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U.S. Virgin Islands: Travel Guide to St. John Island

Updated on March 28, 2015
Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy loves to share her wandering adventures, including her home state of Texas, and the many places she's traveled.

Trunk Bay is known for its guided underwater snorkeling path

Trunk Bay, St. John U.S. Virgin Islands is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Trunk Bay, St. John U.S. Virgin Islands is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. | Source

Big Maho Bay, Cruz Bay and St. Thomas

Big Maho Bay is larger and less frequented than Little Maho Bay.
Big Maho Bay is larger and less frequented than Little Maho Bay. | Source
Sand castles and a peaceful view of Big Maho Bay on a quiet day
Sand castles and a peaceful view of Big Maho Bay on a quiet day | Source
View from the ferry dock at Cruz Bay, St. John Island
View from the ferry dock at Cruz Bay, St. John Island | Source
View overlooking Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas
View overlooking Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas | Source

What to see and do on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

Here's what to see and do on St. John Island, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. John is known for being relatively unspoiled; much of the island is preserved as a park, which means the ratio of pristine beaches and untouched tropical forest is higher than most island vacation destinations.

If you're looking for an island getaway, consider visiting this garden island. There's no airport, so you'll need to land at nearby St. Thomas. But here's all you need to know to get there, and to enjoy St. John. First - A few highlights:

Places to see on St. John, and how to get to St. Thomas:

Trunk Bay: St. John's most famous swimming beach is Trunk Bay, which is just a short ride on the taxi service that serves Maho Bay (Frett's Taxi). Trunk Bay is well worth seeing for the underwater snorkeling tour you can take. If you're not a strong swimmer, take an inflatable raft (leave it behind at the end of your trip) and use it to support yourself as you follow the submerged markers that point out coral formations and places where various types of fish or sea life commonly hang out. Trunk Bay can be crowded on days when ships are in the port, and it's usually more crowded than Maho Bay anyway, so check the schedule if you want a quieter visit.

Big Maho Bay: Although it's literally the next bay over from the campground, and it's bigger, this beach is much less frequented than even Little Maho Bay. If you ask the camp staff how to get there, they'll tell you to take the Goat Path (yes, really). After a pleasant walk on a not-to-strenuous path through the trees, with glimpses of the beach peeking through the leaves and brush now and then, you'll be at this gorgeous beach. It is sometimes almost deserted! Take bug repellent, though, and check yourself later for sand fleas.

The Virgin Islands National Park: Much of St. John is preserved as a park. You can get day tours on open-air taxis that will take you to various spots on the island (often stopping at a beach for snorkeling) and the guide will explain the sites along the way. If the guided tour includes a beach stop, ask whether there are stingrays or other dangerous sea creatures at that destination. Some tour guides stop at places where you may not want to swim.

Annaberg Sugar Plantation: About 200 years ago (in 1718) the island was settled by the Danish West India and Guinea Company, which founded a sugar plantation (staffed by slaves from Africa). The remains of the sugar plantation are still visible, and are easily accessed by the main road frequented by taxis.

Cruz Bay: The port where the ferry from St. Thomas docks at this little town, which has grown to include several restaurants, shops, grocery and drug stores and other amenities. Frett's Taxi (from Maho Bay) makes several daily trips back and forth from the campgrounds to Cruz Bay, so it's easy to take a quick trip to town if you want to shop or get dinner.

St. Thomas: Spend at least one day in St. Thomas (which is probably where your plane arrived before you caught the ferry to St. John). There are several daily ferry trips back and forth from St. John to the town of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, where you'll find a larger selection of shops as well as interesting dining. St. Thomas is the better island for finding bargains in jewelry, cameras and other purchases you might want to make while on the islands. Prices are often lower for these items, and there's no sales tax.

Sunsets on St. John Island

Romantic sunsets happen every night on St. John. A couple enjoys dinner as the sun dips below the horizon
Romantic sunsets happen every night on St. John. A couple enjoys dinner as the sun dips below the horizon | Source
Sailboat against the sunset on St. John Island.
Sailboat against the sunset on St. John Island. | Source

Caribbean Beach on St. John | U.S. Virgin Islands

The beach at Little Maho Bay
The beach at Little Maho Bay | Source
Elevated view of Maho Bay on St. John
Elevated view of Maho Bay on St. John | Source

How to Get Around on St. John Island

There are several ways to get around on St. John, and the island is easy to navigate, either by land or by water.

