Updated: Dec 2, 2020
St.John is the smallest of the major islands in the United States Virgin Island group. St. John is 60% Virgin Island National Park, administered by the US National Park Service. The island's lush, volcanic hills are perfect for hiking. The beaches are some of the world's most beautiful. The beaches and sea life are also protected by US National Park. When diving and snorkeling, you can see turtles, vibrant tropical fish, nurse sharks, stingrays, tarpon, and barracudas swimming through colorful fan, brain and elkhorn coral. The people are friendly and welcoming. There is a good selection of restaurants offering a variety of choices. All these factors make St. John a delightful addition to a Virgin Island cruising itinerary. For more information on cruising the Virgin Islands, check out my post 7 Day BVI Cruising Itinerary.
If you are cruising into St. John from another US Territory Island, like St. Thomas or Vieques, there is no need to clear customs. If you are entering St. John from the BVI, you must follow a strict process. Failure to do so cost you a $5000.00 fine. First you must clear your vessel out of the BVI. There are customs offices in Great Harbour, Jost van Dyke, Soper's Hole at the west end of Tortola, and at the Ferry Terminal in Road Town, Tortola. After clearing the BVI customs, you can proceed to the customs office in Cruz Bay, St. John. Before entering the island all passengers and crew must present their passports and visas, if necessary. The Captain must present the boat's documentation and clearance paper's from the BVI. If you plan to return to the BVI after exploring St. John, you need not return to Cruz Bay to clear your vessel out of USVI. All crew and passengers must once again present passports and documentation while clearing in through BVI customs in the one of the aforementioned locations.
Here are some tips to make the process go smoothly with minimal waits. Get to the first customs office early before the day trip boats. We like to overnight at Norman Island and head to the customs office in Soper's Hole by 8:00 am. You can pick up an empty mooring ball and dinghy into the customs office. Then, we head to St.John, pick up a mooring ball on the east side of Lind Point, in Salomon Bay and dinghy into the Cruz Bay customs office on the east side of Cruz Bay near the National Park Office. Anchoring is available in the Cruz Bay Creek area, however it is often crowded and maneuvering is tight. The USVI has a significant number of privately owned mooring balls. None of the mooring balls in Cruz Bay or Coral Bay are available for public use. There are floating fee collection stations for payment of the National Park Service maintained mooring balls. Because of the impact to the sea bed over time, anchoring is discouraged throughout most of St. John. For more information on USVI Clearance go to Virgin Islands Charter League. After clearing customs, we reward ourselves with fish tacos at High Tide Restaurant, in Cruz Bay.
Grilled Tacos Two soft tacos your choice of Chicken, Mahi, Steak or Shrimp garnished with shredded lettuce, Pico de Gallo and Parmesan cheese, topped with spicy remoulade. $15
Currently, services are very limited in most anchorages. Partially because the Island is predominately a National Park and partially it is still recovering from Hurricane Irma and Maria. Cruz Bay and Coral Bay are the best places for meals out and stocking up on supplies. The gift shops in both areas offer unique souvenir options.
What to See
On St. John the beaches and diving/snorkeling often tops the "World's Best Lists." Hiking leads to panoramic vistas and ruins from the sugar cane plantation days. This is my best recommendation on a see everything four day St. John itinerary. It can easily be altered based on the interests of your group and weather conditions. St.John is all about the hiking and snorkeling. Here are my favorite must haves for St. John are: HD Dive Mask, Dry Bags, Water Shoes that work for hiking as well. If you are looking for more gear for your trip, check out the Island Essentials section of my Amazon Store.
After clearing customs and enjoying lunch ashore, dinghy back to Salomon Bay to enjoy Honeymoon Beach. I love a beach walk along Honeymoon Beach and Caneel Bay. Honeymoon Beach has rentals for beach chairs, kayaks and paddle boards as well as a beach bar with bites and drinks. After enjoying the afternoon on one of the "World's Best" beaches, head over to Hawknest Bay or Trunk Bay for the night.
Hawknest Bay Trunk Bay Francis Bay
You will want to snorkel Trunk Bay early in the morning. This "World's Best" site gets busy with day trippers around mid day. After enjoying the undersea world at Trunk Bay head over to Francis Bay to explore Cinnamon Bay, snorkeling with the sea turtles at Maho Bay, hike to the abandoned Plantation house behind Francis Bay, and enjoy the sunset from the beach at Francis Bay.
Spend the next morning snorkeling along Mary Point and Whistling Cay or just enjoying the pelicans as they dive for fish. I could sit for hours sipping coffee and watching the turtles swimming by. One of the joys of cruising is "far niente," the Italian phrase for blissfully doing nothing. It is also the name of our boat. My three must haves for St. John are: HD Dive Mask, Dry Bags, Water Shoes that work for hiking as well. You will use all three at your next stop is Leinster Bay.
Once you have picked up a mooring ball at Leinster Bay, you can dinghy in to explore Annaberg Sugar Mill. Restored by the National Park Service, this is a trip back in time to when the Danes controlled the Virgin Islands. Sugar cane was the main industry. Refined here at Annaberg Plantation, rum and molasses was exported back to Europe. The Danes relied heavily on slaves. The slave revolt of 1848 marked the end of slavery on St.John and the fall of sugar plantations. Walking around the grounds, you can feel the pain of those souls.
You can hike along Leinster Bay Trail which is an 2 mile out and back trail to Watermelon Cay. Watermelon Cay is often on the "Best of" snorkeling lists. I like it because if is not as crowded as some of the other snorkeling spots. Once the sun sets, you can enjoy the twinkling lights of the west end of Tortola, and some amazing star gazing.
Get an early start on your last full day in St. John and head around the eastern tip of St. John to Coral Bay. Coral Bay is a comprised of a series of small bays, including Round Bay, Hurricane Hole and Coral Harbour. Pick up a Day Use Only mooring ball in Hurricane Hole. Hurricane Hole is part of the Coral Reef National Monument. The snorkeling is excellent. It is a no take zone, so fishing and collecting is prohibited. After exploring the underwater world, you can head over to Coral Bay for lunch and shopping or to Round Bay and spend a some time sipping a cocktail while floating in the sea at Lime Out, floating bar and grill.
Sailing west, you find three bays with mooring balls that make a great overnight spot. Salt Pond Bay, Great Lameshur Bay and Little Lameshur Bay. The snorkeling is excellent at all three spots. On land, all three of these bays connect to the Lameshur Bay Trail, a 4 mile out and back trail that offers beautiful vistas and a waterfall in the rainy season. It connects with Reef Bay Trail. If you head south when you meet Reef Bay Trail you can hike down to Reef Bay Beach.
Cruising west will take you back to Cruz Bay and the Customs office or on to St Thomas if you are continuing your trip in the USVI. If you are headed back to the BVI, you can proceed directly to the customs office in Jost van Dyke, Soper's Hole, or Tortola. Please leave comments below on your favorite places in St. John so other readers can learn from your experiences. Ready to book you trip, Booking.com