What You Need to Know When Planning a Trip to St John, US Virgin Islands

caribbean destinations
st john us virgin islands beach trip planning guide

Want to go to a tropical paradise that's close to the US?  One where if you're a US citizen you won't need to worry about a passport? Look no further than St John, one of the US Virgin Islands. 

We just returned from our second trip to the island paradise so let's talk about where to stay on the Island, where to eat, and what to do. So pack a bag and come join us on St John in the US Virgin Islands. 

Get our 7 Day Itinerary to St John here!

Where is St. John 

St John is one of the US Virgin Islands,  an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the Caribbean Sea. St. John is one of the main islands in the USVI, along with St. Thomas and St. Croix. It is situated east of Puerto Rico and southeast of the British Virgin Islands. It is about a 3 hour flight from Miami but there are direct flights from other US cities and some stop over in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Why you should visit 

We love the crystal clear waters and white sand beaches of St John.  Even though it is relatively close to the US, since there is no airport on the island is feels remote. 

Hawknest Beach

When to Visit St John

St John a popular destination year-round due to its tropical climate. However, the best time to visit St. John depends on your preferences and what you plan to do during your visit. Here's some information to help you decide.

High Season (December to April): This is the peak tourist season in St. John. The weather is generally pleasant with warm temperatures and lower humidity. The island can get crowded during this time, and accommodation prices may be higher. It's advisable to make reservations in advance if you plan to visit during this period.

Shoulder Season (May and November): The shoulder seasons offer a good balance between pleasant weather and fewer crowds. May is typically considered the start of the low season, and November marks the end of the hurricane season. You can often find good deals on accommodations during these months. Both of our visits have been during the month of May and we have had great weather and no seaweed both times.

Low Season (June to October): This period coincides with the Caribbean hurricane season, so there is a higher chance of rainfall and potential storms. However, it's worth noting that hurricanes are relatively rare in the Virgin Islands. The low season also brings fewer tourists, lower accommodation prices, and a quieter atmosphere. If you don't mind the occasional rain shower and want to enjoy a more tranquil experience, the low season can be a good time to visit. Our son will be on his Honeymoon this October on St John so we are keeping our fingers crossed. 

Carnival

I have heard about St John Carnival from locals so wanted to mention it.  It is  held in June/July, is a vibrant celebration featuring parades, music, and cultural performances. 

It's important to note that weather patterns can vary, and it's always a good idea to monitor weather forecasts and travel advisories before your trip and plan accordingly. 

How to get to St John

To get to St. John you'll need to fly to St. Thomas and to take a ferry over to St. John.  I occasionally see flight deals on Going (formerly Scott's cheap flights) so it is worth the free membership to keep an eye out for them.  The ferry runs from Red Hook on St. Thomas to Cruz Bay.  You can take a taxi from the airport on St. Thomas to Red Hook to take the ferry.  Check here for the ferry schedule and prices..  If you are staying at the Westin on St John there is a separate ferry that is available.  Check into their desk in the baggage claim area and they provide a shuttle to Red Hook on St Thomas.  It is more expensive to take their ferry but it takes you directly to the resort and you can go back and forth to St. Thomas as much as you would like during your stay. 

Where to stay

This was our second trip and we stayed at the Westin St. John Resort & Villas both times.  We are Marriott Vacation Club Members (formerly Starwood Vacation Club Members which was merged into the Marriott brand) and so on our first trip in 2014 we used our vacation options to stay a week and this time we bought a package to stay for 4 nights here.  We like this property because they are villas so we have a kitchenette or kitchen because we like to fix breakfast and coffee and have things on hand for lunches and snacks and some dinners.  There's also a washer and dryer which is super handy for days at the beach. 

The Westin is the only large hotel/resort on the island and a lot of people opt to rent vacation rentals for the same reasons we like the Westin.  Another option in Cruz Bay near the Public Ferry terminal is Gallows Point Resort. Here are some other places to stay in Cruz Bay near the ferry. If you stay in this area you could get around using the taxis on the island as they even take you to the beaches but we highly recommend you rent a car or a jeep (see below).

