If you’re on a cruise vacation in the eastern Caribbean there’s a good chance you’ll be able to experience the stunning island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands. We’ve done some digging and come up with a list of these things to do in St. John.
At 28 square miles, the island is the smallest of the US Virgin Islands. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in the number of attractions. Making this small tropical paradise a perfect Caribbean destination for cruisers. When in the USVI don’t miss the boat to St. John. Let’s start with some essential details on getting to the island…
Cruise Port Information
The only way you are getting to St. John is by ferry or boat. Cruise ships don’t directly dock there. They either dock in the nearby island of St. Thomas and offer a day trip excursion or they anchor offshore and tender to Cruz Bay.
Planning to visit St. John from St. Thomas? Then take a ferry from Charlotte Amalie or Red Hook to Cruz Bay in St. John. The latter route is preferable as its shorter, frequent, and more comfortable.
The longer route from Charlotte Amalie is less frequent and charges $12 one way while the shorter route charges $6.
1. Cruz Bay Town (Love City)
One of the best things to do in St. John is experiencing Cruz Bay Town. A small easy going, laid back town that is perfect for the romantic explorer. It’s no wonder it’s called the love city.
This town is where you will first arrive at when in St. John. Ferries from St. Thomas and nearby islands drop people off at Cruz Bay Harbour. There is plenty to do here like shopping at the Wharfside village or at Mongoose Junction. Both places feature interesting outlets bearing unique Caribbean architecture.
The quaint small outlets at these shopping centers host a variety of eateries and interesting souvenir shops. Points of interest in Cruz Bay include the Elaine Lone Sprauve Library and National Park Visitor Center.
2. Check out Elaine Lone Sprauve Library
Take a break from your city tour and escape sun or rain at the popular Elaine Lone Sprauve Library. It’s located just off Cruz Bay and is one of the best ways to learn about St. John’s history.
The 1751 plantation building hosting the library is in itself an attraction. However, venturing inside the well-stocked quiet library introduces you to an even bigger attraction. The history of the island. The Library displays the island’s past with unbelievably well-preserved photographs and newspaper clippings from previous centuries.
3. Island Tour
The best and fastest way to get acquainted with all of St. John is on an island tour. This tour takes you through the island’s historical sites, to the highest point on the island for some panoramic views of Coral Bay and ends with your own choice of a beach to swim and snorkel in.
Best of all, the guides give a detailed overview of the island, the history as passed on from generations and even some folklore.
This is a very fun trip, where you will learn the culture of the people, see the best of the island’s attractions and all that within 2 and a half hours. Leaving you with plenty of time to enjoy the beach of your choice.
This excursion is offered by the Star Fish Tours & Taxi Services and is done on open-ended trucks for incredible views. You can check them out here and here.
4. Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins
Soak up some island history at one of the best-preserved sugar plantation ruins in St. John. Visit Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins which is located in the island’s north shore.
Here you will learn history dating back to the 1700s. Learn how sugar and rum were produced and some sad history about slavery on the island. The ¼ acre ruin has a hiking trail that goes through the sugarcane factory, windmill and slave cabin ruins.
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One special thing about this ruins is that they overlook the waters offshore providing scenic views. A guided trip though not mandatory offers insider information that is very valuable.
You can do a DIY tour of this place or combine it with an island sightseeing safari with these tour operators
5. Tour Coral Bay
Coral Bay is a small quiet village found on the South Eastern Coast of St. John. This sleepy town is one of St. John’s best kept secrets. Coral Bay a beloved town by many US expats features a charming, friendly, and vibrant community atmosphere not seen anywhere else in the US Virgin Islands. It has quaint spots for shopping and eating.
One of the most popular landmarks in this town is the Emmaus Moravian Church. Now registered as a historical place of interest by the US. This church built in the 17th century bears a rather dark and interesting history. You just have to visit to learn more.
Coral Bay is also where you find Salt Pond Bay and Hansen Bay Beach. Best for snorkeling and relaxing respectively. Nature lovers will love touring the mangrove at Hurricane Hole.
This side of the island was hard hit by the hurricane Irma and Maria of 2017 but is quickly recovering. It’s only a 30-minute drive from Cruz Bay.
