St John Virgin Island

Cinnamon Bay Beach
Cinnamon Bay Beach
Cabanas on the beach at Cinnamon Bay
Cabanas on the beach at Cinnamon Bay
Sugar cane ovens from the past on St John.
Sugar cane ovens from the past on St John.

Saint John US Virgin Islands

By George Bogosian

The first time I went to St John in the US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, I discovered that an island paradise really did exist. I wasn’t looking for Caribbean islands with all inclusive resorts, but something a little more laid back. The USVI is made up of St Thomas, St Croix and Saint John. It was surreal that first time getting off the ferry onto the dock at Cruz Bay in St John. It seemed like my virgin island! I had awakened in my own island dream world. It really did take my breath away, the tropical island smell, the colors, the sun and the local kids. I thought, well, places like this really do exist. That was years ago and even though it doesn’t now take my breath away it still delights me to be in the islands.

There no airports on the island so you fly into St Thomas and take the twenty minute ferry ride from Red Hook to St John. You can now also take a ferry from Charlotte Amalie (St Thomas’s main town) to St John, but I like taking the taxi van across the island to Red Hook to see the island. Red Hook now has a newish fancy ferry terminal. Getting to St John is its own adventure just because of the connections needed to get to the island. But it’s worth it!

About three quarters of St John is National Park (thank you Rockefellers once again) so that leaves much of the island undeveloped…. and no golf courses keep the riff raff away. (I hope my brother-in-law doesn’t read this..he won’t..he doesn’t know what I’m up to) St John is hilly terrain and forest covered right down to the beach.

This isn’t your typical tourist vacation, it’s a little more low key and it’s not full of big time events or games to play.

It’s like a return to early times in the islands before we all showed up. It’s a do it yourself vacation. There are some upscale resorts, island rentals, and St John villas you can book but I like Cinnamon Bay Campground as the place to stay. It’s a campground right on the beach. They have cabana style cottages, more like an above ground concrete bunker, or 12 x12 screened tents on a platform with cots, linens, pots and pans and an outside propane cook stove…. and, last but not least, a bare campsite for you to use with your own equipment. And here’s the deal breaker for some…shared baths with men and women’s accommodations. The showers are cold water only, but it’s not your father's cold water…it’s all quite tolerable. The place is clean. All accommodations are rough around the edges but living on the beach has its advantages. They have a small store to purchase food for cooking and they also have an outdoor roof covered restaurant that serves good meals at fair prices. This isn’t a place for everyone. You are the only one catering to yourself. It’s a laid back do-it-yourself vacation. Some folks never go any further than the beach and if you visit here you will understand that lure. It’s one of the best. There are some historical visits to make but even those are few. So George, what’s the lure to this place? My answer is it’s an island somewhat left on its own, kind of place. Remember, three quarters is National Park so most of the development is around Cruz Bay where the ferry docks. There are a few good restaurants but I prefer the local small time venders with six sheets of plywood, a couple sheets of tin roofing and a grill serving local fare. There are a few restaurant, bar joints where locals and tourist and a few guys who washed up on the beach hangout, ie. (Skinny Legs, Coral Bay). But you don’t come to St John for great food, it’s an island without an airport, it’s a get away place and a flavor of what all the islands were like not long ago.

The locals are friendly and everyone feels welcomed.

Hey, they need your money and you need a vacation…seems like a fine arrangement. You can rent a car at Cruz Bay, but some folks rent one on St Thomas and bring it over on the ferry and some of us use a local taxi if needed. You get to the campground on a pickup truck taxis or local cab. We’ve done some hitch hiking and that has worked most of the time. It’s that kind of place, personal safety is not an issue, but getting a sunburn is!

Psst! don’t tell anyone about this place, it’s off the beaten path and I hope it stays that way. Enjoy your visit. Bring a book or a kindle.

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