Despite its small size of less than 20 square miles, it is arguably the island with the most stunning and plentiful beaches in all of the Caribbean. St. John in the US Virgin Islands has a permanent population of less than 5,000 and it has been in the US possession since 1917 when it was purchased from Denmark for $25 million. Today, St. John is a popular tourist destination although it is not one that is easy to get to.
In fact, because St. John does it have an international airport and large cruise ships cannot dock in its main town of Cruz Bay, the island remains largely unspoiled and still underdeveloped compared to its neighbours and most of the other Caribbean islands for that matter. In addition, as much as 60% of the island remains protected from development for being part of the Virgin Island National Park. All of the above makes St. John a fantastic place to visit for those who don’t mind longer and more involved travel in return for amazing natural beauty and stunning beaches away from the crowds.
What are your options to get here?
By far the most popular way of getting to St. John is via a ferry from St. Thomas, which has both, an international airport and a large cruise port. If you are travelling from the US you will either first fly into St. Thomas’ Cyril E. King Airport or land in its capital town of Charlotte Amelie via a cruise. You than have an option to take a ferry to St. John from either Crown Bay near Charlotte Amelie or a town of Red Hook located on the west side of the island:
- Ferry from Crown Bay to Cruz Bay (and back) – this route is operated by a company called Inter Island Boat Services, takes 30 to 40 minutes, goes three times a day (both on weekdays and weekends) and costs $20 per person one way for an adult. Seniors pay 15, while children $10 and you also need to consider language costs, which are $5 per suitcase size item.
- Ferry from Red Hook to Cruz Bay (and back) – this route operates both, person and car ferries and they each have different schedules. Both take about 20 to 30 minutes and go each way almost every hour. It costs $8.15 for a non-resident one way, but if you want to take a car expect to pay $33 one way ($3 to enter the terminal with a car and $30 to the ferry company) or $53 both ways. If you are taking the passenger ferry you will also need to pay $4 per each suitcase you are carrying.
Besides getting to St. John from St. Thomas you can also try doing it from one of the British Virgin Islands – Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, Anegada and Virgin Gorda. However, if you are travelling from the US or Europe, only Tortola has an international airport, which will allow you to transfer to St. John. Although the passenger ferries (there are no car ferries) from West End, Tortola to Cruz Bay are quite common, do consider that you will need to take a 50 minute taxi ride from Tortola’s Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport before you can get on a ferry.
How best to explore St. John?
Without an international airport and only 5,000 residents, St. John does not have a lot of accommodation options and of those that exist, these are quick to sell out, especially in high season. Still, if you plan your trip much in advance you should be able to find a reasonably priced hotel or guest house in and around Cruz Bay. In addition to getting an accommodation, consider renting a car on St. John, which will allow you to explore many of the more remote parts of the island. The most likely car that you will be given is a jeep as these make up more than 50% of all the cars on St. John.
Alternatively, it is not a bad idea to stay on St. Thomas and get to St. John via an early morning ferry giving you a full day on the island. If you have rented out a car on St. Thomas, most rental companies will allow you to take it on a ferry to St. John. However, if you rather not take it with you, you can also park it in the Red Hook terminal parking lot for $10 per day.
When you get to Red Hook, driving is pretty straightforward and roads are in good condition (they are much, much better than on St. Thomas!). Taxis are also in plenty of supply and their costs are not very high. Of course, if you ask a driver to take you to a remote beach, be sure to agree with him on her on a pickup time as cell reception is very spotty and you may end up getting stuck. If you go to the more popular beaches like Trunk Bay or Honeymoon Beach, taxis are usually available from their parking lots and you can often catch a ride with a lager group.
Besides driving around or taking taxis, you can also explore the island on foot. Indeed, you can walk from Cruz Bay ferry terminal to as many as three beautiful beaches in less than an hour. To do so, you will need to find Lind Point Trail – a beautiful, 1.3 mile path leading from Cruz Bay to Salomon and Caneel Bay. To enter the trail walk from the ferry dock towards Cruz Bay Visitor Center and behind its building you will find a staircase, which begins the mentioned footpath.
Finally, if you are a keen sailor, you can explore the many beautiful bays of St. John freely be renting out a boat either on St. Thomas or in Cruz Bay. Day rates can vary from $400 (plus captain and gas) for 26’ Twin Vee for up to 6 passengers to $700 for 40’ catamaran for up to 12 passengers and plenty of shade space. Many of these rentals are available from Red Hook, Sapphire Marina or from several locations in Charlotte Amelie.