On the other side of the Island is Coral Bay. It is about a 30 minute drive from Cruz Bay.  You can take a taxi here as well but we would definitely recommend renting a car if you choose to stay in Coral Bay.  Here are some options in Coral Bay.

You'll find a few accommodations in between so here's everything listed on St. John.  We saw a lot of people with chairs and so if you're staying at a rental that has some for you to use to take to the beach, that would be ideal.  We spent our time snorkeling so it wasn't a big deal for us and you can also find some daily rentals of them on some of the beaches.  

 What to do on St John

We come to St John for the snorkeling.  There are countless beaches that you can snorkeling right off the beach.  The beaches on St John are all located in bays and so you can swim the rocks right along the edge of the beach and see so many fish, turtles, and rays.  We were truly amazed at the snorkeling here on our first visit and it did not disappoint.  

I'm sure the snorkeling conditions and the beaches change but on this trip here are the top 5 we would recommend. Check out our Snorkeling Video from our latest trip on our YouTube Channel Here

Our Top 5 Snorkel Beaches from this Trip

  1. Hawksnest - just snorkel straight out from the beach to see fish, turtles and rays.  We also snorkeled the left side and stopped at a secluded beach. 
  2. Waterlemon Cay - see the Leinster Bay Trail directions below to find this Cay.  This is a favorite of ours for amazing fish. 
  3. Trunk Bay - there is a snorkeling trail but if you stay closer to the big rock, you'll see more. 
  4. Cinnamon Bay
  5. Maho Bay - to see the turtles 

Check out the St. John App (on the Apple App Store) to find out more about these beach and snorkel locations.  It isn't super detailed but will give you a good starting point. 

This is us at Waterlemon Cay.  We hike Leinster Bay Trail to get here and snorkel around the rock you see behind us. 

Visit ALL The BEACHES

As I mentioned before, you can take a taxi to a lot of the beaches but we recommend that you rent a car (or jeep) to drive to all the beaches on the island. If you are staying at the Westin which is located in Great Cruz Bay the beach is fine there but you'll really be amazed once you go see Truck Bay, Cinnamon Bay, Honeymoon Beach and all the rest.  

Cinnamon Bay

Here's a few options for car rentals

O’Connor Car Rental (this one has a location at the Westin as well)

Courtesy Car Rental

St. John Car Rental 

Some of the beaches such as Maho Bay, Truck Bay, Honeymoon Beach (enter where you see the Caneel Bay sign) offer amenities such as beach chair and snorkel gear rental and some food and beverages.  We opt to bring our own snorkel gear and pack lunches and bring our own water, etc. 

Other Watersports

Take a boat tour, Snorkeling Trip, or Watersports Tour. Check out some options here.  There are also tours available from the Westin as well. 

You can also take a day trip to the British Virgin Islands a couple of days a week but since we had limited time and really wanted to spend our time snorkeling, we decided against it on this trip.  Be sure to bring along your passport though if you plan to do this.  You'll need it to go to the British Virgin Islands. 

Go Hiking

That's right.  This may seem a little strange but approximately 60% of the island is part of Virgin Islands National Park, including the beaches, and it encompasses over 7,000 acres and nearly 5,000 acres of the surrounding waters.

Rams Head Trail

One of the most popular trails is Rams Head Trail.  This moderate-to-strenuous 2.3-mile trail offers panoramic views of the surrounding islands and Caribbean Sea from the Rams Head Peninsula. The trail takes you through dry, desert-like terrain and leads to a cliffside overlook, where you can witness breathtaking sunsets. Start from Salt Pond Parking Area past Coral Bay.  Take plenty of water and we would recommend doing this trail in the morning or early afternoon because the afternoon sun can get hot. 

Reef Bay Trail

This popular trail is a 2.2-mile hike that takes you through lush forests, past ancient petroglyphs, and down to the stunning Reef Bay. Along the way, you can observe diverse plant and animal life, such as tropical birds and termite nests. The trail also passes by the ruins of a sugar plantation and the historic Reef Bay Estate House. We did this trail on our first visit.