Car Rentals: Many people rent a car for their stay on the island. The roads can be narrow and winding in some spots, but having your own car makes it easy to pull over and take the hundreds of photos you won't want to miss. You might even find a spot for a picnic!

Bike Rentals: If you're an experienced cycler and don't mind a few hills and curves, the weather and scenery are perfect on St. John. Bikes can easily be parked in the town, if you're shopping or grabbing a bite to eat, and you can chain them to one of the many trees if you park along a trail or roadway to have a look around.

Horseback Riding: You can also rent horses and ride some gentle trails on the island. Check at your hotel or resort desk for information on local stables and how to arrange a steed for the day.

Sailing: Island? Water? Sailboat? This is a no-brainer! You can either rent a boat to pilot yourself, or rent one with a captain, who will take you around the perimeter of the island, or even to another island nearby. On one trip, we rented a boat with the captain (who was an amazing young woman ; she and her husband and toddler lived on the boat) and sailed to a deserted cove on St. John for some snorkeling. We found a giant sea turtle stranded on the beach, caught in fishing net, and were able to free the poor creature and watch it lunge toward the sea the minute it was loosed from the net. Had we not decided to go to a 'remote' beach, it likely would never have been found in time to save its life.

Map St. John Island, U.S. Virgin Islands

show route and directions
A markerMaho Bay -
Maho Bay, Virgin Islands National Park, St. John 00831, U.S. Virgin Islands
get directions

Maho Bay Campgrounds

B markerTrunk Bay St John Island -
Trunk Cay, Virgin Islands National Park, St. John 00830, U.S. Virgin Islands
get directions

Trunk Bay has an underwater guided tour for snorkelers

C markerCruz Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands -
Cruz Bay, St John, US Virgin Islands
get directions

Cruz Bay has shops, restaurants, and ferry rides to St. Thomas

D markerAnnaberg Sugar Plantation, St. John Island -
Annaberg, St. John 00830, US Virgin Islands
get directions

Annaberg is the site of a 1700s sugar plantation on St. John Island

E markerVirgin Islands National Park -
Virgin Islands National Park, Cruz Bay, 00830, US Virgin Islands
get directions

Virgin Islands National Park makes St. John one of the most preserved and protected spots in the Caribbean

F markerFerry Dock at Charlotte Amalie on St Thomas Island -
Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas 00830, US Virgin Islands
get directions

Charlotte Amalie shopping and restaurants are about 45 minutes away from St. John by ferry.

Pavilion Overlooking Maho Bay, St. John U.S. Virgin Islands

St. John Island has hundreds of condos, hotels and resorts with stunning views of the Caribbean.
St. John Island has hundreds of condos, hotels and resorts with stunning views of the Caribbean. | Source

Sea Crab on St. John Island

You'll find many sea creatures living in the rocks and sand on St. John | U.S. Virgin Islands.
You'll find many sea creatures living in the rocks and sand on St. John | U.S. Virgin Islands. | Source

How to get to St. John Island What to Bring

If you decide to make Maho Bay your Eco Vacation destination, you'll want to fly into St. Thomas, since St. John has no airport. You'll generally fly into St. Thomas from either Miami or Atlanta (for most flights), or from Puerto Rico. From St. Thomas, you will either the Charlotte Amalie Ferry (closest to the airport) or the Red Hook Ferry.

The Charlotte Amalie Ferry is the slower of the two, but its proximity to the airport makes it the logical first choice for many travelers. Ferries depart regularly, all year round, and many workers on St. John live on St. Thomas and commute by ferry every day. The Charlotte Amalie Ferry takes around 45 minutes or so, and can often be quite full.

The Red Hook Ferry is a bit of a ride from the airport but it's much faster. The ferry itself is newer and slightly more modern. The trip is only about 15-20 minutes on the Red Hook Ferry.

What to Bring: In addition to beach clothes and swimwear, bring bug repellent, a lock for your cabin door (combination locks are good - no key to lose), at least one flashlight, and mostly casual clothes. Women might want one skirt or sundress for dining or a trip to town.

The island is one big photo op, so you'll want to bring your camera. Although I've never heard of a theft in the cabins, I'm sure it's happened before, so keep an eye on anything of value and carry your camera with you at all times.

