St John is a perfect destination for boating and yacht charters looking for white-sand beaches, crystal clear waters and tropical holidays. Located southeast of Puerto Rico the island of St John is the smallest of the three main islands that make up the USVI: St Croix, St Thomas and St John. There are more than a dozen smaller islands around.
Purchased by the U.S from the Dutch in 1917, they are an unincorporated territory of the United States, meaning that while the residents are U.S citizens they have no voting rights on elections.
St John is known for its natural beauty and unspoiled beaches that attract visitors from all around the world and has a small population of around 4,000 people.
There are no marinas on St John but there are more than a dozen designated anchorage sites and moorings around the coast. Regulations allow for up to 14 cumulative days within a 6 month period after which you can move to another anchorage. Alternatively, yacht charters can apply for a long-term anchoring permit that is valid for 1 month. For stays longer than 6 months in USVI waters, a vessel will need to be registered with the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR). Regulations for mooring in the National Park also apply.
Just like most of the islands in the Caribbean, the months between July and November are considered low season. This is great for prices, with some resorts and hotels offering deals of up to 50% off and fewer crowds. The hurricane season officially starts around June and lasts until November and the driest months are February to May. St John does not have an airport and most visitors fly to nearby St. Thomas. A regular ferry service connects the two islands. The official currency on the island is US dollars.
**In 2017, two Category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria, made landfall within a few weeks of each other, after 22 years of peace. They caused severe damage to St. John and wiped out nearby St Thomas and St Croix. The USVI’s have made great strides in recovery and while some of the places no longer look the same, the natural beauty of the area is intact.
History of St John
The name of USVI comes from Christopher Colombus, who visited the islands in 1493 while searching for a route to India and landed near Salt River on St. Croix’s north shore.
However, the islands were inhabited for hundreds of years prior by nomadic tribes like the Ciboney Indians and later the Arawak Indians from Venezuela. The arrival of the Carib (or Kalinago) Indians in the 15th century brought hostility to the once peaceful island of St Croix. There is no evidence as to whether the Carib had established themselves in St John at the time. Even though Spain chose not to colonize the Virgins, other European powers like the Dutch and the English and later the French and Danes fought over control of the islands. By 1717 the Danes who were already established in St Thomas, sailed to St John and ran sugar cane and tobacco plantations, treating the locals brutally. The indigenous population suffered due to European diseases and harsh slavery conditions and was decimated. It wasn’t until the 19th century, and the end of slavery, after many bloody revolts, that St John began to rebuild from its past. In 1954, the islands were bought by LS Rockefeller who donated most of the area and established the National Park in return for a luxurious hotel in Caneel Bay. In recent decades, the island is one of the premier tourist destinations for US and international visitors.
Where to stay in St John
The accommodation options in St John range from high-end luxury resorts to intimate cottages right on the beach. Gallows Point, located in Cruz Bay, the main town of the island is the largest hotel and a great option if you want to tour the neighbourhoods. On the southwest side, you will get to experience views many dream of waking up to see, where there are plenty of private vacation rentals to choose from like the dreamy Finisterre Estate and Villa Cin Cin located within the gated community of Ditleff Point.
What to eat
Dining in St John is a wholesome experience. Despite being the smallest of the USVI’s it has plenty to offer when it comes to international and local flavours. However, don’t let the beach town vibes confuse you. Even after spending all day on the water, making an effort to dress up and cover up before entering a restaurant is expected. Service is generally slower and follows the “island time” philosophy and since restaurants close as early as 9 PM, it is best to plan your dinner ahead of time. The food scene is diverse, with Italian, Puerto Rican, Caribbean and West Indian influences blended together.
Don’t miss a visit to Skinny Legs, one of the island’s most well-known spots for all things burgers. The casual setting is complete with live music on most nights of the week.
Lime Out is another interesting food spot you will want to visit located in Coral Bay. It is a floating canteen, accessible only by boat where guests can enjoy drinks and tasty tacos from the comfort of their boat. While in Cruz Bay, do give The Longboard a try – their sushi bowls are both flavorful and affordable. For something fancier, Ocean 362 brings a modern twist to the “island to table” style with sustainably sourced ingredients.
Things to do in St John Island
While boaters will be most looking forward to staying on the water, discovering more of the coastline, St Johns does have plenty of other activities to keep you busy while on holiday.
Virgin Islands National Park
The main attraction on the island of St John. This is where you will get to visit historical sites, explore epic hiking trails and remote beaches. Most areas in the park are free to visit.
Beaches are the main attraction on the island of St John and with good reason. Whether you choose to sunbathe on the powdery soft sand or grab your mask and explore underwater, the magnificent views of the landscape will be sure to captivate you. The coral reefs, aquatic animals like the Leatherback Turtle, and crystal clear waters complete the scenery. Maho Bay, on the north side of the island, is consistently voted as visitors’ favourite and is great for families with children. There is also Trunk Bay, inside the National Park where most visitors arrive on one of the daily cruises.
Petroglyphs in Reef Bay Valley
The Reef Bay Trail in the National Park is where you will find a group of ancient Taino petroglyph carvings. It is one of the oldest and most important clues to life on the island before European colonization. The trail is quite long in its entirety but has some of the best historical sites, sugar plantation ruins and even some of the tallest trees on the island.