6. Catherineberg Ruins
Stop by the Catherineberg Sugar Plantation ruins while driving down Centerline on your way to Coral Bay. These little known ruins are the most intact and beautiful sugar plantation ruins in St. John. They afford visitors the chance to explore both inside and outside. Though there are no placards telling the history of the place like at Annaberg.
You will love exploring the windmill and the huge dome-shaped structures on site. The Catherineberg ruins are split in two by the Centerline road.
The major ruin is on the right side and there is plenty of parking space. These lovely ruins which are overtaken by grass and vines make up for some of the best photos of the verdant countryside.
Worth Reading: 15 Things to Do in Philipsburg, St. Maarten During a Cruise
7. Virgin Islands National Park
When on an island like St. John where 2/3 of land is covered by forest then you are bound to explore nature. The Virgin Island National Park located on the northern side of St. John covers 60% of the island.
You can spend hours and hours on end in this park. It has plenty of beautiful beaches such as Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay, Honeymoon Beach, Hawksnest, Salt Pond and many others. Apart from the beaches, it has plenty of hiking trails too.
This trails cut through its varying landscape from thick rain forests to semi-arid areas. The trails help explore flora, fauna and even the islands history. With trails that take you through sugar plantation ruins and petroglyph rocks by the Taino Indians.
Some of the most popular trails include Reef Bay Trail, Lind Point Trail, Bordeaux Mountain Trail, Ram Head Trail, and Cinnamon Bay nature trail. A day trip to the park will create some of your most memorable experiences in St. John.
Shopping in St. John is a real treat. Unlike the chaotic shopping in St. Thomas. St. John offers an easy laid-back experience. The main shopping scene in St. John is set at Mongoose Junction, the wharfside village and at Coral Bay.
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What the island lacks in variety it more than makes up for in unique and quality items to shop. Go shop for jewelry such as hook bracelets (a traditional bracelet of the USVI’s) blue topaz jewelry, t-shirts, spices, ceramics, paintings, and other interesting gift options.
Some shops you shouldn’t miss include St. John Spices found at the Wharfside Village and Vibe Collection. The market place near the ferry dock is also a great place to shop for groceries. Mongoose Junction is a sight in itself that you shouldn’t miss.
Made in a beautiful tropical island structure, Mongoose Junction is a beautiful shopping complex that offers a relaxed shopping experience. Best of all there are no hard sells on the island.
St John offers a fun dining scene to complement its world-class beaches. From quaint waterfront restaurants in Cruz Bay to floating bars and beach restaurants along the northern coast.
You will have a great time tasting the island’s cuisine mostly made up of Caribbean and Continental cuisines. Expect great BBQ, burgers, pizza, smoothies, and seafood-based dishes. Some of the best places to eat at include the Skinny Legs in Coral Bay, the Lime inn in Cruz Bay and Woody’s.
10. 1000 Ways to Experience Honeymoon Beach
Honeymoon beach on Caneel Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches in St. John. You can enjoy this sun-kissed stretch of pristine soft white sands in a number of ways. To start off, you can hike to the beach on the Lind Point Trail that starts behind the Virgin Island’s National Park Visitor Centre.
The Lind Point trail is considered one of the easiest in the island. It’s an easy 30-minute walk doable even by an amateur hiker. Another way to get to the beach is by a dinghy from Cruz Bay.
Honeymoon Bay is only 1 mile from Cruz Bay, which makes it one of the most accessible beaches on the island. Being on Caneel Bay in the Virgin Islands National Park means it has great snorkeling and hosts great water sports adventures.
Try your hand at SUP, Kayaking, Parasailing or plain swimming and snorkeling. You are guaranteed a fun couple of hours on this shady stretch of beach.
The beach offers an all-inclusive day pass for roughly $29 or $49 where you get beach chairs, umbrella, snorkeling, kayaking, and SUP gear.
11. Experience World-Famous Trunk Bay
Trunk Bay is not only the island’s best beach but one of the best in the Caribbean! Trunk Bay is a quarter mile stretch of silky coral sands and warm, crystal clear waters. It’s located in the Virgin Island National Park and is beset in a scenic backdrop adding to the charm of the place.
It’s popularly known for its underwater snorkeling trail, that offers plenty of info about the coral and marine life in the place. It has a healthy reef that is great to explore especially around trunk cay, a low grassy inlet offshore.