 Francis Bay Trail

This easy 1.2-mile (1.9-kilometer) trail is ideal for a leisurely walk or a family outing. It meanders through mangrove forests, leading to the serene Francis Bay Beach. Along the way, you may encounter hermit crabs, lizards, and a variety of bird species. We also recommend that you snorkel at Francis Bay.  We snorkeled the rocks to the left (when facing the water) all the way to Maho Bay.

Cinnamon Bay Nature Trail

This short and easy 0.3-mile (0.5-kilometer) loop trail offers an opportunity to explore the diverse plant life and ecosystems of the park. Interpretive signs provide information about the flora and fauna you'll encounter along the way.

Leinster Bay Trail - This one is our favorite

We LOVE to do this one in order to reach Waterlemon Cay for snorkeling.  This trail begins near the Annaberg Sugar Plantation ruins and follows a scenic path along the shoreline of Leinster Bay. It offers picturesque views of the bay and its coral reefs, as well as opportunities for snorkeling and wildlife spotting. We saw lots of sea turtles in the bay.  Snorkel around the big rock when you reach Waterlemon Cay but just watch for currents and always snorkel with someone. 

Be sure to check the Virgin Islands National Park website for trail conditions, closures, and any additional information before embarking on a hike.

Camping 

Cinnamon Bay offers a campground with some amenities.  

Day trips from St Thomas

If you are on a cruise and are porting in St Thomas, it is still possible to Visit St John for the Day.  Check out these options.  

 St John Island Sightseeing Tour from St Thomas

 St John Island and Trunk Bay Beach Tour from St Thomas

Other tours to St John 

Where to Eat on St. John

There are a few options.  Nothing super stellar in our opinion, but head to Mongoose Junction and you'll find quite a few options including St. John Brewers Tap Room where you can try local brews and food as well. 

Our Market Smoothies - Karen will make you any kind of smoothie or milkshake you would like and even add rum.  She has a variety of ice cream and ice cream treats as well. Tell our friend Karen that Scott & Melissa sent you.

 

Tap & Still - burgers, wings, fries, beer (we visited the location on St Thomas and it was fantastic)

Grocery options

We recommend packing lunches for the beach and picking up breakfast items

Dolphin Market - has gluten free, keto etc. options

Starfish Market

Packing List for St John

Get my St. John Packing List Here! 

We really love St John and enjoy visiting.  We visited in 2014 and in 2023 and hope to return before another 9 years pass by.  They had a lot of recovery to do after Hurricane Maria in 2017 and then the pandemic but it was great to see so many people enjoying the island and impacting the local economy again. To listen to our PODCAST EPISODE ON ST JOHN Click Here.

Don't forget to grab your 7 day St John Itinerary.  It contains all the hidden beaches and snorkel spots we love plus where to eat and all our other tips.  Get it here.

Note that some of the links in the above post are affiliate links and if you make a purchase using the links we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Thank you:)

Let us know if you are able to visit St John, what you think, where you stayed and ate and if you found this guide helpful for your trip! 


 

If We Were Visiting Rome Again, Here's What We Would Do Differently

Exploring Costa Rica’s Natural Wonders: An Itinerary from a Local

The 10 Most Popular Travel Destinations Right Now and Their Hidden ...

Travel Hacks You Need to Know - Multi-City Flights & More - Part 1


 

Get the Ultimate Packing Guide for Traveling Smart and Packing Light

We want to help you pack smart and travel light without sacrificing comfort or convenience. Get our advice on packing efficiently, choosing versatile clothing, and utilizing space-saving tools, aimed at making your travel experience smoother and more enjoyable + a FREE Packing Checklist.

We won't ever share your info! Unsubscribe at any time.

About Us...

 

Hi! We're Scott and Melissa

The Sunshine Travelers

 

We are a couple of travel obsessed explorers sharing our travel experiences and stories to inspire you to travel more and better. We are so happy to have you here.

More About Us