St. John Travel Guide

St. John beach

I am a beach vacation girl who loves vacationing in the Caribbean Islands. There are so many unique islands to experience, each with its own events, excursions, and incredible terrain. The Caribbean is very popular for its culture, beaches, and rainforests, and I can see why! Most recently I visited St. John, so I thought I would share a St. John travel guide with the best restaurants, excursions, and places to stay.

St. John Travel Guide

I went to St. John for the first time last September. It is a unique United States Virgin Island (USVI), and there aren’t many places to stay there. Most people I spoke to when heading out there had stayed on St. Thomas and visited via ferry during the day. My parents have a timeshare and we can use it at the Westin Resort on St. John.

On the island, you will find that the locals live the laid-back island life. There are plenty of bars and island shops. There are also a ton of hiking trails and nature preserves. Most of the island is undeveloped due to the national park!

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Where Is St John Island?

St. John is located in the Caribbean. It is the smallest of the three main US Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John, the rest are around 50 smaller islets. The USVI are located south of Florida about 50-60 miles east of Puerto Rico in the Atlantic Ocean. They are also near the British Virgin Islands. While you do not need a passport for the USVI, you may want to bring it for a ferry over to a British Virgin Island like Jost Van Dyke.

St. John does not have its own airport, so you will plan to fly into St. Thomas, and then ferry over. Ferries are very regular and easy to catch out of the Crown Bay Marina.

Best Time To Visit St John USVI

Mid-December-April: High Season/Peak Season

It’s said that the best time to visit is during the high season when the weather averages 76 degrees and rain is at a minimum. You can beat the heat and humidity, and enjoy beautiful weather while major restaurants and tourist locations are open to the public.

Mid-April through Mid-December: Low-Season

This is the time locals recommend coming to St. John. The sun will be hotter, with an average of 83 degrees, and about 2xs as much rain as in the high season. Costs to stay are about 30% lower and the island will be much less crowded.

September: Hurricane Season

We visited during September which is the off-season due to the possibility of hurricanes. Many businesses close down for the month and some of the most popular spots to visit are not available to you. On the other hand, I loved visiting during this time because our resort wasn’t crowded, we never had issues getting into restaurants or too-busy bars. The weather was still beautiful and warm, and luckily we missed the hurricane and rain most of the time, though that is the biggest risk when visiting this time of year. My family has a history of visiting places in the off-season and honestly, we’ve had great luck and fewer crowds.

Things To Do In St John

Lay by the Pool and Enjoy the Beaches

I am a pool potato when I am on vacation. I love grabbing a book and laying by the pool enjoying the sun and a fruity drink. I occasionally take a walk out to the beach to see the ocean and grab a plate of chicken tenders from the pool bar. This is quintessential vacation time to me!

Hike the Reef Bay Trail to see the Petroglyphs

A few of us decided to hike the Reef Bay Trail while we were in St. John. There are a ton of hiking trails due to 2/3 of the island being Virgin Islands National Park. We chose Reef Bay Trail so we could see the petroglyphs and the Reef Bay Sugar Mill. The trail is about 4.4 miles and 2.5 hours altogether and it is an in-and-back trail. The entrance is essentially a drop off on the side of a road in the forest and you hike your way about halfway across the island to the beach and back. Along the way, there are old plantation ruins and you can see ancient petroglyphs, or rock art believed to be created by pre-Columbian Taino people.

This is a difficult hike, we are all pretty in shape and struggled at the end which is a steep uphill for the last quarter mile. It was a really great hike and we got to see a ton of cool things from the ruins to a beautiful quiet beach save for other hikers like us. There was wildlife and as we got closer to the water tons of little hermit crabs!

Afterward, when we had drank all of our water and were incredibly hungry, we got a ride back to Cruz Bay and had the best burgers at The Tap & Still. We’re still a little unsure if the burgers were so good because we were hungry and exhausted or if they were actually that amazing. Either way, I still recommend a visit!