Getting to Maho Bay Camps from the Ferry: You will see a taxi stand in Cruz Bay that has open-air vehicles (with canvas tops). Each hotel and resort is usually served by one taxi, and the one for Maho Bay is run by a gentleman named Mr. Frett (Frett's Taxi). It might be nice to take him a gift of chocolates or some other memento; he works very hard and has served Maho Bay for years. If you miss the usual Maho Bay taxi, you can usually hop on one of the others that goes that direction. Taxis (and the ferry to St. John) don't run 24 hours a day, so if your plane arrives late in St. Thomas, you'll need to find a hotel for the night and catch the ferry the next day.

Important Tip: Never leave your cabin without your flashlight! It is far too easy to be out past dark, and you will have great difficulty getting your lock open without the aid of a light (although I've used my cellphone lighted screen in a pinch).

Another Sunset on Maho Bay, St. John Island

From the hill on Maho Bay, you'll enjoy great views as sun dips below the Caribbean every evening.
From the hill on Maho Bay, you'll enjoy great views as sun dips below the Caribbean every evening. | Source

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  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 23 months ago from Planet Earth

    Thank you, Poetryman! I would love to learn more about photography - I think I learned just enough to know I'll never be great, but I do enjoy it. Also, it's hard to go wrong in a place like St. John! The whole island is a postcard-in-waiting! I appreciate your kind words!

  • poetryman6969 profile image

    poetryman6969 23 months ago

    Such wonderful photos. You much be a professional photographer. You do really good work. Voted up!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Elias! I'm so glad you enjoyed the hub and the photos! I absolutely love this island - if I were rich, I'd buy a retreat there. Heck - maybe I will just get a cabana and live off the land. I hope you get a chance to visit - it's truly a spot of paradise!

  • Elias Zanetti profile image

    Elias Zanetti 4 years ago from Athens, Greece

    Incredible destination! Your presentation and pictures help to convey the beauty of the island. Hope one day I will manage to visit Virgin islands.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, IslandGirl! Have an amazing trip! It's so beautiful there - you will love it! Thanks for reading, and I'm glad you got some ideas here.

  • islandgirl33 profile image

    islandgirl33 4 years ago

    I really enjoyed this article and I will be visiting the US Virgin Islands soon. Thank you for the information :)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Kitty - I hope you get to go; it really is a paradise! Let me know if you make the trip!

  • kittyjj profile image

    Ann Leung 4 years ago from San Jose, California

    Enjoyed reading your hub and loved the photos. Maho Bay is such a beautiful place. I am putting it to my to-visit list. Voted up and beautiful!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Pamela - let me know, and I'll go with you for a few weeks! It's ine of those places you want to visit again and again, and it renews you each time. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Melovy - I guess we are even then! I'm so glad I read your great travel hubs - you've given me ideas on where to go (including adding your beloved Scotland to my list!). Thanks for reading and commenting here, and I hope you get to visit this little gem someday!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Jools - Maybe you can put on that shirt and pretend it's like the Ruby Slippers and can take you there! It must have been truly unspoiled when he saw it - and like paradise even more! Thanks for reading, and fornyour kind comments!

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    This is truly a paradise! I enjoyed your hub and loved the fantastic pictures. I think I would love to spend a few weeks on this island. Awesome hub.

  • Melovy profile image

    Yvonne Spence 5 years ago from UK

    Marcy, if my Chile hub made you want to go, the same applies here to me! All that snorkeling! Oh, I how love snorkeling, and we don’t get to do a lot of it in Scotland! This just looks like such a great place and your descriptions and detail will be so, so helpful to anyone making the trip. Sadly that’s not likely to be me in the near future, but it’s so wonderful to read about all the eco things that the resort is doing. Thanks for this magnificent hub!

  • Jools99 profile image

    Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK

    Marcy, this place just looks gorgeous - I could certainly find some peace there I'm guessing? My dad was a merchant seaman and they used to visit the US Virgin Islands when he worked for Cunard. He played soccer on the beach there and brought me a teeshirt from there, that's as close as I'll get for now but I would love to visit.

    Voted up, great photos by the way!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Ardie - since I ask questions and do research everywhere i go, can I say yes? Each time I've gone, I've tried to figure out a way to live there. Maybe I can open a bait shop, y'think? I think you and your family would love this place - I hope you get to go. It's a terrific and educational trip for families with kids!

