If you’re looking for the perfect tropical getaway, I have it on good authority that St. John in the US Virgin Islands is hard to beat! It’s remote, packed full of expansive white sand beaches, has lush green mountains, and is home to warm and welcoming locals. I’ve yet to make it to the Virgin Islands (hoping to fix that this year!), so I asked my friend Casey (who I consider to be an expert on travel to the Virgin Islands) for her recommendations for a three-day visit. Here’s what she had to say:
Day of Arrival: Due to flight times from the mainland US and ferry schedules from St. Thomas, you’ll likely arrive on St. John in the mid/late-afternoon. After exiting the ferry, the first thing I like to do is stop at Dolphin Market in Cruz Bay. They have a good selection of meal prep items, beach snacks, wine, beer, and liquor. Next up, head to your resort or villa (most people will use sites like VRBO or Air BNB to locate a house since the island is a bit lacking on other types of accommodations). Once you unpack, I’d plan to either enjoy a simple dinner there after acquainting yourself with the villa or drive to Cruz Bay and have dinner and drinks at one of the many great restaurants! I suggest any of the following to give you your first taste of island vibe: High Tide, Waterfront Bistro, or Joe’s Rum Hut.
Day 1: Depending on whether you’re an early riser or not, you may want to make a quick cup of coffee at your rental villa and head up to Bordeaux Mountain for sunrise. However, it’s possible you may not even have to leave your place. There are plenty of villas on island that offer magnificent views of both sunrise and sunset. Either way, plan to be at your “watch spot” (either on Bordeaux Mountain or your villa’s porch) 15-20 minutes ahead of scheduled sunrise time.
Breakfast: Chateau Bordeaux. While you’re on Bordeaux Mtn., stop here…you’ll find amazing sweeping views to the south and east from their patio. They open at 7 or 8am (depending on the season) M-F. Call ahead to be sure. Or…wait and grab some breakfast in Cruz Bay on your way to the north shore beaches. Baked in the Sun Bakery has pastries, breakfast sandwiches, burritos, etc. They open at 6am M-Sat. Again, always call beforehand for hours. If breakfast isn’t your thing, pack a lunch and snacks and get ready to sight see!
Beach: Trunk Bay. This is St. John’s most famous beach (for good reason) and has world class snorkeling (even an underwater trail). Head up North Shore Rd. from Cruz Bay three or four miles till you see a sign for Trunk Bay beach. Along the way, stop off at Hawksnest Bay to take in the multi-colored beauty of this beach. Also, don’t miss the Trunk Bay overlook. The view from here is especially pretty on a sunny day when the water is bright and electric turquoise! If lounging at one beach isn’t your style, after staying a bit at Trunk Bay, drive on up North Shore Rd. and stop at Cinnamon Bay and Maho Bay. You won’t be disappointed! On your way back into Cruz Bay, stop at Mongoose Junction to do some shopping and grab a beer.
Dinner: Try Ocean 362 in Cruz Bay for dinner with a view of the sunset. You’ll likely need reservations for this place. Soak up more local vibes at The Beach Bar in Cruz Bay. They offer a lively atmosphere with live music on select nights.
Day 2: Grab breakfast at any of the places at Cruz Bay Landing (don’t forget about Baked in the Sun) and get ready for a full day of exploring some of the island’s perfect beaches and historic ruins.
Beach: Don’t miss Leinster Bay and Waterlemon Cay. Take North Shore Rd. out toward Annaberg ruins and the Leinster Bay Trail. Hike the trail out to Leinster Bay and snorkel out to Waterlemon Cay. On the way back stop and explore the Annaberg Plantation ruins.
Beach: Hit up some more beaches in the afternoon. Don’t miss Gibney/Oppenheimer and Salomon Bay on North Shore Rd (noticing a pattern here??). Both require a small hike down to the beach. The hike down to Salomon Bay is a bit longer but well worth it!
Day 3: Your last full day on St. John is packed full of exploring and sightseeing so either make breakfast at your villa before heading out (depending on where you’re staying, it may not be convenient to go into Cruz Bay for breakfast since you’ll be heading to the other side of the island today).
Beach: Hang out at Salt Pond Bay and hike the Ram’s Head Trail. Salt Pond Bay is a protected crescent shaped beach with excellent snorkeling. The nearby Ram’s Head Trail showcases St. John’s rugged beauty at its best. Take Hwy 10/Centerline Rd., then 107.
Lunch: Have lunch at Skinny Legs in Coral Bay for hearty food and epic views. The turkey reuben is my fave (ask for extra Thousand Island dressing)!
Afternoon: On your way back into Cruz Bay on Hwy 10/Centerline Rd., stop to check out the Catherineberg ruins. The sugar mill and rum factory ruins are all that remains of the 18th century sugar plantation.
There you have it! That’s 3 epic days of the best of St. John. In addition to the itinerary, here are some tips for making sure you have the best vacation possible:
- In the Virgin Islands, you should greet everyone with the salutation, “Good Morning”, “Good Afternoon”, or “Good Evening”.
- Bring bug spray or plan to buy it soon after you get here. Seriously guys.
- Driving is done on the left-hand side of the road.
- Try to secure seats on the left side of the plane (if flying east from the U.S. into St. Thomas). Seeing the beautiful green hills of St. Thomas’ west end emerge from the sapphire water is breathtaking.
- When booking your flight to the Cyril E. King airport in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, it’s beneficial to search for an arrival in the morning or early afternoon. I have found it easiest to rent a car at the airport, drive to Red Hook in the East End and catch a car barge to Cruz Bay, St. John.
- I’ve heard that certain rental car companies on St. Thomas will not come to your aid if you have car trouble on St. John. Basically, you’re responsible for getting the car back to St. Thomas. This could be costly and a big bummer if the car you rented on St. Thomas becomes immobile on St. John. Consider the pros and cons of your options.
- I suggest familiarizing yourself, thoroughly, with a few maps before you go (and bring them with you). Street signs can be few and far between. Don’t plan to rely on navigational systems either, as these aren’t always accurate. Speaking from personal experience here, KNOW YOUR MAP!
- Research the ferry schedules that will best suit your arrival time. For instance, if your flight arrives at the airport in Charlotte Amalie at 1:30pm and then figure in time to pick up your rental car and drive to Red Hook; you could reasonably plan to catch the 3:00, 3:30 or 4:00 car barge. A good rule of thumb is to give yourself about 2 hours after your flight arrival time to catch the ferry. You won’t need this much time once you’re familiar with the island.
- If your flight arrives in the evening, Best Western Carib Beach Resort is a reasonably priced hotel right next to the airport that you could plan to stay for the night (it’s also perfect if you have an early flight departing St. Thomas). It’s not luxurious, but they’ve got a pretty view of Lindbergh Bay and at dusk the lights on the hill to the north are quite lovely.
- Making ferry reservations isn’t possible. You should simply show up 10-15 minutes ahead of departure time and pay your fee.
- Skip buying a round trip ferry ticket because 1) there are many different ferry operators, 2) it’s not easy to figure out which is which, 3) they all run on different schedules, 4) you’ll have to keep track of the ticket all week.
Been to St. John? What would you add/change/take away from our itinerary? Hop on over to Facebook and let me know!
For more Caribbean goodness, read our post on the top 10 Caribbean islands you’ve GOT to visit (and duh, St. John is totally included).
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