The U.S. Virgin Islands is a territory of the US comprised of three main islands: St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John, and around 50 minor islands and cays. St. Thomas is the largest and most populous of the three islands. St. Croix is the most remote island and is known for its cuisine. St. John is the smallest of the three islands and is known for its natural beauty. You will find there are so many things to do in St John! Virgin Islands National Park covers about 60% of the island, and the island has many excellent hiking trails to explore.
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St. John has earned the nickname “Love City” because of its friendly atmosphere, plus the fact that it is so small that practically every resident knows everyone else. During a typical stay in St. John, you can easily make fast friends with locals and tourists alike, and even frequently run into them at different places around the island!
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How do you get to St. John island?
Because of its small size, there are no direct flights to St. John. The most direct route to the island is to fly into St Thomas.
From the airport, you can go to the taxi stand and get a taxi (often a shared van that you’ll be taking with other travelers). You’ll want to take the taxi to the Red Hook Ferry Terminal on the eastern side of the island.
Where do you catch the ferry in St. John?
From the Red Hook terminal, you’ll take the short 15-minute ferry ride to Cruz Bay Ferry Dock on St. John. The ferry generally leaves every hour throughout the day.
You can purchase tickets at the terminal or in advance online. When you arrive at Cruz Bay, you can either pick up a rental car, which is generally the easiest way to get around the island or take another taxi van to your hotel.
How do you get around St. John?
Renting a car is one of the best ways to get around St. John. There are few major roads on the island. Driving around the island is generally pretty easy, but be aware that GPS can be spotty at times, which can make navigating a little tricky.
It is a fairly small island and doesn’t have much additional infrastructure to get around easily. There is a public bus service, but it does not have a very regular schedule.
You can try to take a taxi to travel around the island, but if your destination is more remote, taxis may be reluctant to take you or they may charge a high fare. Also, while it’s generally easy to get a taxi at Cruz Bay, it can be hard to find one to take you back from your destination elsewhere on the island.
What are the best places to stay in St. John?
St. John is small, and there aren’t many hotels to choose from on the island. Because there are fewer choices, hotels tend to be expensive, and so it’s recommended that you book something as early as possible or outside of high season (December to April). Keep in mind that hurricane season for the United States Virgin Islands is typically June through November (this is also true for places like Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic).
The Westin Resort St. John Resort Villas is a gorgeous upscale option. It is a little further from the central hub of Cruz Bay, but the resort has a private taxi shuttle service, which is a nice plus.
Another hotel recommendation is Gallows Point Resort, which is, believe it or not, the only waterfront hotel on St. John. It is conveniently located within walking distance of Cruz Bay. It is also more pricey than some other options.
Another option is to stay in a vacation rental on St John. This choice will generally give you more affordable options, plus bonuses like a full kitchen, which can be helpful if you are staying longer and want save money on food.
Top Things to Do in St. John
1) Take a hike
Ram Head Trail to Salt Pond Beach
St. John is known for its great parks and hiking trails. Ram Head Trail is one of the major hikes on the island, and it features some incredible views of the St. John coast, cliffs, and surrounding islands.
You can begin the trail by parking at Salt Pond Bay Beach, which has a parking lot. The trail begins at Salt Pond Beach, which is a short walk from the parking lot. From there, you’ll walk south along the beach to pick up the Ram Head Trail at Salt Pond. Before ascending through hilly desert terrain, the trail continues along a rocky coastline.
Along the way, you will be treated to incredible views of both sides of the peninsula, with the sea and rocky cliffs on either side of you. The trail then goes up an exposed desert hill before reaching Ram Head, which is the rock outcropping on the southern-most tip of St. John. The spot gets its name because the rock formation looks like a Ram Head in profile from further out.
The trail then returns back the way you came. In total, the trail is 2.3 miles out and back and takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to complete at a moderate pace. The path is generally not too strenuous, and it is pretty easy to follow. The most challenging part about the hike is that it is very exposed to the sun, so make sure to wear sunscreen and protective clothing, and bring plenty of water to stay hydrated.
After the hike, you can cool off with a dip in the water at Salt Pond Bay Beach. There are often sea turtles, so bring your snorkel gear too!
Reef Bay Trail
Another excellent hiking trail to take is Reef Bay Trail. The trailhead can be hard to find, and there is limited parking on the side of the road. This trail descends through the rainforest until you reach the sea. The return trip is all uphill, which can make it challenging and exhausting. We recommend going in the early morning to avoid the afternoon heat.
The trail is mostly a well-marked stone path, but it can get slippery in wet conditions.
