St. John, the smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, retains a tranquil, unspoiled beauty uncommon in the Caribbean or anywhere else in the world. Settled in the early 1700’s by Danish immigrants attracted to the island’s potential as a sugar cane producing colony, St. John soon blossomed into a thriving economy. The island’s unspoiled forests and stunning beaches attracted the attention of wealthy families who sought privacy and tranquility on the island. In 1956, Laurence Rockefeller was so moved by the island that he bought and donated broad expanses of land to the National Park Service to keep St. John “a thing of joy forever.” St. John was recently voted “Best Island in the Caribbean/Atlantic” by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler in the publication’s prestigious annual Readers’ Choice Awards poll.
The following are some of the island’s highlights and attractions:
Virgin Islands National Park
Two-thirds of St. John’s 19 square miles is designated as protected national park land. Laurence Rockefeller deeded approximately 9,500 acres of rolling green hills and underwater preserve to the federal government more than 40 years ago. There are 22 self-guided hiking trails within the Virgin Islands National Park, where visitors can discover ancient petroglyphs and beautiful foliage along the way.
Sustainable tourism programs and environmentally safe practices keep the island pristine and clean. Visitors are encouraged to appreciate the previous resources of the natural environment while enjoying the island’s beauty. Numerous ecotourism activities and attractions ensure the preservation of natural resources and ecosystems.
St. John offers a variety of accommodation styles to suit all tastes and preferences. The island has two major luxury resorts – Caneel Bay Resort, and The Westin St. John. In addition, there are a plethora of villas, condominiums, and bed and breakfast inns from which to choose. St. John is also home to several ecotourism resorts and campgrounds for a closer-to-nature experience.
Two towns/two personalities – Cruz Bay and Coral Bay
In downtown Cruz Bay, visitors can enjoy the shops and restaurants at Mongoose Junction or Wharfside Village. Coral Bay is an especially scenic town, boasting the highest point of elevation in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
This former sugar plantation maintains a wealth of history and cultural folklore. Travelers can revisit the remnants of plantation life and the occupation of slaves during the 18th century. Park rangers conduct demonstrations of cultural traditions, including basket weaving, music and dance, each week.
St. John Annual Fourth of July Celebration
This annual festival extends from early June through July 4th to celebrate the island’s rich cultural heritage. Pageants, music concerts, sporting races and food fairs are all part of this month-long festival, which culminates in an awe-inspiring fireworks spectacular.
St. John offers some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, including Trunk Bay and Hawkesnest Bay.
Snorkeling, snuba and scuba diving are ways to explore St. John’s underwater paradise. Visitors interact with extraordinary flora and fauna at Trunk Bay, where underwater placards placed on the snorkeling trail describe the surrounding ecology. Colorful fish and coral are abundant in the waters off this island. Snuba, an activity that combines the skills of snorkeling and introductory diving skills, is an option for visitors not quite ready for scuba diving, but interested in exploring the island up to 20 feet beneath the surface. Divers enjoy venturing into the deep waters off St. John, particularly near Carvelle Rock and other points near the Pillsbury Sound where the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean come together.
Getting Around the Island
To explore St. John’s unique terrain, visitors can rent a jeep or a 4 x 4 vehicle for getting around the island. St. John has many steep hills and “hook backs” that lead to the most breathtaking landscapes and overlooks in the Caribbean. Only a 20-minute ferry ride away is the island of St. Thomas – perfect for a day trip.
For information about the United States Virgin Islands, call 800-372-USVI (8784) and visit http://www.usvitourism.vi. As a United States Territory, the U.S. Virgin Islands does not require proof of citizenship from U.S. citizens arriving from Puerto Rico or the U.S. mainland. Entry requirements for non-U.S. citizens are the same as for entering the United States from any foreign destination. Upon departure, a passport is required for all but U.S. citizens.