? This historic site hides the dark secret of the fairytale US Virgin Islands and the slave conditions of the sugar factory’s workers during Danish colonialism.
If you want to hear the whole story, which you most certainly do, it’s best to join guided tours and visit the sugar plantation ruins and slave quarters.
Of course, after this, you can return to the more idyllic side of this coin, which includes breathtaking views and the nearby popular beaches of Cruz Bay, Maho Bay Beach, Salomon Bay, and Francis Bay. Isn’t it wonderful to have the freedom to choose?
Cinnamon Bay, US Virgin Islands. Photo by Brittany Stone, Unsplash
3. Relax on Cinnamon Bay Beach
Winter has arrived, and many people will be enjoying cinnamon and tea, but wouldn’t it be great to replace cinnamon with Cinnamon this year? Of course, I’m talking about Cinnamon Bay Beach, with its white sand, palm trees, and crystal-clear water.
Because it is the island’s longest beach, it is the best choice if you want to be sufficiently separated from your left and right beach neighbors. And I truly believe that we all do.
You can rent beach chairs, and if you can’t imagine doing nothing all day, rent snorkeling and kayaking equipment and enjoy the calm and warm blue waters of the eastern side, which is rich in corals, turtles, and tropical fish.
If you’re looking for something different to talk about at your next family gathering, go to Cinnamon Cay, where you can snorkel to find plane wrecks. Cool, right? I’m sure they’ll quickly forget to ask you when you’re getting married.
Hiking in the Virgin Islands National Park. Photo by Hans Isaacson, Unsplash
4. Explore Virgin Islands National Park
Don’t miss visiting the Virgin Islands National Park, even though it’s almost impossible because it occupies two-thirds of St. John USVI. More than 800 plant species and 30 tropical bird species have found a home in this island’s top attraction, whose beauty attracts over a million visitors each year.
After bird watching, sightseeing, and admiring the Reef Bay Trail, petroglyphs, and sugar mill, you can relax at some of the best beaches, including Waterlemon Cay, Cinnamon Bay, and Caneel Bay.
Here’s a useful travel tip: there are two routes through the park: North Shore (Route 20) provides access to the majority of the north shore beaches, while Centerline Road (Route 10) runs through the park’s center. Also, you can visit the park’s visitor center with any questions you may have.
United States Virgin Islands. Photo by Candice Brown, Unsplash
5. Eat a Taco at Lime Out in Coral Bay
You’ve probably eaten tacos before, but have you ever done so while seated and floating in the blue waters of the Virgin Islands? Yeah, that’s what I thought. And that is precisely what the Lime Out Taco Boat offers.
This is a top attraction for those who take a full-day island snorkeling tour, and this lime-green floating restaurant is a great place to have a memorable lunch. There is nothing more to say other than bon apetit.
Virgin Islands, USVI. Photo by Hans Isaacson, Unsplash
6. Meet Locals at Skinny Legs
If you want to immerse yourself in the authentic St. John atmosphere, I recommend Skinny Legs. This grill bar is an iconic spot on the island, known for its laid-back atmosphere among both locals and tourists.
And, of course, for its unique, colorful sign, which has become a symbol of the island over time. Is it necessary to mention that the grill bar serves grill food?
Honeymoon Beach, St. John, USVI. Photo by Deb Gattas, Unsplash
7. Discover Romance at Honeymoon Beach
For those who are looking for a romantic and secluded beach, visit Honeymoon Beach. Of course, if you don’t mind going on a short hike along the Lind Point Trail.
If hiking is not your thing, a boat charter or kayak is a must. Keep in mind that Honeymoon Beach has changed as a result of hurricanes, but its beauty and tranquility still attract those seeking a romantic getaway, especially couples.
If you need a break from romance, Honeymoon Beach offers a variety of activities, such as kayaking and snorkeling, to enjoy the beautiful coral reefs and colorful marine life. So, whether you’re newly married or not, you know what to do if you need a little honeymoon.
Ram Head, Virgin Islands National Park. Photo by Hans Isaacson, Unsplash
8. Find Tranquility at Salt Pond Bay
If you’re not into romance but still want to visit a secluded beach, Salt Pond Bay is a good option. It is further away from Cruz Bay than the other beaches, so you will need to use a bus or rental car service.
But the serenity that you’ll experience will be well worth it. So, bring an umbrella and sunscreen because there isn’t much natural shade, and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Also, most people probably do not associate their vacation with hiking and would rather spend their time tanning and eating tropical fruits in the shade. I am one of them, but if you aren’t, you’ll appreciate the fact that the Ram Head Trail begins here.
It will take you about 50 minutes to receive your reward: a breathtaking 360-degree view of the island of St. John. I have to admit that those who weren’t just lying in the shade all day deserved it.
