Ultimate Guide to St. John – U.S. Virgin Islands
Is the Caribbean calling you? Are you trying to decide which island offers the clearest turquoise waters, white sand beaches and lush foliage? Well, you should look no further than USVI’s smallest island, St. John. It’s one of the few places when, each time we travel here, my husband and I look at each other and seriously consider whether we should just drop everything and move here. If this is your first time visiting this island, this comprehensive travel Guide to St. John, USVI should help you plan that perfect tropical vacation of a lifetime!
As of May 31, 2022, the United States territory transitioned to an “Open Door Phase,” dropping all COVID-19–related restrictions for domestic travelers and no longer requiring them to fill out the USVI Travel Screening Portal. This will apply to each of the U.S Virgin Islands, including St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix.
Also….No passport required for U.S. Citizens! The U.S. Virgin Islands are a territory of the United States, so U.S. citizens can travel without a passport. A driver’s license is an acceptable form of ID; however, as of October 1, 2021 it will need to comply with the new Real ID Identification requirements (if 18 years or older). I still find it easiest to travel with my passport, as it’s required if you’re chartering to the nearby British Virgin Islands….which you should definitely consider!
Best Time to Visit
April – June (BEST TIME TO VISIT, IMO).
The tourist season slows and hotel rates drop at this time of year. Average temperatures range from the mid-70s to high 80s and there’s generally little rainfall, making this period a great time to visit before hurricane season arrives.
December – March (High Season).
This peak tourist season in the U.S Virgin Islands coincides with that of many other Caribbean islands, and hotel and resort rates can rise by an additional $150-200 or more per night. Temperatures stay around 80 degrees at this time of year, accompanied by what many residents refer to as the “Christmas Winds” in the evenings. Packing a jacket could come in handy. And keep in mind the water is a bit more chilly…but still tolerable.
July – November (hurricane season)
You’ll find unbelievable package deals and hotel rates if you travel during these months, but……. it’s also hurricane season. Even if there isn’t a bad storm, you can expect plenty of rain and it can get very hot. Temperatures often reach the upper 80s and there are more bugs around this time as well. If you decide to visit despite the threat of hurricanes, you might consider buying travel insurance to protect your trip.
Getting to St. John
Whether it be by cruise, private charter, or ferry, the only way to get to the island of St. John is by boat. Most people fly into St. Thomas (airport code STT) and from there, you have a few options to get over to St. John.
Option 1: Take a taxi from the airport to the Red Hook Passenger Ferry, and then rent a Jeep in St. John. For me, I didn’t want to haul my luggage into a taxi, then onto a passenger ferry, then over to a rental car location on St. John. So I opted for option 2 below.
Option 2 (recommended): Rent a Jeep in St. Thomas and take the Car Barge over to St. John. Most of the car rental companies in St. Thomas will allow you to take your rental car to St. John, but be sure to double check first! This is a great budget option as you will save on transportation to St. John, and will also have the opportunity to stop for groceries at the more affordable stores on St. Thomas. But, should you have a breakdown on St. John, getting service from a St. Thomas based rental company will take much longer.
The last 2 times we visited, we rented our Jeep through Discount Car Rental. They picked us up from the airport and took us to the rental car location just a few minutes from STT. From there, we drove our Jeep to the Red Hook Car Ferry using our GPS (about 30 minutes). We loaded up on groceries at the store right next to the ferry. It’s much cheaper to buy groceries in St. Thomas.
The car ferries run every 30 minutes and I never made a reservation in advance (it’s first come first serve). But if you are nervous about not having a reservation, you can book ahead on the Big Red Barge website. Just know, if you have a reservation through BRB, you won’t be able to use it on one of the other car ferries that are coming and going. The other car ferries may simply get you over to St. John quicker, rather than waiting on your Big Red Barge reservation.
Guide to St. John – Where to Stay:
There are two main areas on St. John where visitors usually stay. There is Cruz Bay, which is where you land when you arrive on the ferry. And there is Coral Bay on the opposite side of the island. Most lodging options are in these two areas. Cruz Bay has a lot more restaurants and night life than Coral Bay. But I do prefer the Coral Bay side for lodging due to the incredible sweeping views and a much more tranquil vibe.