Maho Bay

A favorite beach among locals and tourists alike, this small beach is easy to get to, just a few miles up Route 20 with parking available. This beach is lined with palm trees with plenty of sun and shade. It is also overlooked by the America Hill Great House Ruins which can be reached by the Cinnamon Bay Trail.

Visit Honeymoon Beach

There are a ton of beautiful beaches across the island. One of the most popular is Honeymoon Beach, which you can access via a 1mile hike or local charter. There are concessions for purchase on Honeymoon Beach.

Snorkel in Trunk Bay

Probably St. John’s most famous beach, Trunk Bay features a quarter mile of beautiful clear waters and white sands along with coral reefs primed for fantastic snorkeling. On the beach, you can rent snorkel gear, beach chairs, and concessions. You can drive or take a taxi here. This is the only beach on St. John that charges an entrance fee ($5 for 16 years and older).

With popularity comes larger crowds, this beach is known to be quite busy in peak times, but there is a lifeguard on duty.

Take a Ferry to St. Thomas for Shopping

For me, there comes a day on each beach vacation when I’ve gotten a little too much sun. So a shopping day where we can pop in and out of stores is a great alternative. In the morning, take a ferry over to St. Thomas and visit the shopping center Havensight Mall near the cruise ship ports. We found great deals on jewelry and souvenirs. Don’t forget to negotiate prices!

Rent a Boat

A great way to see the islands is to rent a boat for a few hours. You can snorkel on your own time and see the island in your own way. Most smaller boats do not require a boating license, just a valid driver’s license. With a boat, you can also visit the floating taco bar, LIME OUT right off of Coral Bay, which was closed in September while we were there, but it is top of my list for next time!

Enjoy the Bands at Beach Bar

In Cruz Bay, one of the coolest spots we found and ended up at several different evenings was Beach Bar. They have live music and fun most nights during peak season, but only a few nights a week during the off-season. The drinks are great and the staff is fantastic. Beach Bar is a great place to spend a casual evening.

Dine, Drink, and Shop at Mongoose Junction

Full of gifts, jewelry, and art galleries, Mongoose Junction has a great array of stores to shop and spend an afternoon in. There are a myriad of restaurants and Mongoose Junction is even the home of The Taproom, St. John Brewers Island brewed beer.

Cruz Bay

Home to the inter-island ferry dock, this busy area is home to bars, restaurants, and shops. We ended up here most days. This is where you will catch a ride to other islands, it is home to Mongoose Junction, Beach Bar, and more! My favorite restaurant was The Longboard, it was great food, and one of the few places open in September that wasn’t primarily bar food. Definitely stop by when you visit!

Night Kayaking

I wasn’t sure about nighttime kayaking at first, but it was such a cool experience! The excursion was right at our resort, Westin St. John so super convenient. We met at the meetup spot and painted ourselves with glow paint, then suited up with our life vests and paddles before jumping in our clear bottom, lit, 2-person kayaks. We paddled around the bay and found tons of fish, large barracuda, and even sea turtles! It was a really cool experience!

Sunset Cruise

I love a sunset boat ride at the end of a vacation. We hopped on a catamaran on our last night in St. John and cruised around the island with hors d’oeuvres and drinks in hand. It was a beautiful way to end our amazing trip!

Visit Windmill Bar

One night we took a taxi up to the Windmill Bar. It was a really cool spot up on a hill overlooking the island and ocean. We enjoyed bar food and incredible views at this spot and stayed through sunset until it got dark. This is a really cool spot that I highly recommend.

Don’t Miss Skinny Legs

One of the biggest bummers of the time of year we visited was that a lot of the more popular places around town were closed. When doing research ahead of our trip, literally every article mentioned Skinny Legs and unfortunately it was closed while we were in town.