Trunk Bay, St. John. Photo by Cyrus Crossan, Unsplash
9. Spend Some Money at Mongoose Junction
Do you want to remember your vacation in a way that goes beyond a fridge magnet? Go to Mongoose Junction. Designed in a Caribbean-Mediterranean style, this popular shopping destination in Cruz Bay offers a special shopping experience.
It is filled with a variety of shops and boutiques, as well as one-of-a-kind works of art by local artists. If you believe that a nice glass of beer can also be considered art, try the local St. John Brewers at a nearby microbrewery.
At the end of an exhausting day of shopping, you can recharge yourself with one of the many dining options. Or, if it was only the beginning for you, you can stay and enjoy the live music and vibrant nightlife.
Virgin Islands, USVI. Photo by Greg Garnart, Unsplash
10. Experience the Windmill Beach Bar’s Sunsets
Don’t forget to take a moment to relax and enjoy the scenery. One of the best places to do so is Windmill Beach Bar, which is located on a hill and provides a beautiful panoramic view.
With its natural stone and wood materials, this bar, named after a windmill used to grind sugar cane, perfectly complements the aesthetics of St. John.
You can try a seafood dish, sweeten yourself with tropical fruits, and stay at the same address after the sun goes down to enjoy live music and various events. Isn’t that enough for one afternoon?
Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI. Photo by Roger Darnell, Unsplash
11. Snorkel at Waterlemon Cay
“When life gives you lemons, go to Waterlemon,” suggested Socrates. I’m kidding; it wasn’t Socrates; it was me, but you have to admit that it’s a great idea, especially if you like snorkeling. Why? Because this is the island’s best snorkeling spot.
You can arrive by boat charter or a 10-minute swim from Leinster Bay Beach, during which you will see rays, starfish, turtles, and sea cucumbers. The best part is that this is only a small portion of the marine life that awaits you. But you’ll understand more once you arrive and start exploring the area around the reef.
Examples of Mangroves, Seychelles. Photo by Dan Maisey, Unsplash
12. Explore the Mangroves
Plant and animal enthusiasts looking for a one-of-a-kind experience should join one of the organized mangrove exploration routes. Mangroves are salt-resistant trees that are essential to the St. John’s ecosystem as well as the habitat of various marine species. Are you interested?
Then, proceed to the east end of an island to the Hurricane Hole to begin your snorkeling adventure. I must point out that the majority of the mangroves were destroyed by the mentioned hurricanes, but if this is your cup of tea, you will still enjoy it.
Stingray, St. John. Photo by Roger Darnell, Unsplash
13. Dive into Caneel Bay’s Turquoise
Caneel Bay’s blue-water beach is on the western side of St John, close to the famous Honeymoon Beach. While at Caneel Bay Beach, you can take a kayak tour to Henley Cay and see stingrays, barracudas, and sea birds.
I should also mention that this location was once home to a well-known luxury resort that offered seclusion, diverse gastronomic experiences, access to the best beaches, wellness and spa, and, in short, something for everyone.
However, it was completely destroyed by the 2017 hurricanes, and it remains closed to this day.
Necker Island, British Virgin Islands. Photo by Nick Rickert, Unsplash
14. Take a One-Day Trip to BVI
One of the most popular day trips is to the British Virgin Islands. If you don’t have time for a full-day adventure, there are shorter ones, and if you have a lot of time, there are multi-day ones.
If money isn’t an issue, I recommend a private boat charter; if money is an issue, treat yourself to one of the many boat tours and enjoy the magical islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, and Jost van Dyke. Of course, there are fantastic beaches, delicious food, and a ton of water sports to enjoy.
Sea Turtle, St. John. Photo by Roger Darnell.
15. See Sea Turtles at Maho Bay Beach
If you’re traveling with children, head to Maho Bay Beach on Saint John’s northern coast. It is one of the most accessible beaches and is known for its white sand and calm, shallow, crystal-clear waters.
You’ll also enjoy it if you came for snorkeling, paddleboarding, or sightseeing. Actually, you don’t need to be an expert snorkeler to see the sea turtles here, so get ready for a great time.
Well, all you have to do now is book a flight, pack your swimsuits and flip-flops, grab your sunscreen, and go.
Also, don’t forget to choose your sunscreen wisely, because some ingredients can have a serious damaging impact on the marine ecosystem and coral reefs. So avoid using sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. St. John has already faced far too many difficulties.
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Katarina Marjanović is a travel writer at Go World Travel Magazine. She studied Croatian language and literature at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Science in Zagreb. She is a freelance columnist, writer, influencer, and content creator. Additionally, she is the author of three books and the owner of a publishing and service company.