A place so nice we’ve been to it twice! Which is saying a lot because the world is so big that we don’t want to spend time visiting the same locations. On purpose anyway. Rome was twice, but that’s because it was an in-between place. Oh, and New York doesn’t count because we’d go there every weekend if we could. And The Rockies in Alberta because that’s where Rob is from. Ok, this is a serious digression. St. John is one of our favourite places we’ve ever been, and this year, they’ll even PAY you to go there! That’s right!
Get PAID for a holiday!
This year marks the centennial celebration of when Denmark sold the Virgin Islands to the US, and tourists can get a $300 credit when you spend 3 consecutive nights on St. John, St. Thomas, or St. Croix! More details can be found here, and read on why we think St. John is the best place to go.
Thank you, Chuck
The first time we went to St. John in the Virgin Islands was a day trip from St. Thomas. And it was only begrudgingly on the advice of our kayak tour operator in St. Thomas, Chuck (that’s the name she gave us, anyway. When she greeted us when we walked to the back of the store thinking they might be closed, she asked us if we were with Discovery Card and if were there to collect. She seemed to only half-believe us).
“Oh, you have to go to Cinnamon Beach,” she said as we kayaked, satisfied we weren’t debt collectors.
“Really? We weren’t thinking of going at all since St. Thomas is so nice.” Rob replied.
“Well, it’s up to you, but the nicest thing about St. Thomas is that it’s so close to St. John. Here, hold a jellyfish.” And she proceeded to scoop up a jellyfish from the sea floor with her paddle and place it in Bryan’s hand.
“Um, ya, is it supposed to sting like that?” Bryan asked.
“Ya,” Chuck said with a shrug. “But it’s like a mosquito bite. Doesn’t hurt much.”
Bryan laughed in that half-hearted way when you’re trying to feign bravery while writhing in pain. This gave us no reason to trust her, but since we liked her so much, we took Chuck’s advice and took the ferry to St. John the very next day. And we’re so glad we did.
The Sweet Taste of Cinnamon
“To Cinnamon Beach!” we told the bus driver in St. John. There were several options but Chuck’s the kind of person you listen to and so that really was our only option. After a lovely, hilly drive through the dense forest, we were dropped at what has become our most favourite beach in the whole world!
Cinnamon Beach remains our favourite beach in the world. The first time we went we had the entire thing to ourselves. There's a tiny patch of land a short swim away that's a perfect snorkelling spot and the water is heaven. Here's Bryan lotioning up for a hard day of sun, sand, and salt water. St. John, 2012.
Even though it was off-season (this was in September, 2012), we were still surprised we had the entire beach to ourselves. A large expanse of pillowy white sand, shallow calm water, and a small cay a short swim off shore make Cinnamon Beach an ideal place for snorkeling and complete relaxation (you can see a lot more footage in our video). We knew we had to come back and stay on St. John, and we did the very next year!
Return to Paradise
August of 2013, we returned with much anticipation to the Virgin Islands. St. John itself is not super convenient to get to, but that’s partly what makes it so special. The plane lands in St. Thomas, then you have to take a 10-minute cab ride to the ferry, then a half-hour ferry ride, then walk into town to get our rental car. But, trust, the day lost in travel is well worth it, especially if you’re staying at a villa with your own private pool, which we certainly did!
OMG we hate winter. I maintain that settling in Canada was just a big mistake. Like the settlers arrived in the summer and then wrote home to say, "Ya come on over, all good here!" And then by the time winter came it was too late. We were stuck here. Oh, this is our favourite island, by the way, and we'll be reliving our fun times in the sun here over the next little while. Anything to escape the madness that is living through a Canadian winter. St. John, 2013.
The villa we stayed at is called the Waterklip. It’s a short drive to Cruz Bay, a small town with some great bars, restaurants and food carts, and it’s a wonderful place to watch the sunset. It sleeps 4, and with us on this vacation were our good friends Holly and Lou. Many people don’t realize that when you split the cost of a villa, it’s often much cheaper than staying at a hotel, so we each only had to pay around $80 USD per night. And you don’t have to put up with tourists!
But let’s get back to the beach! And there are several beaches on the island to choose from – here’s a good guide – though Cinnamon will always be our favourite. Trunk Bay, the only beach with an entrance fee, is just as beautiful and has an interesting underwater trail for snorkelers. Hawksnest is a bit smaller but still very nice to explore and, while we saw stingrays at several beaches, we captured this beauty swimming peacefully underneath our feet:
And since 60% of St. John is a protected national park, the hiking is excellent! We chose the Reef Bay Trail which is probably a bit strenuous for beginners but perfect for those wanting to see a different side of the Caribbean. The 3-mile trail takes you past petroglyphs, a 40-foot waterfall, sugar mill ruins, wandering deer, massive trees, and gorgeous foliage before it opens to a glorious beach. You’ll see footage of this hike in our trip video here, or below.
Another advantage of the Virgin Islands in general is the close proximity to other islands. We booked an island-hopping and snorkel excursion with Stormy Petrel & Pirate’s Penny that took us to the amazing Baths at Virgin Gorda (actually one of the British Virgin Islands, so you have to bring your passport) which should definitely be on your bucket list. The giant granite boulders form small pools and tunnels and arches that you climb through and around. It seems other-worldly and is quite a departure from what you expect a typical Caribbean experience to be.
We also did some amazing snorkeling at a place called The Indians which is a collection of rock formations that rise straight up from the ocean floor, and had lunch at Cooper Island. There are many day and overnight trips to choose from among the Virgin Islands, but make sure Virgin Gorda is in your itinerary. We couldn’t get over how beautiful and clear the water was there!
You can't help but do a little joy dance in the magnificent Caribbean, the best waters in the world. Our good friend, Holly, joined us on this day trip from St. John to Virgin Gorda to explore the caves and tunnels amidst the giant granite boulders known as The Baths. If we were British or American we'd live there in a heartbeat. #marryus?
I called this article, Lost in Paradise, because we really did get lost on a few occasions. It’s not a busy island so streets aren’t always marked and several times we found ourselves turning around and backtracking. But then we came upon Joan’s Food Truck and had the best veggie roti we’ve ever had! The Caribbean is like that. The best times often come with getting off the path and discovering new things on your own. We’ve been to St. John twice, and we can’t wait to get lost there again.
Check out our trip video below! And let us know if you have any questions or comments!