US Virgin Islands

US Virgin Islands – St. John

St. John, in the Caribbean, is a nature lover’s paradise.

The three US Virgin Islands are all popular vacation getaways in the Caribbean. In 2005, the US Virgin Islands were rated as one of the ten best honeymoon locales in the world by Modern Bride Magazine. I had my own honeymoon there on the sy-pacificwave.com so I may be biased when I say that Modern Bride magazine got this one right! St. Croix is the largest island, and St. Thomas is home to Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the US Virgin Islands. St. Croix and St. Thomas have their advocates, but my favorite is St. John. I’ve been there twice, and both times found it to be relaxing and friendly, with very little of the “in your face” salesmanship of St. Thomas or the overcrowded beaches of St. Croix. Because the US Virgin Islands are the most popular tourist destination in the Caribbean, St. John is far from deserted. However, it is the smallest of the three isles, and fully 2/3 of it is designated US National Park land. It follows that the amount of tourists staying on St. John is necessarily smaller.

Where can we stay?

There are many small hotels, villas and B&Bs on St. John, as well as eco-friendly campgrounds where hardy types can pitch a tent. Maho Bay Camps are based on ecotourism, with “green travel” accommodations like tent cottages, elevated walkways and recycled building materials. The Hillcrest Guest House, on Cruz Bay, has quite possibly the friendliest staff on the island. However, in terms of full service luxury hotels and upscale amenities, there is basically only two of note. These two main resorts offer privacy and children’s programs, along with the relaxed comfort typical of all St. Johns’ lodgings.

Caneel Bay Resort is one of these upscale resorts. Caneel Bay Resort has seven private beaches and no TV’s in the hotel rooms. The idea is to unplug and reconnect with nature. Founded by conservation proponent Laurance Rockefeller, with the philosophy of taking time in nature to relax and rejuvenate, Caneel Bay Resort stays true to his ideals. If you need it, The Self Centre teaches stress relief. I believe, however, that the simple act of an unplugged luxury vacation provides all the relief most of us need to recover from the workaday world.

The Westin St. John is the other deluxe resort on the island. Incidentally, it is on the site of the former Marriott, where I had my honeymoon. The Westin Kids Club will keep children happy and entertained, and day spa treatments will help adults be happy and relaxed – if lounging on the soft sandy beaches isn’t enough. Tennis courts and an 18-hole golf course provide added diversion, but really, St. John is truly a nature lover’s paradise. While the Westin and Caneel Bay provide many full-service resort activities, it seems to me to be a waste of a location not to take advantage of the scuba lessons, sailing and other boat rentals the hotel concierges can arrange.

How are the beaches?

It’s an island in the Caribbean, of course the beaches are amazing. Powdery white sand is typical here, bookended by palm trees and other flora native to St. John. Trunk Bay is a favorite of travelers, with its photo-ready natural curves and rocky outcroppings. Cinnamon Bay is a relatively busy campground with lots of beach and water sports activities, such as rental boats, windsurfing, and volleyball. Hawksnest and Little Hawksnest are more secluded, but tourists can get there by car. Caneel Bay has upscale amenities available for guests of the resort. Honeymoon Beach is accessible only by boat or hiking nature trails through the Virgin Islands National Park (talk about private!).

Leinster Bay has the best snorkeling on the islands, although it’s pretty awesome at other beaches here too. All the beaches on St. Johns have something in common: The quality of the water. The water is so clear here – a real testament to the result of ecotourism and the environmentally-friendly lifestyle on this island – it’s like swimming in air. The snorkeling is great; I could have stayed in all afternoon, were it not for the siren call of pina coladas served right on the beach. Ahh, that’s a vacation!

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