The Smallest of the Three US Virgin Islands, St. John rates as one of the most enchanting spots in the Caribbean.
Through the years its beauty has remained untouched; most of St. John appears as idyllic and pristine as it did when Christopher Columbus and his crew first sighted it about 500 years ago.
Its National Park encompasses two-thirds of the island and includes the remains of the Annaberg Sugar Plantation.
Since Columbus discovered St. John during his second voyage to the New World in 1493, it has been controlled at various times by Spain, France, England, Holland, Denmark, the United States and even, for a very short time, the Knights of Matta.
In 1717, the Danish West India Company sent out a
contingent of settlers to set up a colony and port at Coral Bay. By 1733, there were 208 whites and 1,087 slaves on the island. But in November of that year the slaves revolted, slaughtering the entire white garrison at Coral Bay's Fort Berg and assuming control of the island. In May 1734, the Danes retook the island from the rebels. But by that time, the island had been devastated.
Although the Danes rebuilt their homes and sugar factories and achieved St. John's luxury resorts combine the beauty of a tropical paradise with world-class service and prosperity once more, St. John's troubles persisted. Drawn into the Napoleonic Wars on the side of the French, the island was subsequently taken over by the British for a few years in the early 1800s. By the time the Danes got a solid hold again, sugar beets were being grown in Europe and were dominating the sugar market, which, along with the abolition of slavery in 1848, marked the end of St. Johns sugar industry.
In 1917, the United States, worried about unfriendly bases in the Caribbean, made a successful offer of $25 million to Denmark for St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Much of the island's natural beauty has been preserved thanks to the efforts of American financier Laurance Rockefeller. In the 1950s, he made extensive donations of land to the federal government to help establish the Virgin Islands National Park. Today the park protects about two-thirds of St. John, including over 5,600 acres of offshore marine areas.
Cruz Bay, St. John,
U.S. Virgin Islands
Photography ©2012 Dean Barnes All Rights Reserved
St. John Activities
There are a myriad of ways to explore St. John's unspoiled terrain. You can hire a taxi for a personalized tour, or participate in a minibus tour. Jeeps are available for rent, as are mountain bikes. Hiking is an excellent way to see the exotic flora and fauna, and 22 hiking trails-totaling over 20 miles-make it as easy as taking a walk in the park.
You can learn about St. John's history and culture by visiting the Elaine Ione Sprauve Library and Museum, a five-minute drive from downtown Cruz Bay. The museum, actually a restored plantation greathouse, has an interesting collection of photographs, newspaper clippings, paintings, drawings and handicrafts by local artists and artisans.
If you decide to journey around the island, the ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Plantation, on the north coast, will make a memorable stop. Here you can tour the factory buildings and windmill of this 1733 estate and get sensational views of the Caribbean. Periodic craft demonstrations, such as basket weaving, are conducted by local residents.
Don't forget to stop at Bordeaux Mountain. At 1,277 feet, it's the highest point on St. John, and at the top, you'll 11 get a view of the splendid bay trees along the road; the leaves are used in the production of bay rum, a major industry on the island.
Shoppers will find much more than natural treasures on St. John. The islands unique boutiques and specialty shops, many of which are conveniently located at Cruz Bay's Mongoose Junction or Wharfside Village, feature beautiful examples of local artwork, along with exquisite jewelry, exotic perfumes and colorful island wear.
St. John's charms abound not only on land; its surrounding waters, including its world-renowned beaches, are its star attractions. By far the most popular is shimmering Trunk Bay, the site of the renowned underwater snorkel trail. You can rent snorkeling equipment and follow the white, red and blue buoys that outline the shallow water trail. The 15 underwater plaques identify the corals and fish that inhabit these waters.
Hawksnest Beach, located closest to Cruz Bay on the north shore, is smaller and quieter than neighboring Trunk Bay. Cinnamon Bay is a National Park campground with a fabulous beach, complete with windsurfing equipment, kayaks and mountain bikes for rent, along with a nature trail that runs through the ruins of a sugar factory. On the north shore, Maho Bay, Francis Bay and Leinster Bay are also lovely spots noted for their crystalline waters. If you're energetic, follow the Leinster Bay Trail to Waterlemon Cay, where you can enjoy a swim and view some great coral.
St. John Accommodations
However you decide to enjoy the island, the lodging available on St. John will only enhance your experience. Most of the accommodations, from the most luxurious hotels to the picturesque campsites, make the most of St. John's natural beauty. Each property embodies the unique ambiance that makes St. John an ideal retreat.
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St. Johns luxury resorts combine the beauty of a tropical paradise with world class service. White-sand beaches lapped by clear blue waters provide a soothing backdrop for your stay, while friendly professional staff cater to your every need the ultimate pampering experience.
Nature lovers will enjoy the eco-resorts on St. John, which bring the splendor of the outdoors to visitors in an intimate yet secure way. Tent cottages and other campsites provide many amenities, striking a delicate balance between maintaining the natural environment and providing the visitor with a comfortable way to enjoy it.
Find out about camping on St. John.
For an even cozier St. John experience, consider one of the many private villas or small inns available throughout the island. You can enjoy spectacular views from some of the best vantage points on the island, amenities such as privates pools and Jacuzzis, and personalized service that will make you feel like an honored guest.
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