Saint John is one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the majority of the island is a national park, which provides opportunities for lots of trekking and wildlife spotting. Out of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, visiting Saint John is the highlight for me: you have lots of trails to hike in the park, tons of beaches, snorkeling opportunities, delicious and affordable food, and great nightlife.
It’s also the most budget-friendly of the Virgin Islands.
With only about two thousand people living on the island, the small community here really knows each other. You’ll run into people over and over again. It has the most laid back feel and the one you’ll probably want to spend the most time on!
This Saint John travel guide will give you all the practical information you need to help you plan your visit so you can decide for yourself!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do on St. John
1. Visit the beaches
2. Visit Annaberg Plantation
3. Go hiking in the national park
4. Go sailing
5. Visit Catherineberg Ruins
Other Things to See and Do on St. John
1. Enjoy some water sports
There are all kinds of watersports on St. John. You can windsurf, jet-ski, kite-surf, snorkel, sail, or kayak. Really, there’s nothing you can’t do on this touristy island. Virgin Islands Ecotours is a good company to go with for some light adventure, like a kayaking trip to Henley Cay for $89 USD or a SUP lesson on Honeymoon Beach for $60 USD.
2. Go diving
The island has a lot of dive spots (including Grass Cay and Congo Cay), and the warm, crystal-clear water provides great opportunities to see tropical fish and coral. You might encounter octopus, moray eels, and sea turtles. If you don’t know how to dive, there are a lot of dive schools here that will teach you. A PADI course is about $350 USD. Otherwise, a two-tank dive with a company like Low Key will cost from $145 USD.
3. Celebrate Carnival
St. John’s Carnival takes place in late June and traditionally culminates with a 4th of July parade, as Islanders also celebrate the United States’ Independence Day. It features mocko jumbies, calypso music, the crowning of Ms. St. John and the Carnival King. Spectacular fireworks are shot into the air at the festival.
4. Drink at the Tap Room
St. John’s flagship brewery, The Tap Room, is located in Mongoose Junction in Cruz Bay. Choose from the likes of Tropical Mango Pale Ale and Sunshine Belgian Wheat Ale (my favorite). This is the only taproom in all of the Virgin Islands and the best place to get a beer!
5. Explore Coral Bay
Located on the far end of the island, Coral Bay is a quiet community that was described to me as “St. John before the tourists came to Cruz.” This is a tiny, tiny community with most restaurants and bars shutting early. Be sure to eat at Skinny Legs while over here. Note: Coral Bay is currently rebuilding after the hurricane. Many businesses and buildings are currently closed.
6. Explore Hurricane Hole
This bay is protected by the arms of the many mangrove trees that grow in it. It is an amazing place to go snorkeling because there is a diverse and wildly colorful habitat of fish nestled in the water beneath the trees. You’ll likely see snappers, starfish, barracuda, and sea anemone. You can do a full day tour for about $120 USD, or take bus 109 from several spots on St. John (including Mongoose Junction or Honeymoon Beach). You can also drive there from Cruz Bay iva the Centerline Road.
7. Party hard with the locals
St. John is the party island of the region. If you are coming to the USVIs and looking for cheap drinks, late nights, and live music then St. John is for you (if you’re not into that, don’t worry. It’s super easy to get away from that and relax). Cruz Bay has the most bars and clubs, although several of them are still rebuilding after the hurricane. Beach Bar and Joe’s Rum Hut always guarantee a good time!
For information about other Caribbean destinations, check out these guides:
St. John Travel Costs
Hostel prices – There are no hostels on Saint John, and unfortunately, Hurricane Irma has shut down the only budget-friendly campground on the island. Until Cinnamon Bay reopens, you’ll have to find an affordable hotel or Airbnb property.
Budget hotel prices – The most affordable hotel rooms you’ll find on St. John starts from $195 USD per night, anywhere on the island.
Airbnb is widely available on St. John, with a private room starting from about $90 USD. A full apartment averages about $120 USD per night but averages $345 USD per night.
