Exploring St. John, US Virgin Islands

Pirate Beachbum
FTW Tour
Published in
10 min readApr 18, 2018


Explorer Christopher Columbus, traveling on behalf of the Spanish Crown, is credited with being the first European to see the Virgin Islands in 1493, during his second voyage to the New World.

I didn’t know the internet connection would be so limited during my stay on St. John. I panicked a little when we got to our hotel room, and there was no wifi or television for that matter. All you could hear was the sound of waves crashing on the beach over and over. It was peaceful and all, but coming from the high tech world of being connected 24/7 online, and being forced offline abruptly was a bit of a shock. We were here for a week, so I had better get used to it! I later found out the limited internet and no televisions were by design. The resort wanted guests to disconnect. As much as I hated it, I knew it would be good for us.

Caneel Bay was discovered by Laurance Rockefeller while sailing on a family cruise in the early 1950s. Caneel Bay is accessible only by boat or ferry and its beaches are widely considered to be among the best in the world. A steadfast environmentalist and preservationist, Laurance Rockefeller was dedicated to creating a destination that would live in harmony with its natural environment.

The St. John Experience

Getting to St. John in the US Virgin Islands is simple, but there are no direct flights. This is because there is no airport on the island. You have to fly into St. Thomas and take a quick ferry ride over to the island. If you are worried about boat rides, my fearless partner is sensitive to motion sickness, and she had no problem with the ferry ride. There is nothing that Rum Punch and Dramamine can’t fix. I mean literally.

Upon arrival, we met the Caneel Bay staff and they shuttled us to their private ferry where we were handed a Rum Punch for the boat ride over. As St. John and the resort came into focus, the sun was starting to go down behind us. Our first memory in St. John was watching the molten orange sunset melt into the Caribbean and being greeted by the staff on the Caneel Bay dock.

Top photo: Christmas Cove is a great snorkeling spot and day trip. It got its name when Christopher Columbus stayed there on Christmas many moons ago. There is even a converted sail boat that serves pizza. Middle Photo: Since 1956, approximately 60% of the island is protected as Virgin Islands National Park, administered by the United States National Park Service. Bottom Photo: The main beach at Caneel is great for swimming, SUP boarding, sailing, snorkeling and just about every other water activity you can think of.

Caneel Bay

Caneel Bay is Set on a 170-acre peninsula in the Virgin Islands National Park near seven picturesque beaches, which we got to know personally. It is located on the northwest side of St. John, one of the US Virgin Islands. The resort is within Virgin Islands National Park on property once owned by Laurance Rockefeller. The hotel was one of the early members of Rockefeller’s hotel chain, Rockresorts. The resort takes its name from the location of the property at Caneel Bay (Caneel means cinnamon in old Dutch).

Rockefeller was so impressed by the area’s beauty that he arranged to buy up most of the island of St. John. He then donated most of it to the U.S. government for the creation of the Virgin Islands National Park, the 29th U.S. national park. Rockefeller had the resort buildings designed to blend in with the landscape, and most property lighting is indirect so that guests are able to see the stars at night.

St. John has plenty to do, from hiking to diving to shopping, visiting historical sites or lounging at a different beach everyday. This map gives you a great overview of places to explore.

Fact File

Best time of year to go? April - June (Peak season is December - March)

Airport to fly into? Cyril E. King Airport (STT) on St. Thomas

Where to stay? Many places are currently being rebuilt from Hurricane Irma, so please check their websites for updates. Caneel Bay is our favorite to really disconnect. You can also stay at The Westin St. John Resort Villas or closer to Cruz Bay at Gallows Point Resort. There are also plenty of condos and villas you can rent. Google is your friend. :)

Rental car? If you are comfortable with driving on the opposite side of the road and navigating steep switch backs, then yes! It was fun to explore the many beaches, hiking trails and sugar mill ruins throughout the island.

Pro Tip: Splurge for the Catamaran day trip to explore the many surrounding islands and snorkeling spots. It’s worth it!

Caneel Bay’s Hawksnest beach is on the windward side of the island. The quiet little spot is a favorite to the local sea turtles who love to swim and play directly off the shore. Grab a snorkel and you are bound to see a few. The best part about the rooms on Hawksnest is falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing on the shore every night, and this is your view!
The old Dutch sugar mill ruins are scattered around the island. These ruins sit on the Caneel Bay property, and you can walk inside them and take photos.

St. John History

The Danish West India and Guinea Company represented the first Europeans to settle the island in 1718. They are also credited with naming the island Saint John (Danish: Sankt Jan). The Danish crown took full control of this and nearby colonies in 1754, including those founded on the similarly named islands of Saint Thomas and Saint Croix.

Sugar cane plantations, such as the famous Annaberg Sugar Plantation, were established in great numbers on Saint John; the intense heat and fertile soil provided ideal growing conditions. The establishment of sugarcane plantations created a high demand for labor. The indigenous Carib and Arawak were initially used as slave labor, but their population was quickly decimated by new infectious diseases. Read more about St. John’s history here.

ZoZo’s at the Sugar Mill sits on top of Caneel Bay’s 18th-century sugar mill ruins overlooking the amazing scenery and surrounding islands. ZoZo’s menu is 5 star and their wine and liquor list is world class. Even if you do not stay at Caneel Bay, make sure you eat dinner here. Make a reservation ahead of time and ask for table with an unobstructed view.

Cool Places to Eat and drink

Chateau Bordeaux: It is quite a trek to get there, but totally worth it. Amazing views, and you must try a Dirty Monkey! Make sure to stop at the cute shop next door.

Skinny Legs: It’s off the beaten path in Coral Bay with great food and live music! Check out husband and wife duo Lauren & Bo if you get the chance :)

High Tide: Located in Cruz Bay with open air dining overlooking the water. Serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and awesome drinks!

The Longboard: Located in Cruz Bay with outdoor seating and a great happy hour. They also have fresh, healthy options with a Caribbean twist!

Zozo’s At The Sugar Mill: Located at Caneel Bay with the best views. Make a reservation around sunset for a great romantic date night!

Top Left: Donkey’s roam the islands. The smart ones stay on Caneels 187 acre resort. Top Right: There are so many beautiful beaches on St. John. Up your beach count and do a morning swim at one and an afternoon nap at another. Bottom Left: This is the breakfast view at Caneel. We have not even mentioned the incredible made to order buffet. Bottom Left: Sea life is abundant. If you have never snorkeled, it’s time to get your ears wet.

Things to Do on St. John

Boat tours are plentiful for whatever you are into. We did one with Calypso Charters that included snorkeling and checking out The British Virgin Islands. Boats are like cars in the Caribbean. It was worth it to not be lazy, sitting on the beach drinking all day. Here is a list of boat tours available.

Of course scuba and snorkeling should be on your list. If you think you are scared of seeing what is under the sea, get over it. This place is an aquarium under water. If you love scuba and snorkeling, you have found your paradise. There are tons of charters to choose from. Here is a list of Scuba and Snorkeling tours.

Explore St. John’s Beaches. There are too many to name, both private and public. The public ones are just as beautiful as the private ones. Hawksnest Beach is a favorite! If you really want your privacy, pay the day fee for Caneel Bay and enjoy their incredible beaches. Here is a list of St. John’s Beaches.

Hike one of the many trails on St. John. The hiking is so good on St. John we added a section below with all the trails. The landscape and views are breathtaking. Make sure you bring some good walking shoes, backpack and a camera. Don’t forget to take water with you or perhaps a little rum. It get’s hot! Here is a list of hiking trails on St John.

Visit the historical sites; St. John has an interesting history. Many of the early structures built by the Dutch settlers and their slaves sprinkle the island. The Sugar Mill Ruins are beautiful! Here is a map of all the St. John Ruins.

Kayak, sail, jet ski and just about any other water sports you can think of. Don’t be that person on vacation staying indoors. Get outside and try something fun and new. Here are a list of water sports activities contacts

Shopping in Cruz Bay. Walk around downtown Cruz Bay and visit the many local shops. Take home some Caribbean spices and then stop by Woody’s for a Limin’ Coconut to cool off… Craving one when you get home is normal :)cxv

Driving around St. John is definitely worth doing. The mountainous geography offers some spectacular views. We ate lunch at Chateau Bordeaux.

Hiking in Paradise

The Lind Point Trails are a good choice for those here for a few hours or a day. There are two access points, one behind the visitor center. This trail wraps around Lind Point to Honeymoon or Salomon Beach. The second access point is about 1/4 mile from the visitor center on North Shore Road. The trailhead is near the national park sign. Follow the trails to Lind Point Overlook for photo ops, then head to Honeymoon or Salomon Beach for a quick dip or a day in the sand and sun.

Cinnamon Bay Nature Loop and Accessible Boardwalk. Meander through the ruins of the historic Cinnamon Bay Sugar Plantation. Smell the scent of the leaves from the bay rum trees, which were once used to make the famous St. John Bay Rum Cologne. The boardwalk and nature loop are located across the road from the entrance to the Cinnamon Bay Campground. The nature loop is an easy 0.5 mile hike.

Francis Bay Trail starts at the Francis Bay Sugar Factory. It continues past the Mary’s Point Estate house and around a salt pond. The dry tropical forest and salt pond provide an excellent opportunity to view birds. The lower portion of the trail is an accessible boardwalk that continues through the mangroves to the two viewing platforms.

Yawzi Point Trail: Located between Great Lameshur Bay and Little Lameshur Bay, this .3 mile trail is a good choice if you are looking for an easy hike. Stone ruins of homes from the Danish colonial period can be found alongside the trail. Small rocky beaches can be accessed by side trails for a quiet snorkel entry spot.

Salt Pond is perfect for someone looking for a pleasant stroll to a beautiful beach. Just a quarter mile hike from the parking area to beach and has only a slight grade. Once there, the more adventurous can tackle the Ram Head Trail. This trail is just under a mile long on an old rocky roadbed with a slight incline. The dramatic views make this a great sunset hike

Peace Hill: This .1 mile uphill trail leads to the Peace Hill windmill ruin. Enjoy extensive views of St. John’s North Shore at the top of this aptly-named site.

Hiking trail information courtesy of National Park Virgin Islands. More hiking trails and guided tours available.

St. John’s vibrant main town and port, Cruz Bay is home to most of the 28-square-mile island’s restaurants, bars, stores and dive centers. Many safari buses and jeeps set out from Cruz Bay St. taking tourists around the island.
Trunk Bay is named for the Leatherback turtle, which is endemic to the U.S.V.I. and is locally known as trunks. Trunk Bay has consistently been voted one of the top beaches in the world and is a great spot to go snorkeling.


The morning we had to fly out we woke up at 5 am to board a sunrise ferry back to St. Thomas. There had been a reggae festival on St. John that weekend in Cruz Bay. When we got to the Red Hook port, a group of reggae musicians had arrived at the same time. I will never forget the smell of weed that wafted our way as they exited their ferry at 5:30 am. We nodded at each other and smiled as we got into our taxis.

My wife and I laugh every time we are reminded of this memory of the boat full of rastas wake and baking as they watched the Caribbean sun rise. We ended up seeing these same guys on our flight and found out they were from a famous reggae family in Jamaica. You never know who you will run into while traveling.

She made me take this photo.

Last Thought

The lesson we learn every vacation we take, is to take more trips. The old cliche of spending money on memories versus things are words to live by. Writing this story brings back so many awesome memories of cool things and places we got to experience together. Most importantly, we got married on this trip and in true FTW fashion, we eloped! St. John solidified this travel team for life :)

St. John USVI’s will always hold a very special place in our hearts. We were not asked to write this story by Caneel Bay, although we may be a little biased from wedding excitement ;) We want to thank the resort and their friendly staff for making this the best trip. Sadly, St. John and Caneel Bay were heavily damaged during Hurricane Irma and are still rebuilding. We know they will be back stronger and better than ever, and we can’t wait to go back!

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Pirate Beachbum
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