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Ardie profile image

    Sondra 5 years ago from Neverland

    Oh man Marcy! I am SO beyond jealous that you got to take such a trip...tell me, did you take it purely for research purposes? :) Your details and photos are amazing - this is a trip I need to take...and soon!!!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    I hope you can get down there and string up a hammock on one of the cabin decks, Kaili! You'd love it there!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, alocsin - the trip isn't bad from Miami, or even Atlanta. Some flights connect through Puerto Rico, and some are direct to St. Thomas. From Texas, it's a long day of flights. But then, so is Hawaii, and so are a lot of other places - so I. Used to it.

  • Kaili Bisson profile image

    Kaili Bisson 5 years ago from Canada

    Marcy...voted up and awesome! That last photo of the sunset on Maho Bay make me want to curl up in a hammock :-)

  • alocsin profile image

    alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

    Sounds like a great place to visit and I very much like the idea of tent cottages. So how long is a trip to St. John from a major U.S. gateway like Los Angeles or Miami? Voting this Up and Interesting.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    I'm all for that, Debbie! After writing about it, I'm so eager to return! You will love it if you go - I hope you put it on your list. Thanks for reading, commenting and voting!

  • Deborah Brooks profile image

    Deborah Brooks Langford 5 years ago from Brownsville,TX

    Marcy this isn't fair.. Now I HAVE TO GO TO ST. JOHN'S lol.. I love this hub.. I love the Caribbean.. I think all of us from the hub need to get together and go to St John's and have a great time together.. Lol

    voted up

    Debbie

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    I'm so glad you enjoyed the hub, Summerberrie! The cabins are great - just right for a couple or a small family. And they actually do get a good breeze at night.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Oh, I hope you do try this place, Teaches! I've known others who weren't sure they'd like the camping feel of it, but they loved it. You can always stay at the studios or whatever, too. They do have fans in the cabins, by the way - I guess I should add that somewhere!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Lizam! I appreciate your nice words here - I'd love to see more people discover this gorgeous place!

  • Lizam1 profile image

    Lizam1 5 years ago from Victoria BC

    Thank you for writing this - the pictures and beautiful and so much information. I hope this hub does really well for you. Deserves to.

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

    At first I did not think this would be something I would enjoy. The idea of tents has never been a win for me. However, after reading through your article, you have convinced me that it is a pretty good deal and enjoyable. Love the scenery and I think I would love to visit the glassblower shops. Voted up.

  • profile image

    summerberrie 5 years ago

    Wow, what a valuable source of information and so beautiful, too. I love your photos! The cabins are so cool and neat they are eco-friendly!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Roxanne - I'm so glad you enjoyed the hub - thank you for reading and commenting, and I hope you decide to visit there someday soon!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Billy - Let me know if you get to travel there! They even have a way to work part-time for a reduced cabin rate, and some retired couples take advantage of that. It is an incredibly beautiful place to visit - I love it there! Many thanks for reading and leaving your thoughts here!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Curiad - I hadn't learned much about St. John, either, before taking my first trip there. I'm somewhat addicted to the island now - I've been three times, and hope to go again someday.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    I hope you get a chance to visit there, Michael - I got 'lonesome' for it while I was writing and posting the photos! It is such a special place.

    Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting!

  • roxanne459 profile image

    Roxanne Lewis 5 years ago from Washington

    That is amazing! I really want to go there now and you gave some wonderful suggestions on how to do it EcoFriendly.. thank you!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi Mmargie - thanks for reading, and for your kind comments!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Wow! Great job Marcy; this is such a well-written and researched hub. Maybe someday I'll be able to visit; until then I'll have this hub to keep me warm. :)

  • Curiad profile image

    Mark G Weller 5 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

    This is an awesome article Marcy, I have heard of St. John but never thought much about it.

  • Michael J Rapp profile image

    Michael J Rapp 5 years ago from United States

    What a fantastic Hub with such amazing pictures. One more place on the list to visit in the Caribbean! I'm looking outside at the rainy day and dreaming . . .

  • Mmargie1966 profile image

    Mmargie1966 5 years ago from Gainesville, GA

    BEAUTIFUL! I can't wait to go! Voted up, beautiful and shared :)

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