Food – On St. John there are a lot of roadside stalls serving fruits, veggies, grilled foods, and other meals for between $4-7 USD. In general, $12 USD will get you a fish or chicken plate or a burger. A meal of conch fritters will cost from $11 USD, while rice and beans (a Caribbean staple) or a fast food meal is at least $9 USD.
For main courses, steak, fish, or seafood, you’re looking at $20 USD or more in a mid-range restaurant. At an upscale restaurant (like at a resort), you’ll pay upwards of $50 for a dish like swordfish or lobster, and a glass of wine to wash it down is another $10 USD.
My favorite places to eat on St. John are Skinny Legs and Woody’s Seafood Saloon.
While groceries tend to be relatively expensive because they have to be imported, there are some cheap options. A week’s worth of groceries, including pasta, chicken, some fruits and veggies, eggs, and bread will cost you between $75-100 USD.
Backpacking St. John Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking St. John, my suggested budget is around $115 USD per day. This budget will cover a private Airbnb room, buses, local food from street stalls but mostly cooking your own meals, and taking advantage of free activities.
A mid-range budget of about $200 USD will cover staying in a private Airbnb room, eating out for some of your meals, a couple of taxis per day, and the occasional paid activity (but mostly taking advantage of free activities).
For a luxury budget of about $560 USD per day, you will stay in a four-star hotel, eat out at fancy restaurants, get a rental car, and do any activity you want as often as you want! The sky is the limit.
With all these budgets, the big wild cards will be the room costs (cheaper if you split with a friend), your food (what kind of meals are you having), and how you’ll get around (taxis aren’t cheap here). You can lower all these costs (see below) but keep this in mind. If you’re on a tight budget, you can knock these prices by over $100 USD per day if you Couchsurf or take advantage of free beaches (including bringing your own snorkel gear).
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
St. John Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
St. John can really add up if you’re not careful but it’s not nearly as expensive as other islands in the Caribbean. If you stick to the free hikes, cook some of your meals, stay in budget friendly accommodation, and stick to the happy hours, you’ll be ok! It won’t be dirt cheap but it won’t cost an arm and a leg! Here are some of my recommended ways to save money on St. John:
- Couchsurf – Use hospitality networks like Couchsurfing to stay with locals for free. There are a lot of hosts on the island and people are very welcoming!
- Take in happy hour – Happy hour runs from 4-6 on the island and you’ll find $1 USD drinks, 2-for-1 specials, and half price appetizers. Take advantage of it!
- Have a BBQ – Food on the island is expensive, but there are a few BBQs dotted about the island that offer a chance to cook for relatively little money.
- Hitchhike on boats – Want to go from island to island? Hitchhike on the boats and save thousands of dollars. It’s actually easy to do. Here is how to do it.
- Bring your own snorkel gear – At $10 USD a rental, it’s cheaper to buy snorkel gear before you get to the island.
- Book accommodations way, way in advance – Last minute accommodation bookings will cost you a fortune. Whenever possible, book as far in advance as possible. Space is limited here!
- Use hotel points – Got hotel points? Use them! Marriott has hotels all over the Virgin Islands that can be booked with points. Free is always better than spending money.
- Travel with friends – Since accommodation is so expensive, I wouldn’t recommend going to these islands alone. If you do, your expenses are going to skyrocket. It’s much better going with a friend so you can split costs.
- Get dropped off – Taking a day sail but planning on heading to the next island after? Most tour companies will drop you off at no extra charge if the island is nearby. It’s a free ferry!
- Don’t drink the tap water – The tap water isn’t safe to drink here. A water bottle with a purifier will come particularly in handy — my preferred bottle is LifeStraw ($49.99).
Where To Stay on St. John
St. John does not have any hostels or campgrounds, so the only way you’ll be able to find affordable accommodations is if you book an Airbnb or find a Couchsurfing host. If neither of those options interest you, here are some of my more affordable recommendations for places to stay in St. John:
How to Get Around St. John
Bus – Vitran buses on St. John go from one end of the island to the other and cost $1 USD. They run on Centerline Road (from the Cruz Bay ferry dock through Coral Bay and to Salt Pond Bay). Check Vitranvi.com for schedules!