The most well known resorts on St. John are The Westin, Gallows Point, and Estate Lindholm. I have always gone the VRBO route, however, as resorts can be a bit pricey depending on the time of year. You can find many reasonably priced options through VRBO or Airbnb.
Below are 2 properties where we had wonderful stays.
For a couple or small family, I recommend this house overlooking Coral Bay. It had 2 beds, 2 bath, and a porch overlooking this view:
For a larger group (a large family or 4 couples), I recommend this Villa, also in Coral Bay. It had 4 beds and 5 baths, a dipping pool and this magnificent view from our porch:
Related: How to Island Hop around the U.S. Virgin Islands on a Budget
What to Do:
- Obviously, hitting the beach would be first on the list in this Guide to St. John. But which ones? Click here for my top 10 favorite beaches on St. John.
- Visit Historical Ruins. We loved exploring all the different ruins on St. John. I highly recommend the Annaberg Sugar plantation that has an incredible view of ocean. There’s also the Cinnamon Bay Plantation ruins, the Catherineberg Estate ruins and the Susannaberg plantation ruins, to name a few more. Some, you will have to do a bit of hiking to get to, however.
3. Hike. Speaking of hiking, two thirds of the island of St. John is National Park. The park has loads of hiking trails, many with expansive views of the other U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. Click here for a list of some of the best hiking trails on St. John. Don’t forget to pack your tennis shoes!
4. Paddleboard/Canoe. Many of the beaches offer paddleboard and canoe rentals for half day and full day prices. It’s a great way to get further out into the bays to see sea turtles, fish and even sting rays!
5. Rent a boat for the day! We rented a 6 person boat in Cruz Bay through Wharfside watersports. You’ll have the option of hiring a captain, or for quite a bit cheaper, you can just drive the boat yourself. They’ll set you up with a GPS and recommend some great snorkel spots all around the island. You can even take them over to Jost Van Dyke or one of the BVI’s! Highly recommend!
Where to Eat:
High Tide – Beachside bar and grill just steps from the ferry dock in Cruz Bay.
1864 – located in the Mongoose Junction in Cruz Bay, they serve Fresh Seafood, hand rolled sushi and stellar beverages.
Longboard – Caribbean-Inspired coastal Kitchen located in the heart of Cruz Bay
Aqua Bistro – casual bistro and bar overlooking Coral Bay. Is also located right next to a grocery shop for quick in and out supplies
Salty Mongoose – Pizza and Rum bar overlooking Coral Bay
Food Trucks and Beach bars in Maho Bay – food and drinks can be a bit pricey, but super convenient since they are just steps away from beach of Maho Bay. The grilled Mahi sandwich is delish.
Guide to St. John – Other things to Know:
Bring cash with you. The car ferry, some vendors, and many taxis only take cash. There are ATMs on St. John (and St. Thomas), but they cannot always be relied upon to be in working order when you need them.
Playing some music on the beach is fine, but amplified music is not allowed in the national park. Also, keep in mind that those around you probably don’t want to hear your music. We usually test our volume by walking a few paces away and making sure it cannot be heard above the waves.
Drones are not allowed in the national park. Remember, two thirds of the island of St. John is national park, so be sure to know when you are in and out of the park when flying your drone.
Renting baby supplies: Did you know you can rent car seats and other supplies for small children right on St. John? This is what I recommend doing over bringing a bunch of clunky items you will need to lug across the islands. That way, you also reduce the risk of losing a bunch of stuff at the airport.
There is some great wildlife on the island. Most notably, you will see a bunch of donkeys and probably some little goats and chickens. The animals are used to people and quite friendly. Be mindful of their presence while you’re driving, as you will see many of them on or near the road.
Beware of oversold flights back home from St. Thomas. The last 2 times we flew home, the airline was requesting volunteers to leave the next day in exchange for a voucher. If no one volunteers, they can bump you to the next flight if it’s oversold. Just be aware that it’s rare, but it could happen. But what’s one more day in paradise plus a flight credit? Right?
I hope this guide to St. John has been helpful! And if there is anything that I missed, or if you have any questions, drop a comment below!
Happy and Safe Travels!