St. John, the smallest and least densely populated of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands (the other two are St. Thomas and St. Croix), is east of nearby St. Thomas, and it is known for its picture-postcard-perfect beaches -- St. John is all about the water and unspoiled surroundings.
Among the beaches to write home about is breathtaking Trunk Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, with talcum-powder-like sands and clear turquoise waters for swimming and snorkeling. A marked underwater trail here is ideal for beginning snorkelers. Many cruise lines offer tours to Trunk Bay including lines that call at St. Thomas and transport passengers for all-day excursions to St. John that make a stop at Trunk Bay, the island's best beach, for a swimming break.
Other noteworthy beaches on St. John include the seven idylls at Caneel Bay Resort -- which are open to the public -- as well as Cinnamon Bay Beach, Hawksnest Beach, Maho Bay Beach and Watermelon Cay Beach with its spectacular coral reef, among others.
After some serious beach time, many visitors make their way to St. John's biggest "must:" the 7,000-plus-acres Virgin Islands National Park. Created from land donated by Laurance Rockefeller in 1956, the park has walking paths in the park particularly the Annaberg Historic Trail that leads to the partially restored ruins of an 18th century plantation.
Cruz Bay, the main "town" on St. John where ships' tenders and ferries from St. Thomas dock, is picturesque with houses in ice cream tones and a variety of restaurants, bars, boutiques and shops. It is a laid-back, small commercial center -- the shopping cannot compete with that at St. Thomas, though the Mongoose Junction Shopping Center is worth a visit for your souvenirs (perhaps local handicrafts and handmade jewelry) as well as the shops along King Street and at Wharfside Village. These shopping areas are all within walking distance of the ferry dock. There is little-to-no nightlife -- but that is precisely the reason most people like St. John. At Cruz Bay, visitors can rent a car or jeep to tour the island at their own pace (remember to drive on the left). Taxis are also available for independents to tour the island from Cruz Bay.
Sailing, diving, snorkeling and other water sports and fishing are popular pastimes.
For local flavors, fresh fish and seafood cannot be beat. Try the seared Caribbean tuna at Equator, a restaurant at the Caneel Bay Resort; and the saltfish cakes at Sweet Plantains Restaurant & Rum Bar, 16118 Little Plantation, Coral Bay. Also try the homemade sodas, Tropical Mango and Island Summer Ale and other beers at The Tap Room microbrewery in Mongoose Junction at Cruz Bay.
Cruise Lines that visit St. John include Azamara, Carnival, Costa and Seabourn. Many other cruise lines that visit nearby St. Thomas offer day-long short excursions to St. John.
IF YOU GO -- For additional information on St. John, visit www.usvitourism.vi.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun