St John

Much of St John is a national park and it is its protected status that draws visitors. The island is covered with steep hills and is hot. The roads are steep and rocky and 4WD is required to get to many places. The population is mainly concentrated in the little town of Cruz Bay and the village of Coral Bay. A drive from Cruz Bay across to Coral Bay is a worthwhile experience and allows you to appreciate how much land is owned by the park, though there is not much in Coral Bay itself. Only 21 sq miles, St John is about 5 miles east of St Thomas and 35 miles north of St Croix.

Getting there and around

There is no airport on St John. Visitors arrive by ferry.

There are three main roads, though government maps show more roads that are 4WD dirt tracks. It's only 7 miles from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay but the journey takes 40 minutes to drive. Hiking is hot and hilly. You can always start walking and then catch a taxibus. Hitchhiking is easy.

Virgin Islands National Park

www.nps.gov/viis

The population of St John fell to less than a thousand people in 1950 when 85% of the land had reverted to bush and second-growth tropical forest. In the 1950s Laurance Rockefeller bought about half the island but later donated his holdings to establish a national park which was to take up about two-thirds of the predominantly mountainous terrain. The Virgin Islands National Park was opened in 1956 and is covered by an extensive network of trails (some land in the park is still privately owned and not open to visitors). Several times a week a park ranger leads the
Reef Bay hike
, which passes through a variety of vegetation zones, visits an old sugar mill (
Annaberg
) and some unexplained petroglyphs, and ends with a ferry ride back to Cruz Bay. The trail can be hiked without the ranger, but the National Park trip provides a boat at the bottom of the trail so you do not need to walk back up the three-mile hill.The trails are well maintained and clearly signed with interpretative information along the way. Insect repellent is essential. A seashore walk in shallow water, using a glass-bottomed bucket to discover sea life, is recommended. A snorkel boat trip around St John, taking you to five or six reefs not accessible from land (and therefore less damaged), is a good way to see the island even if you do not snorkel. An informative, historical bus tour goes to the remote East End. There are evening programmes at Cinnamon Bay and Maho Bay camps, where rangers show slides and movies and hold informal talks.

Beaches and activities

North shore beaches can go from calm to a surfer's delight in winter when northerly swells roll in from the Atlantic, making the sea rough and dangerous. Go to the south for calm beaches and anchorages.
Frett's Maho Bay Shuttle
goes around the north shore coast to any of the beaches, which is easier than trying to reach them by road. In the national park there are snack bars at Cinnamon Bay and Trunk Bay only. Bring water and lunch if you are hiking or going to other beaches which will not be so crowded. Other good beaches include
Hawk's Nest Bay
,
Caneel Bay
,
Cinnamon Bay
(there is a small museum of historical photographs and pictures here),
Maho Bay
(beach is 5 ft from the road, lots of turtles, sometimes tarpon, nice and calm) and
Solomon Bay
(unofficial nudist beach about 30 minutes' walk from the road).

Snorkelling

Off Trunk Bay, the island's best beach, is an underwater snorkelling trail maintained by the National Parks Service. Not surprisingly, the beach tends to get rather crowded (especially when tour groups come in). Jumbie Bay has very good snorkelling, as does the north shore of Francis Bay, but if it is choppy, try Mary Creek instead, where you can snorkel among the mangroves or out to the coral reef at Anna Point. On the south coast, Salt Pond has an excellent beach with good snorkelling and a spectacular hike to Ram's Head, Lameshur Bay is reached by a difficult road but worth it. Reef Bay has excellent snorkelling.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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