So you’ve been all over the Caribbean, huh? Nassau in the Bahamas. Samana in the Dominican Republic. Montego Bay in Jamaica. Sorry, cruise ship ports don’t really count. Especially if your island time was spent at duty-free shops and American fast food restaurants. It’s time to ditch the massive ship and hoards of people. It’s time to see the real Caribbean.
Head to the peaceful, quiet island of St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. There isn’t an airport on the island, so a boat is your only option. After landing on St. Thomas, and passing by Charlotte Amalie’s mall-like cruise port, head to Red Hook to catch the hourly ferry. It’s a quick trip–you can see St. John from St. Thomas. The views from the water–of crescent-shaped lagoons and white-sand beaches–are a great introduction to the small island.
You’ll arrive at Cruz Bay, St. John’s largest city. Make that largest town. Open-air taxis await arrivals. Small shops and restaurants fill a few streets. Stop at Jake’s for breakfast–any time of the day–and a harbor view. Or Joe’s Rum Hut for a Virgin Islands Mango Pale Ale. You’re on vacation, after all. Grab picnic supplies at Starfish Market. And then head out of town. The best beaches are on the north shore. Caneel Bay. Hawksnest Bay. Trunk Bay. Cinnamon Bay. It’ll be difficult to pick a favorite. Swim with parrotfish, groupers, and sea turtles. Snorkel the underwater trail. Try to find Honeymoon Beach–it’s only accessible by foot or boat.
And finally get out of the turquoise water at Francis Bay to start hiking the trails of Virgin Islands National Park. Thanks to Laurance S. Rockefeller, more than 60 percent of the island is protected, ensuring the land will never be developed. Eventually you’ll reach the ruins of Annaberg Plantation, which produced sugar. Tour the remains of the stone-and-coral slave quarters and the windmill. Don’t miss the views of Jost Van Dyke and Tortola before heading down to Miss Lucy’s, outside of Coral Bay, for dinner on the beach. Ignore the chickens and the goats roaming around. If it’s a full moon, there will be a party with roasted suckling pig. Otherwise, eat conch chowder, Miss Lucy’s famous paella, and a side of okra fungi.
As you order another round of drinks, you’ll notice a huge cruise ship lit up as it departs from St. Thomas in the distance. And, for the first time, you’ll be glad you aren’t on it.