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Trunk bay named after the turtles of the island is perfect for everyone. Snorkeling is easy for young and inexperienced snorkelers. It’s the only beach that charges a fee in St. John but offers amenities such as parking, beach restaurant, showers, beach chairs, and umbrellas. Trunk Bay is easily accessible by taxi from Cruz Bay.
Visit and spend time on one of the most photographed beaches in the world. Beware, however, that the beach gets rather crowded especially when there are cruise ships in port on St. Thomas or offshore St. John. Hence you want to arrive early to enjoy the beach.
12. Relax at Cinnamon Bay
At half a mile-long Cinnamon Bay is the largest beach on the island. It features a long stretch of silky coral sands with nice turquoise waters. Its healthy reef system supports budding sea life making it a great beach for snorkeling. It’s located to the east of Trunk Bay and west of Maho beach. You can take a short scenic 4mile ride along the lush north shore to get to Cinnamon Bay Beach.
Before hurricane Irma and Maria, Cinnamon used to have restaurants, camping grounds, lots of amenities and water concessions. However, the hurricanes wiped out the buildings and structures on the beach.
The beach itself is in a perfect and healthy condition. Recovery of the infrastructure at the beach is underway. Cinnamon Bay is your perfect escape from the crowds at Trunk Bay.
13. Snorkel at Maho Bay
Maho Bay located just a few yards east of Cinnamon Bay is another popular beach in St. John. In fact, it’s preferable to the locals and visitors alike. It’s great for families with young kids because of the shallow sandy bottom shore that is perfect for wading and swimming in.
Maho is the most easily accessible beach on the island. It’s located along the northern shore road about 5miles from Cruz Bay. It has convenient but limited parking and amenities.
With so many beaches you’re going to need this travel sunscreen.
The beach features a narrow stretch of soft white sands lined with palm trees. It has a great snorkeling atmosphere especially along the edges of the beach. At the middle of the bay is a low grass sea bed which is home to sea turtles and stingrays. Go early to swim with the turtles and stingrays.
14. Take a Hike
The island has over 20 hiking trails that range from challenging hikes to easy walks. Explore the island’s stunning landscape of world-class beaches, enchanting ruins, towering waterfalls, mountains, rain forests, and scrublands.
Whether you want a short 330-minute walk in a shaded tranquil bird, flora, and fauna paradise. Or you want a heart-pumping, back-breaking, sweat dripping, adrenaline filled hike up a steep region, it’s all at the National Park.
If you are looking to do an easy leisurely walk in the park, then try Drunk bay trail and Lind Point trail. For challenging hikes, try Cinnamon Bay trail, Reef Bay Trail, Bordeaux Mountain, and Johnny Hall Trails.
Explore the islands wild orchids that run rampant in the park, hang out with the occasional donkey or two and explore the petroglyph rocks at Reef Bay trail.
Once you are done enjoying panoramic views from strategic look-out points on Cinnamon Bay, Reef Bay and Boudreaux Mountain trails then descend and cool off in a pool or beach near you.
If you can only do one trail out of these, then do the Reef Bay Trail which is the most popular on the island. You can check out more details about the Reef Bay Trail here.
15. Water Adventures
St. John has all the fun water sports you need. Test the water in a relaxed Stand-Up Paddle Boarding tour of the clear turquoise waters of the island’s coast.
You can also go on a clear kayaking expedition to discover the underwater world of the stunning Caribbean island. Catching a bird’s eye view is also possible on a parasailing adventure. Combined with swimming, and boating all these water sports are an interesting way to spice up your beach day in St. John USVI.
St. John Weather
St. John US Virgin Islands experiences typical Caribbean weather. It’s sunny all year round and experiences highs of the 80s and lows of 70s.
Coolest months on the island are from December to March which is also the peak season. The best time to visit the island varies with your interests.
But there is a great pocket-friendly window between April and June. This is before the rains and after the crowds have left. Hurricane months run from June to November with September being the peak of that season.
Over to You
Now that you know what wonders await you in St. John plan early, pack wisely and go enjoy a vacation like no other.
When in St. John don’t let the clock rush you. Remember to slow down, relax and take it all in. That’s it from us. Happy Cruising!!