The American Caribbean – Life and Culture in the US Virgin Islands
The US Virgin Islands is a diverse set of jewel like Caribbean islands ranging from the largest at 90 odd square miles down to those that are little more than a small volcanic outcrop or coral atoll. They are a popular vacation spot and cruise destination particularly, as to be expected, for visitors from the USA.
Part III – St. John
St. John is just under 20 square miles of holiday island. There is no airport and is only accessible by boat – usually from St. Thomas. The way St. John appears today is thanks to, in turn, Christopher Columbus, Danish settlers and American benefactors (mainly Laurence Rockefeller).
Geography and economy
The economy of St. John used to be sugar cane which declined after the abolition of slavery and today it relies on tourism. It is only 9 miles long and 3 miles wide and two thirds of the island is the Virgin Islands National Park. The main features of the park are the coral reefs which almost completely encircle the island, the beaches and the tropical forests which are home to a variety of flora and fauna including bats, wild donkeys and crabs. The island was denuded of its original vegetation a few centuries ago when it was cleared for sugar plantations but the beauty has been restored thanks to the programs of the National Parks Service.
St John Resorts and Vacations
St. John is an idyllic paradise, sometimes dubbed the Beverley Hills of the Caribbean due to the affluence of the island’s residents. There are a dozen or so perfect white sand beaches, stunning blue bays and green velvet hills. St. John is a pretty exclusive destination specializing in luxury resorts and honeymoons. Most things are upscale and the beaches regularly appear in travel articles highlighting the best places to go. Trunk Bay consistently gets voted as one of the Ten Best Beaches in The World by Condé Nast Traveler magazine and receives plenty of other similar accolades. Most of the beaches lie within the National Park and are public but there are a lot of private beachfront properties on the island so watch out for no trespass areas. The most popular and most beautiful beaches are on the north shore but those on the south will appeal to those who enjoy a wilder, more rugged and remote seaside experience.
Although it enjoys an upmarket, high end reputation you don’t need to max out the credit card to holiday on St. John. The National Park Service has two campgrounds at Maho Bay and Cinnamon Bay. It is impossible to capture all the attractions and beauty of the park in this article but suffice to say the hills and forest are rich and abundant and the reefs are world famous for their snorkeling and diving. The Cruz Bay visitor centre is conveniently located near to the ferry port and provides all the guides you need to enjoy the attractions of this absolutely and often breathtaking area of natural beauty. There are regular jeep and safari bus tours of the Park or hikes with Rangers who enjoy explaining the natural sites and the history of the island.
As well as the diving and snorkeling, you can do just about any other water sport on the island and there are quite a few organized sailing trips or places you can charter boats. Sport fishing is popular here with the game being marlin and tuna.
Dining out on the island is from a wide choice of options from a whole range of cuisines. From open air beach dining with simple fare including fast food staples of nachos and hot dogs but with a choice of 20 toppings to the best seafood prepared by European classically trained chefs.
St. John is very proud of its rich history and history buffs will enjoy the presentation of the events and corresponding sites on organized trails and hikes. There’s the Petroglyphs Trail which takes you back to the time of the Amerindians with some fascinating stone carvings or the Reef Bay Trail which takes you round sugar mill ruins dating back to the early 18th century. A more specific walk is the Annaberg Historic Trail which takes you to an old plantation where you can see remnants of slave quarters, sugar storage areas, boiling mechanisms and a windmill.
The St. John Carnival takes place late June through to July 4th when it culminates in a parade.
The carnival is a celebration of emancipation and independence and features musicals events, the carnival village, food fair, parades and fireworks. It is centered on Cruz Bay and thanks to the ferries is attended from visitors from all over the US Virgin Islands.
Other points of Interest
Have an exceptional shopping experience at Mongoose Junction. Not only is the complex itself aesthetically appealing being constructed from historic stone and mahogany but there are gorgeous boutiques and artisan stores and galleries as well as fun places to eat and drink and all in a series of linked shady tropical garden courtyards. Look out for handmade pottery, gold jewelry and hand painted clothing.