Best Places To Stay In St John

Westin St. John Resort Villas

I mentioned my parent’s timeshare above, and that there are not many resorts to stay in on the island. We were lucky to be able to stay in a resort on the island and get the full experience. The resort has a private beach with beautiful white sands. There are tons of activities onsite including a pool and hot tub, tennis courts, disk golf, a gym, a playground and so much more. There is an onsite market and coffee shop, a pool and beachside bar and grill, and a nicer sit-down restaurant at the resort, so you really have everything you need at your fingertips.

The rooms are condos/suites so they are equipped with a full kitchen and there are community outdoor barbecues for use. We had a three-bedroom suite and it worked out so great for the six of us! There is a cab spot where you can pick up an open-air taxi to anywhere on the island. The Resort is closed to the public with a guardhouse for safety at the entrance.

Rentals

While there are not many resorts on the island of St. John, there are a ton of individual rentals. These prices fluctuate throughout the year with high and low seasons. When speaking with some locals it was interesting. They said it was very difficult for them to find housing because most of the island was rentals for tourists.

St. Thomas

When I told most people about my trip to St. John they instantly thought we were staying on St. Thomas. That is the most common way to visit the island if you want to stay at a resort.

St John USVI Travel Tips

Bring Cash for Taxis

St. John on-island travel is really simple. Taxi spots are around all of the major destinations so in most cases you don’t need to worry about finding them unless off the beaten path. Taxis are cash-only! They do have set prices per person, so you can plan ahead on costs. You’ll also need cash for tipping on excursions and around your resort and restaurants.

Always Ask about a ride back home!

We had a grumpy cab driver take us up to the Reef Bay Trail trailhead, and let us know that he would absolutely not be coming back for us which was not a pleasant experience. We met a hiking group along the way who said we could hitch a ride back into town with them, but before their whole group got back, we ended up meeting a girl who was with the National Park Conservation. She let us hop in her truckbed and said this is how the islanders get around! We were thankful for the ride and got a fun story about our hitchhiking experience out of it, but always be safe when taking rides from strangers! It would have been best for us to plan a pickup with a driver or our resort before leaving.

Barter your jewelry prices

The Caribbean is a great place to buy precious gems and jewelry, but know before you go: look closely at quality and know what is worth it and what isn’t. Don’t overpay for cloudy, poorly cut gems, and always always barter. The first price is never the final, and the more you buy the more you save. I got a great deal on a ring while Kale got a bracelet and my parents bought other pieces.

Watch the Ferry Times

Ferries won’t wait for you, and they do end at a certain time of night. If you are on a schedule, make sure you don’t miss your ride!

Wear Sunscreen

No matter what time of year you visit, wear sunscreen! The sun is hot close to the equator and hits you hard. No one wants to spend their vacation under a towel because they got burnt the first day!

Bring Bug Spray

I did bring bug spray, but I was unprepared for how bad the sandflies would be! I was polka-dotted and looked like I had chicken pox by the end of my trip, which was not only itchy but didn’t look cute. Get a real, strong bug spray and if you are susceptible to bites, you may want to limit your time at the beach.

Rent a Car

If there are a lot of you in a group and you don’t plan on staying at your rental or resort most of the time, it may be more cost-effective to rent a car. Every time we went to Cruz Bay we paid $8/ person and then again on the way back. Between the six of us, it would have been much less expensive to rent a car.

Bring a Water Bottle

I have made a habit of bringing a water bottle whenever I travel so I avoid paying airport prices for H2O. When at the pool and hiking my water bottle saved me so many times! You have to stay hydrated and the little plastic cups at the pool aren’t big enough and are wasteful. Not to mention we would not have made the hike without an abundance of water. The humidity and heat cause you to lose much more water than you realize!

Pack Casually

I am prone to overdressing on vacation. I love to dress up, but island life is casual. Leave the cocktail dresses and silk pants at home and opt for shorts and tanks. Grab some layers for buggy nights and sunburt days and keep everything lightweight and cooler.

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