Note: These don’t really run on time, so be prepared to wait.
Car Rental – A car rental is one of the most efficient ways to get around the island, although not the most economical (unless you’re traveling with friends). Two of the best car rental services include Courtesy Car and Jeep Rental, and St. John Car Rental, Inc. Rentals cost between $50-85 USD per day.
Taxis – Taxi prices are standardized by the government with set rates, with most rides costing between $5-14 USD. A taxi from Cruz Bay to Trunk Bay will cost $5.50 USD, while Cruz Bay to Salt Bay or Hurricane Hole are both $14 USD each. Prices are subject to change, however, so ask your driver about the fare beforehand.
Bicycle and Moped Rentals – Many hotels around St. John will rent bicycles and mopeds. (Keep in mind that St. John is pretty hilly, so cycling can be challenging for some!) Daily costs average about $30 USD per day for bicycles and $45 USD per day for mopeds.
When to Go to St. John
As the weather here is always hot, hot, hot, the most popular time to visit is during winter (December to March), when cold North Americans and Europeans descend in droves on the beaches. Temperatures are often 87°F (30°C) or higher each day.
November, early December, and April are the best months to go: prices and crowds are not bad, and the weather is sunny but not too hot. You get low prices and avoid crowds. Mid-March to June are the driest months.
Keep in mind that June to November is hurricane season, so keep an eye on the weather.
How to Stay Safe on St. John
St. John is very safe. It’s a small island with low crime. However, don’t leave your valuables out in the open at the beach (or anywhere) to avoid petty crime, like theft. Avoid walking on back streets and deserted beaches, especially at night.
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Hurricanes and tropical storms do a lot of damage here. If you can, avoid hurricane season (June to November). Otherwise, keep an eye on the weather and always have a back-up plan to get off the island.
Always trust your gut instinct. Avoid isolated areas at night, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it on St. John! Follow that rule, and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
St. John Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to St. John. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around the Caribbean, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Saint John Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Saint John Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Under a Blue Flag, by Daniel Putkowski
Fifteen years ago Luz Revilla, a young prostitute, sent her son Hernán off to be raised by Nathan Beck, a tugboat captain who brings him up to “become a man.” Now she learns he is coming back to San Nicolas, Aruba, and Revilla’s life becomes ruled by the anticipation of reuniting with her son as he learns about her life in the red light district. This is the darker side to Aruba but it’s an easy beach read.
Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
This book was released a few years after the Jamaican independence of 1962, and it explores some of the postcolonial issues from that time. It’s set in the 1830s and brings to life the fictional “madwoman in the attic” from the novel Jane Eyre. Antoinette Cosway is a sensual woman sold to Mr. Rochester, and this book is about the woman’s backstory as it explores inequality of race, culture, and gender. It’s heavy reading, but it’s a beautiful one.
An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude, by Ann Vanderhoof
In the mid 1990s, the author and her husband decided to take a break from their soul-sucking jobs in publishing and sail from Toronto down to the Caribbean and back again. During the trip, they traveled more than 7,000 nautical miles, dropped anchor in 16 countries, and adapted to ‘island time’. What I loved about this book was the change in the author: how she and her husband went from workaholics with rigid schedules to just going with the flow people who realize they don’t need a lot of stuff and loved the freedom of their journey. This book is well written, smart, inquisitive, and paints a vivid picture of the Caribbean. Highly recommended!
Out From Nassau, by Fia B. Scheyer
Out From Nassau takes you back to the Bahamas in the 1920s, when Prohibition was on in the United States and much of its illegal booze was being smuggled in from here. The book focuses on the lives of people in Nassau and the Out Islands, including the McKenzie family, as they become entangled in this dangerous trade. It’s a real page-turner, and although it’s fiction, much of the story is rooted in reality.
St. John Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling the Caribbean and continue planning your trip: