Destination: St. John

June 25, 2008 at 11:00 am 2 comments

Little Lameshur Bay St. John USVISt. John, the smallest of the USVI at 9 miles long and 3 miles wide, is just a 15-45 minute ferry ride from St. Thomas and an excellent option if you’re visiting the larger island.  I’ve gotten to go there once for a day and would love the chance to go back for an extended visit.  It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and I barely saw any of it!

St. John Trunk Bay
St. John USVI turtle snorkelingSt. John snorkeling

Trunk Bay from FeistyTourist, turtle from Snorkeling St. John, snorkelers from St. Thomas Cruise Excursions.

Getting There
St. John is a quiet place – there are no high rise buildings, cruise ship docks (cruiser tip: don’t confuse St. John, USVI with St. John’s, Antigua; they’re very different but both very special), or airports.  So how do you get there?  Fly or cruise in to St. Thomas.  From St. Thomas, get the ferry at either Red Hook or Charlotte Amalie to Cruz Bay. 

Passenger ferries: From Red Hook, it’s $5 one way and takes 15-20 minutes.  From Charlotte Amalie, it’s $10 one way and takes 40-45 minutes.  For both ferries, there’s an extra charge ($2 per piece) for luggage, so be prepared for that.  Here is a link for the schedules.  You can also take the car barge, but it’s probably easier to just rent a car once on St. John if you’re going to be there for very long.

Tip about the ferries/taxi drivers on St. Thomas: When we arrived at Red Hook, there were tons of taxi drivers telling people that the ferry to St. John was broken and that we should hire them to take us around St. Thomas for the day.  Although the ferry was running about 15 minutes behind due to a maintenance issue, it wasn’t broken!  Be prepared for scam artists and don’t give up on your St. John visit too easily.

Once at Cruz Bay, grab a taxi to your final destination of choice or rent a car.  Taxis charge per person instead of per load and are often benches on a truck bed under a canopy.  It might be a little scary for those who haven’t done it before, but those drivers have a lot of experience and really don’t go all that fast.  There are a bunch of car rental options here.  If I were going to be on the island for a few days, I’d probably get some sort of four wheel drive vehicle to get to the more secluded beaches.

What to Do/See
Trunk Bay is probably the most photographed beach in the Caribbean.  It might even be a wallpaper option for your computer!  There’s a reason for that – it’s gorgeous.  It’s a popular destination for that reason alone but is also a good spot for snorkeling.  There’s an underwater trail maintained by the National Park for people to follow with pictures of what you might see.  The water is calm, clear, and usually pretty busy with the sealife.  You’ll definitely see brightly colored, friendly fish and, if you’re lucky, a sting ray!  (Don’t be scared – they don’t want to sting you.  Just be sure to shuffle your feet if you’re barefoot.)  A word of advice – you’ll see a lot more sealife when the cruise excursions are not at the beach.  We were there just before, during, and after and were amazed by how much came out of hiding when the big groups left.  Facilities: showers, bathrooms, changing areas, lockers, public telephones, picnic tables, snorkel gear and beach chair rental (must be returned by 3pm), snack bar.  Oh, be aware that there is an entry fee of $4/adult to Trunk Bay.  It’s the only beach on the island with an entry fee but well worth it imo.  Taxis are pretty plentiful, so there’s no need to set up a pick-up with the person who dropped you off.

Cinnamon Bay:  If you want to avoid the cruise crowds and the entry fee of Trunk Bay, this is a good option.  It’s just a bit further east of Trunk Bay.  There’s no underwater trail, but the snorkeling is supposed to be just as good.  They also have a restaurant, small store, restroom, showers, and windsurfing, kayak, bike, and snorkel rental.  In addition to the snorkeling, there’s also a short hiking trail through the Cinnamon Bay Plantation ruins.  It’s busy enough that you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting a taxi back to Cruz Bay.

Hawksnest Beach: If snorkeling isn’t terribly important to you and you want to avoid the crowds at Trunk Bay, Hawksnest is lovely – a gorgeous beach with beautiful, clear water and some shade.  There’s definitely some fun snorkeling here, but it’s not as good as in other spots.  It’s also a bit quicker to get to since it’s closer to Cruz Bay than Trunk Bay.  There is a restroom and picnic area but no food available for purchase.  You might consider setting up a pick-up with your driver if you’re not driving yourself.

Caneel Bay:  This is home to the Caneel Bay Resort and accessible through the resort’s entrance.  They ask that you check in with the front desk.  Obviously the facilities are great because of the hotel.  Taxis should be readily available.  Why go?  Although the types of fish may be somewhat limited, you might spot starfish, sea turtles, and sting rays.  Fun!

Salt Pond Bay:  This is a gorgeous, secluded beach that requires a 7-10 minute hike downhill from the parking lot.  Swim to the middle of the bay to a set of jagged rocks for good snorkeling or check out the rocky sides of the bay.

Leinster/Waterlemon Bay: This is home to arguably the best snorkeling on the island.  You might see eels and octopus!  Just be careful – there is often an offshore current, especially on the western side of the island.  If you get into trouble, go with the current.  It’ll eventually return you to the right side of the island.  To get to the bay, you’ll have to take a 10-15 minute walk from the parking area.

For more specific information about snorkeling at these and other St. John beaches, check out the St. John Beach Guide.

Besides snorkeling (or scuba diving if that’s more your thing), you should consider sea kayaking, wind surfing, horseback riding, donkey trail rides, rock climbing, and hiking.  You’ll find a bit of shopping on the island, but it’s not like on St. Thomas.  Don’t forget to eat!

Where to Stay
There are options for just about every budget and every sort of home away from home you might want.

Resorts: Caneel Bay is a 4.5 star Rosewood Resort with rates from $395-1200 per night.  It has 5 dining options and generally good reviews on TripAdvisorThe Westin St. John is a 4 star resort running $375-1200 per night.  It has 4 dining options and mixed reviews on TripAdvisor.  Gallows Point is a 3 star option with rates from $225-595 per night.  It has 1 restaurant and an espresso bar and respectable reviews on TripAdvisor.  There are also several eco-resorts.

Other options: Small inns and B&Bs are an option for the more budget-minded travelers who still want that maid service.  I’d be more likely to go for a condo, cottage, or house.  These places have kitchens, so you can cut down on your expenses by cooking for yourself.

Other Info
Currency: The U.S. dollar is used here.  There’s an ATM at First Bank, two blocks north of the ferry dock in Cruz Bay.

Language: English

Driving: Keep LEFT!  Rental cars run about $65-70/day and go fast.  Reserve in advance if you’re sure you want one.

My pics are here – warning, most are underwater pics that haven’t been processed.  I swear I take better pictures now!

Earlier posts in Caribbean series: Belize, Nassau, St. Thomas.


Entry filed under: Caribbean, CenturyClub, Cruisin', Destinations.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Erica  |  May 4, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Thanks for all the information. Could you tell me if there were restrooms on the ferryies? Thanks for your help!

    • 2. feistync  |  May 11, 2009 at 9:55 am

      If I remember correctly, there are restrooms on the ferries. 🙂


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