Must Try: Stand Up Paddling

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Stand up paddling, also known as SUP, is a super cool, popular activity these days and St. John is the perfect spot to do it!

If you’re not familiar with stand-up paddling, the board is like an oversized surf board and you stand (or some beginners kneel). Balancing on the board in a standing position, you use a long paddle to propel the board over the water. It engages all your muscles, especially the core, and is a great activity on the water.  Our crystal clear waters make this fun sport all the more inviting, as you are not only getting a workout, but you’re able to see the bottom and often spot sea life such as turtles. A bit more information about SUP here and here.

There are so many amazing spots to paddle board, allowing you to explore and adventure on the water! We love to visit Hurricane Hole and paddle around the various bays, exploring the mangroves and amazing habitat, as well as paddling the calm bays of Maho Bay, Francis Bay, Salt Pond Bay and other spots. The New York Times shared a great piece about paddle boarding on St. John. 

There are a handful of great companies on island that will either rent boards or take you on a guided SUP tour:

Arawak Expeditions: The super experienced team at Arawak can take you on a guided SUP and snorkel tour in Hurricane Hole, a Virgin Islands National Monument. It’s a must see! They also offer Night SUP tours, as well as lessons and rentals. Arawak also does kayak tours, fly fishing and other excursions. Their office is located in Mongoose Junction.

Cinnamon Bay Watersports: With a cute watersports hut located steps from the pristine Cinnamon Bay beach, you can’t go wrong with renting a SUP here. Their knowledgable staff can help you find the right board and even give you some pointers. They also rent everything from Hobie Cats and windsurfing gear! 

SUP St. John: This company has a slew of information on their website, and offers board rentals, night paddling, GoPro rental and a handful of lessons and options.

VI Ecotours: With a shop location at Honeymoon Beach (accessible from the water or via Caneel Bay Resort or the Lind Point Trail), VI Ecotours rents paddleboards. The location at Honeymoon is ideal for paddling, with calm, turquoise waters and plenty to explore. The concession here also rents kayaks, snorkel gear and conducts kayak tours.  VI Ecotours also offers a SUP Yoga class, combining stand up paddle boarding and yoga to “bring you back to breath, movement and presence, not only on the mat but in your every day life.”

Have you ever stand-up paddled? We’d love to hear you experience, and don’t forget to share any pictures on social media by tagging #DestinationSTJ!

Visit One of the Top Beaches in the World

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St. John is home to LOTS of gorgeous white sand beaches. So many, in fact, that you can visit a different beach each day of your week-long vacation and still not hit every one.

One of the most popular beaches is Trunk Bay, voted Top 10 Most Beautiful Beaches in the World and often included in best beach stories by travel magazines like Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure. It’s pretty unanimous that Trunk Bay is a must-visit beach on St. John, and that St. John is one of the most beautiful destinations in the Caribbean.

This little strip of heaven features a 225-yard long underwater snorkeling trail and .3 miles of beach to walk on and accessible paths and beach ramps. Donated by Laurence Rockefeller over 50 years ago, Trunk Bay is part of the Virgin Islands National Park, with the beach, coral reefs and waters preserved by the park. It’s pristine beach, warm water and silky sands make it one of the most sough-after beaches on St. John.

To help preserve the beach and snorkel trail, there is a $5 per person day-use fee to enter the beach. Life guards are on duty daily. Amenities include snack shack, bar, snorkel gear rentals, a beach shop, restrooms, and showers.

Enjoy a day at Trunk Bay, or some of our other favorite beaches including Maho Bay and Cinnamon Bay! What beach was your favorite?  We’d love for you to share your experience in the comments, or tag beach photos with #DestinationSTJ and we’ll repost and share!

Coral Bay Itinerary

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While Cruz Bay often gets all the glory, we LOVE Coral Bay. We have a few amazing homes in Coral Bay with stunning views, including the delightful Coconut Breeze villa, that has perfect views of the harbor and beyond!

We love the laid back vibe and island atmosphere in Coral Bay. Whether you’re staying at one of our villas at that end of the island, or closer to Cruz Bay, we highly recommend a “Coral Bay Day.” We’ve put together a fun little itinerary for you as a guide to some of the best spots to be sure to visit:

1- Head over to Triple B (standing for Babes, Brunch, Bay) for one of the best breakfasts on island (or anywhere for that matter). These ladies really know how to do brunch, with amazing Benedict, homemade sausage, incredible homemade scones and the best huevos rancheros we’ve ever had. AND they use Josephine’s local organic greens. Sit at a picnic table and enjoy the ocean breeze.

2- Give yourself some time to digest, then from there, drive out to Salt Pond Bay. You’ll park at the top and take a short walk down to the beach. It’s a gorgeous white sand beach, with great snorkeling off the point. 

3- If you’re feeling ambitious, we recommend the Ram’s Head hike (we’ve talked about it before here). It’s not too rigorous, and it boasts beautiful views and some great exercise.

4- When you’re hungry again, head back to Coral Bay and stop at the famous Skinny Leg’s for a burger (their specialty) or Indigo Grill for fish tacos pizza or “Island Zing” jerk seasoned tater tots to name a few. 

5- Enjoy great, eclectic shopping while you’re in Coral Bay, including stopping at the new Mermaid Cove next to Pickles, Sloop Jones and Island Muse across from Skinny Legs. There are a number of shops at the Coccoloba Plaza and next to Shipwreck Landing.

Did you visit Coral Bay and any of these spots on your vacation? Share pictures with us by tagging #DestinationSTJ on Instagram.

Fun Spot: Angel’s Rest

St. John is always full of surprises – whether it’s donkeys or quirky street signs, you never know what you’ll see. A fun, quaint spot we love is Angel’s Rest, a 40 foot pontoon “house” boat that can be found posted up about 100 yards off Hansen Bay’s shore on the East End of St. John. The boat is owned and captained by Peter Hoschl. 

Part of the fun: you must swim out to the boat, as well as swim back after a few drinks! Once aboard, this super cute and unconventional bar is quintessential Caribbean: sunshine yellow and bright turquoise shiplap siding and a vibe that’s bright, tropical and fun. Once aboard, you can sit at a table with your feet open to the ocean, offering the option to check out the fish and dangle your toes. Or, go topside and basque in the sunshine.

The menu is limited: enjoy a Painkiller, rum punch or beer – all $5 each. This spot is all about the location and atmosphere, and captain Peter’s entertainment. (and according to one article, this bar will help you lose weight!)

You can just pop by, or rent Angel’s Rest for day charters or a sunset cruise. If you want to make sure they’re open before making the drive to East End, check out the Facebook page for daily updates or contact Captain John directly at 340-514-6270.

If you’re staying at one of our lovely Coral Bay properties like Coconut Breeze or Drake’s Lookout, Angel’s Rest is a few minutes away, or if you’re staying closer to Cruz Bay, plan for a fun day trip to East End to explore all that this end of the island has to offer!

Itinerary: A Great Day on St. John

Our guests often ask us how they should spend their days. We thought it would be fun to share an itinerary with you for a great day on island, making the most out of what St. John has to offer!

1- Wake up and enjoy the view at whatever fabulous Destination St. John villa you are staying at! Pack a bag with sunscreen, towels, water and whatever you need for the day.

2- Head into Cruz Bay for cold-brewed VI Coffee Roasters iced coffee and a delicious breakfast at Cruz Bay Landing.

3- Walk over to the National Park Visitor’s Center, pick up a trail map, browse the shop and the displays and learn a bit more about this lovely island.

4- Walk up the wooden stairs behind the Visitor’s Center to the trailhead for the Lind Point Trail, follow the trail to the Lind Point Overlook for scenic views of Cruz Bay. Hang out on the bench and enjoy watching the world go by!

5- Continue on the trail out to Honeymoon Beach. This is a picturesque beach and a great spot to post up and enjoy some sunshine. VI Ecotours has a concession here where you can rent paddleboards, kayaks, snorkel gear and other watersports equipment.

6- When you’ve had enough salt, sun and sand, walk the trail back. Head over to Mongoose Junction for a late lunch at the Tap Room and be sure to enjoy one of their St. John Brewers beers (we love the Island Hoppin’ IPA and the Pale Tourist).

7- Browse the shops in Mongoose Junction – stop into Caravan Gallery and R&I Patton for gorgeous jewelry, the St. John Experience store for photo canvases of St. John and Made in St. John for locally screen printed St. John shirts.

8- Head home, take a dip in the pool and enjoy the sunset with a homemade Painkiller in hand.

9- Enjoy chef-driven cuisines with an island flair at Ocean362 with locally raised chef Shaun Brian’s culinary creations, such as St. Croix Conch Fritters or a Butter Lime Curry Poached Wahoo.

Must Do: Ram’s Head Hike

St. John is the perfect place to enjoy the outdoors and there are so many fun things to do. Our miles of hiking trails and vast National Park provide the perfect platform for enjoying all that nature has to offer.  One of the best activities on St. John is a full moon hike to Ram’s Head.

Ram’s Head is out on the south east part of the island. The trail starts from Salt Pond Beach (you’ll need to park at the top in the parking area for Salt Pond, then do the walk down the hill). The hike is only about 1 mile each way, but the terrain varies from beach to rocky shore and salt pond lowlands, then crosses a beautiful rock beach. Here, you will often find fun rock cairns (also pictured in this post’s header image)  The trail continues from the rock beach, zigzagging up the hill to the Ram’s Head. The entire point is studded in picturesque barrel cacti. These cactus have tiny pink pepper-shaped fruit that are edible and taste like pitaya or dragon fruit – they’re a true delight and fun to search for, but be careful of the cactus spines! As you reach the top of the point, on the east facing side, you can look down the cliffs through craggy cuts in the rock to see the beautiful see and waves below. The breeze on the point is magnificent!

This past weekend, we hiked the trail out around 5:30 pm, getting to Ram’s head just in time for the St. John sunset. It’s the perfect spot to watch the sun dip below the horizon in the West by St. Thomas, Virgin Islands and the full moon rise to the East above Norman Island, British Virgin Islands. We love to hike this trail on the full moon, as it’s a magnificent spot to see the moon on the ocean and revel in the island’s beauty.  We recommend bringing snacks and drinks and hanging out, soaking up the moonshine and allowing the moon to rise enough to light your path on the walk home. If you do this, make sure you’re comfortable hiking and perhaps even bring a flashlight!

Have you hiked Ram’s Head or another hike in the full moon? We’d love to hear about it! And, don’t forget to take pictures and share them with us on social media using #destinationstjohn!

Must See: The Baths

One of our favorite must-visit spots is The Baths in Virgin Gorda. Here, you will find a stunning maze of massive, smooth boulders piled atop each other, all nestled on the white sand and in pristine Caribbean waters. This picturesque spot is a true natural wonder, with volcanic and granite boulders, some as large as 40 feet. Believed to be created by molten rock seeping up into existing volcanic rock layers and slowly cooling to form a hard granite layer, the rocks are unlike anything anywhere else. Secret cathedral rooms, rock pools and grottos are fun to explore and offer the perfect backdrop for photos. Adventure through the cave system and end up at Devil’s Bay beach, an idyllic spot with views of the ocean and rock formations. There is great snorkeling as well, with tons of vibrant parrot fish, triggerfish, angel fish and the occasional turtle!

Virgin Gorda is part of the British Virgin Islands and can be visited via ferry, or even better, on a day trip with a local charter company.  Cruz Bay Watersports and Bad Kitty both offer group day trips to this incredible spot, or book a private boat with companies like Ocean Runner, Island Roots, Palm Tree Charters, Love City Excursions, Rock Hoppin’ Adventures and more!

We suggest that you bring a sense of adventure, sunscreen, a waterproof camera, mask and snorkel and possibly water shoes for climbing rocks and exploring! Have fun and be sure to share your photos with us by tagging #destinationstj!

Must See: Annaberg Ruins

St. John is so full of rich, cultural history. The VI National Park and Friends of the VI National Park have done an incredible job preserving and protecting this history, as well as providing education and knowledge about our islands.  One of our favorite historical sites on St. John is Annaberg Plantation, the ruins of a plantation from 1780 that was one of 25 active sugar, rum and molasses producing factories on St. John. These ruins are the most intact sugar plantation ruins in the Virgin Islands, and also serve as a reminder of the difficult livelihood for the slaves who built and worked at the plantation. Today, the ruins are protected by the VI National Park and are open to the public to learn about, enjoy and explore.  Placards and signs are dotted throughout the property, allowing you to take a self-guided walking tour through the site, describing how sugar was produced, what plantation life involved and the history behind sugar plantations on St. John. 

The windmill, pictured here, is one of the focal points of the plantation ruins and was built sometime between 1810 and 1830. The ruins also include a fairly intact factory, horse mill, slave quarters, kettles and other structures associated with sugar production.  There are many cultural activities that take place at Annaberg, ranging from demonstrations of baking “dumb bread” to basketweaving. Often times you will also find a local selling coconut water or doing demonstrations with calabash carvings. There are also a range of special events that take place at the site, like this week’s Full Moon Yoga and Meditation.  Be sure to check the Virgin Islands National Park, The Visitor’s Center in Cruz Bay, or the Friends of the VI National Park event page for upcoming seminars, classes and special events. 

Make sure to take carve out time on your trip to do either a self-guided tour or book a tour with a park ranger to explore the Annaberg Plantation. Located near Leinster Bay, Waterlemon Cay and Francis Bay, you can combine a beach day with a fun, educational sightseeing option! 

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Snorkeling the Mangroves

One of the underrated, beautiful attractions that we love on St. John are the mangroves. Mangroves are flowering trees that live in saltwater or tracking water in the mudflats on shorelines.  They have distinctive, prop roots that support a diverse community of marine life including sponges, algae, corals crustaceans, fish and more.  They offer an amazing habitat for juvenile reef panfish and lobsters, often making them an underwater nursery for sea life. Bright corals, vibrant fish and amazing creatures call these roots home!

In St. John, we have many mangrove areas, but the most popular and prominent is in Hurricane Hole. This area was actually deemed a National Monument in January 2001.  Seeking to provide greater protection to the sensitive coral reef resources, President Clinton established the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument. The monument includes 12,708 acres of federal underwater lands within the 3 mile area off St. John, including Hurricane Hole and areas north and south.

We love snorkeling the mangroves here, and also highly recommend a boat charter for the day and asking to stop here (Island Roots will take you there!), or going with Arawak Expeditions for a kayak or stand up paddle board in this serene spot!

Have you snorkeled mangroves before? If not, check them out! If you have, we’d love to see your pictures! Tag #destinationstj on Instagram for a repost or share them on our Facebook page!

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Hiking: The Johnny Horn Trail

Hiking is one of our favorite things to do on St. John. With nearly 3/4 of the island being National Park, there is an abundance of great hiking.  The views, wildlife and plants are spectacular and we highly suggest making sure to do at least one hike during your stay!

Johnny Horn Trail is one of our top picks, as it combines a variety of views and terrain as well as some great ruins! You can park at the Annaberg Plantation Ruins (another great sight – we’ll post about these soon!). The trail starts off along the waterfront in Leinster Bay, with a great view of Watermelon Cay.  From there, you hike uphill a bit to ruins of an old Danish guard house. The views from this spot, looking out towards Mary’s Point and Great Thatch, are completely breathtaking!

Keep hiking up the trail, and soon you will arrive at another cropping of ruins, this one The Murphy Estate House atop Windy Hill. Again, the views are stunning, with sights including Sir Frances Drake Channel, Jost Van Dyke and Tortola. If you packed a picnic or snacks, this is a great spot to stop (there’s a picnic table with a view!) or at the very least, snap some photos!

The hike continues on, flattening out in parts, with a range of vegetation including palms, cactus, wild oregano, agave and more. You’ll dip down past Brown Bay, passing the mangroves and bay. You will head back up again, with a final steep stretch of the trail before it begins to descend into Coral Bay via a residential road. We love to take this all the way to Skinny Legs to enjoy a burger or Indigo Grill for a pizza, before heading back on the trail to our car!

You can view more photos and a bit of the story and background of Johnny Horn here and here. We hope you enjoy the hike! If you do this one on your next visit to St. John, please share your photos with us on Facebook or by tagging #destinationstj

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