Family Vacations to Saint John, U.S. Virgin Islands

Saint John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Saint John features stunning beaches for swimming, snorkeling, windsurfing, or simply sunbathing (Corel)

Saint John Highlights

  • Snorkel Trunk Bay's underwater trail.
  • Swim, sun, and windsurf along Cinnamon Bay.
  • Hike to the ruins of Annaberg, an 18th-century sugar cane plantation.
  • Kayak and mountain bike island trails.
  • Shop the boutiques of Cruz Bay.

Two-thirds of this tiny island is national park land, making it much less developed than either Saint Croix or Saint Thomas, and a favorite among outdoor enthusiasts. The Virgin Islands National Park is best known for its beautiful beaches and submerged off-shore reefs. Trunk Bay, popular with cruise ship passengers, gets crowded, but it offers bathrooms, showers, a snack bar, and snorkel equipment for rent. To be sure of a good fit, especially for children, bring your own gear. While Trunk Bay's underwater world offers less than it used to, with some dead coral and diminished amounts of fish, enough colorful formations and critters remain to excite snorkelers. Underwater plaques identify the coral along an easy 225-yard trail.

Less frequented Honeymoon Beach also features good snorkeling. Another popular spot, Cinnamon Bay sports plenty of angelfish and triggerfish, and its afternoon breezes appeal to windsurfers (equipment and lessons are available). Nearby campgrounds have tents and cottages.

Maho Bay Campgrounds, also within the park but privately owned, offers tents on hillsides overlooking the teal-tinted waters. The units contain sleeping, cooking, and sitting areas plus all the necessities: linens, towels, a camp stove, dishes, and pots and pans. Maho Bay also offers environmentally-sound townhouses for those who want the comforts of indoor plumbing. Book well in advance.

The two-and-a-half to three mile (one-way) Reef Bay Trail winds through the forest, past petroglyphs and the ruins of several sugar plantations. Ranger-guided hikes include a boat ride back to Reef Bay. The half-mile Annaberg Historical Trail explores the remains of the 18th-century plantation's sugar operations. By visiting the windmill where slaves fed cane through rollers and seeing the copper kettles into which slaves ladled the boiling cane juice, kids gain an understanding of the history of the island and its odious reliance on slavery. The downhill mile-long Cinnamon Bay Trail leads through the forest to the sea and is a nice walk for young kids.

Kayak, hike, snorkel, and sunbathe on a shaded sandy beach on a day outing with Virgin Islands Ecotours. Arawak Expeditions offers half- and full-day kayak outings in the national park, mountain biking trips, or multi-day trips with kayaking, biking, hiking, and snorkeling.

Head to Cruz Bay, Saint John's downtown, for shopping. Mongoose Junction, an open-air shopping mall, has clothing stores, craft and jewelry boutiques, and cafes.'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 26 Nov 2007 | Last Updated: 7 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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