The trail has some excellent sites to take in along the way, including a side trail to see petroglyphs (make sure not to miss this! You will see signs along the way). It’s also one of the best trails for bird watching. Near the point where the trail reaches the sea, there are historic ruins of an old sugar mill, which is fascinating to explore and learn more about the island’s past.
2) Snorkeling With Sea Turtles
This is definitely a highlight of a vacation to St. John. There are many places and ways to swim with sea turtles on your own, or you can book a guided tour. This particular tour starts with a nice hike through Lind Point Trail, which leads to an overlook point above Cruz Bay.
From there, you continue on a short hike down to Honeymoon Beach. Then, you take a kayak to nearby Caneel Bay. This is your chance to snorkel with sea turtles, stingrays, giant pufferfish, and other incredible marine life. Getting the opportunity to dive down right beside sea turtles, and to swim right beside them is an incredible experience you will not soon forget!
After about an hour of snorkeling, you kayak back to Honeymoon Beach. There is a beach snack bar there where you can order sandwiches and drinks, such as Mahi Mahi sandwiches.
You can spend more free time snorkeling at Honeymoon Beach, where there are lots of great coral and colorful tropical fish. Once you’re done swimming and enjoying the beach, it’s just a short hike back along the Lind Point Trail to end where you started at Cruz Bay.
3) Take a nighttime Kayak Tour
Don’t miss the opportunity to take a night kayak tour from the Westin Resort. The resort itself is gorgeous and expansive. They offer nightly kayak tours in clear-bottom kayaks to look at the enormous tarpons and needlefish swimming in the shallow waters.
At the beginning of the tour, you get a chance to use glow-in-the-dark face paint to decorate yourself, which is a lot of fun for families and kids. A guide will lead you on a kayak tour while teaching you about the local wildlife and sea life. It is a unique and interesting experience.
4) Spend time at the beach
Some of the main attractions in St John are the beautiful beaches around the island. The most popular beach on the island is Trunk Bay. It is known for its soft white sands and turquoise waters and many think it is one of the best beaches in the world!
Trunk Bay has chair rentals, restroom facilities, and a snack bar. There are lifeguards at the beach, and you will have to pay an admission fee (around $5 US).
The beach offers plenty of beach activities and even has an underwater trail for snorkeling. It’s about 600 feet long, and you are sure to see plenty of sea life as you swim in the calm waters.
Other popular beaches in Saint John include Cinnamon Bay beach, Honeymoon beach, and Maho Bay beach.
5) Learn about the island’s history
Quite possibly the best place to learn about the history of St John is at the Annaberg Sugar Plantation. Today you can tour the plantation ruins and learn about early life on the island when the Danish arrived in the 1700s.
Sugar cane was the island’s main export, but at the expense of enslaved African workers. Sugar plantations dotted the island, but now only ruins remain.
At Annaberg you can see ruins of the slave quarters, the sugar mill, and more. There are also some spectacular views overlooking Waterlemon Cay.
6) Try some of the island’s restaurants and go shopping at Cruz Bay
There are a lot of great restaurants and shops to explore at Cruz Bay. You can park in one of the lots nearby and easily walk around exploring the different shops.
Mongoose Junction is a great place for shopping. It is definitely worthwhile to check out the numerous art galleries there, particularly Bajo El Sol Gallery, which is an art gallery and fabulous rum bar all rolled into one. Both the art and drinks are excellent and creative!
For breakfast, check out Cruz Bay Landing. They have outdoor seating and great breakfast dishes like salmon eggs benedict and cinnamon swirl pancakes.
For lunch, try to make a stop at Miss Lucy’s. It is located closer to Coral Bay on the other side of the island from Cruz Bay. This is a great place to stop for food on the way back from Salt Pond Bay Beach. They have outdoor seating right by the water and feature local dishes like conch fritters, callaloo soup, fried plantains, and chicken roti.
For dinner, The Terrace Restaurant is an excellent choice in Cruz Bay. Note that you do need reservations. Dishes include scallops with truffle sauce, yellowfin tuna with gnocchi, and delicious chocolate cake for dessert. Morgan’s Mango is another great dinner option at Mongoose Junction. Their menu includes creative dishes like monkfish with chimichurri sauce and an incredibly rich dessert of chocolate bread pudding.
Despite its small size, St. John is truly a magical tropical destination filled with friendly people, natural beauty, and plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy.
About the author: Merry Allison is the author and creator of Virginia Vacation Guide, a travel guide devoted to exploring her home state of Virginia in the United States. She has been a native Virginian for almost her entire life.
Merry has traveled around the world, visiting over 30 countries and all 7 continents. She has written numerous published articles on travel around the world, including guides to the Dominican Republic, Canada, Thailand, Las Vegas, and U.S. National Parks.