Saint John is one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, a U.S. territory located in the Caribbean. Saint John is the smallest of the three main islands, with no airport (though there is a regular ferry service from nearby Saint Thomas).
The U.S. Virgin Islands have been inhabited since at least 1000 CE (you can still view vestiges from that time in the form of petroglyphs). Christopher Columbus arrived on the present-day USVIs in 1493 and is responsible for their current names. The Netherlands, France, Spain, and Britain each ruled over the island at various points, leaving their mark on the island’s history and culture.
Today, most of Saint John 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 was the highlight for me: there are lots of trails to hike, tons of beaches to enjoy, plentiful snorkeling opportunities, delicious and affordable food, and a rocking nightlife.
It’s also the most budget-friendly of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
With only about four 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 is the one USVI island you’ll probably want to spend the most time on!
This Saint John travel guide can help you plan your trip, save money, and make the most of your visit.
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 Virgin Islands National Park
4. Go sailing
5. Go diving
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, kitesurf, snorkel, sail, kayak, and more. 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 Honeymoon Beach Day Pass, which includes all kinds of rentals for kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, snorkel gear, and more, for $49 USD.
2. Visit Catherineberg Ruins
This historic plantation site is a former 18th sugar and rum factory. There is not a huge amount to see, but it’s worth a visit if you’re hiking in the area. The ruins are well preserved, so you get a good sense of how sugar was harvested and refined on the island. Admission is free.
3. Celebrate Carnival
St. John’s Carnival takes place in late June and traditionally culminates in a 4th of July parade as islanders celebrate the United States’ Independence Day. Festivities include mocko jumbies (stilt walkers/dancers), calypso music, and the crowning of Ms. St. John and the Carnival King. Spectacular fireworks are shot into the air to mark the end of the festival.
4. Drink at the Tap Room
St. John’s flagship brewery, The Tap Room, is in Mongoose Junction, a shopping and dining complex located in Cruz Bay. Choose from the likes of Tropical Mango Pale Ale and Sunshine Belgian Wheat Ale (my favorite). This is the best place to get a beer on the island!
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 community where most restaurants and bars shut early, usually around 8pm. Be sure to eat at Skinny Legs while you’re over here.
6. Explore Hurricane Hole
This bay on the eastern side of the island is protected by the many mangrove trees growing here. It’s an amazing place to snorkel because there is a diverse and colorful habitat of fish in the water beneath the trees. You’ll likely see snappers, starfish, barracuda, sea anemones, and much more. You can do a full day kayaking and snorkeling tour for about $120 USD.
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. Beach Bar and Joe’s Rum Hut always guarantee a good time!
8. Hunt for petroglyphs
Hike the lush Reef Bay Trail to view petroglyphs that date to 900-1400 CE. These rock carvings were created by the Taíno, indigenous people who inhabited the island long before Columbus arrived. There are a variety of carvings, from faces to glyphs that are thought to mean water, as they are located by a deep pool and waterfall. Once you’ve seen the petroglyphs, you can keep hiking to Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins along the water. To return, hike back along the same trail. The entire hike is about 4.5 miles (7.2 kilometers) roundtrip.
9. Eat tacos on the ocean
Located in Coral Harbor, LimeOut is a floating taco boat that’s only accessible by sea! If you want to eat some tacos and have a beer or craft cocktail while floating in the warm Caribbean water, this is your spot. The boat is eco-friendly too, as it’s run entirely on solar power.
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 on St. John start from a pricey $229 USD per night during the low season. Prices shoot up an extra $100 per night in high season. Expect amenities like free Wi-Fi, AC, TV, and often free breakfast.
Airbnb is widely available on St. John, with private rooms costing about $110 USD. A full apartment starts at $150 USD per night.
Food – Traditional cuisine on Saint John relies heavily on seafood, though the island has a unique mix of dishes owing to its colonial past. Fish and fungi (pronounced foon-ji) is the national dish, which combines cornmeal dumplings with fish fillets (traditionally, it would be salted fish, owing to the island’s Danish heritage). Johnnycakes, conch fritters, roti, cow heel soup (a soup made with cow’s feet), and callaloo (a West African stew) are other popular dishes.
If you’re on a budget, there are a lot of roadside stalls serving fruits, veggies, grilled foods, and other meals for $6-7 USD. In general, $12 USD gets you a fish or chicken plate or a burger. A meal of conch fritters costs $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 $25 USD or more in a mid-range restaurant. At an upscale restaurant (like at a resort), expect to pay upwards of $50 for a dish like swordfish or lobster, and a glass of wine is another $10 USD.
A cappuccino is generally around $5 USD while beer is $4-6 USD.
My favorite places to eat on St. John are Skinny Legs and Woody’s Seafood Saloon.
Groceries tend to be relatively expensive here because they have to be imported. A week’s worth of groceries, including pasta, meat, and some produce, costs $75-100 USD.
Backpacking St. John Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking St. John, my suggested budget is around $155 USD per day. This budget covers a private Airbnb room, taking the bus, cooking your own meals, and taking advantage of free activities like swimming and lounging on the beach. If you plan on drinking, you’ll need to add $5-15 USD to your daily budget.
A mid-range budget of $260 USD covers staying in a private Airbnb apartment, eating out for some of your meals, taking a couple of taxis, enjoying a few drinks, and doing the occasional paid activity like kayaking or diving.
For a “luxury” budget of about $515 USD or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out for all your meals, get a rental car, drink more, and do whatever tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
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 your meals, stay in budget-friendly accommodation, and stick to the happy hours, you’ll get by without breaking the bank. It won’t be cheap, but it won’t cost an arm and a leg either. Here are some ways to save money on St. John:
- Stay with a local – Use hospitality networks like Couchsurfing to stay with locals for free. There are a handful of hosts on the island and people are very welcoming!
- Drink during happy hour – Happy hour usually run from 4pm-6pm, with $1 USD drinks, 2-for-1 specials, and half price appetizers. Take advantage of them to save big!
- Hitchhike on boats – Want to go from island to island? Hitchhike on the boats and save thousands of dollars. Here is how to do it.
- Bring your own snorkel gear – At $10 USD per rental, it’s cheaper to buy snorkel gear before you get to the island.
- Book accommodation in advance – Last minute accommodation bookings cost 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 to go with someone so you can split costs.
- Get dropped off – Taking a day sail but planning on heading to the next island afterward? Most tour companies will drop you off at no extra charge if the island is nearby. It’s a free ferry!
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is not safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle with a filter to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay on St. John
St. John does not currently have any hostels or campgrounds, so the only way to find affordable accommodations is by booking an Airbnb or finding a Couchsurfing host. If neither of those options interest you, here are some affordable recommendations for places to stay in St. John:
How to Get Around St. John
Bus – 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 the most efficient way to get around the island, although it’s 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 start at $80 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 costs $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 rent bicycles and mopeds. Keep in mind that St. John is hilly, so cycling can be challenging. 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, the most popular time to visit is during winter (December to March), when cold North Americans and Europeans descend in droves to hit the beaches here. Temperatures are often 87°F (30°C) or higher each day. It’s the most lively time to visit.
Personally, I think November, early December, and April are the best months to go (the shoulder season). Prices and crowds are not bad, and the weather is sunny but not too hot.
Keep in mind that June to November is hurricane season, so keep an eye on the weather if you visit during this time and make sure you have travel insurance.
How to Stay Safe on St. John
St. John is very safe. It’s a small island with little crime. However, don’t leave your valuables out in the open at the beach to avoid petty theft. Keep your valuable secure and out of sight when on the buses too just to be safe.
Avoid walking on back streets and deserted beaches, especially at night.
When out at the bar, always keep an eye on your drink and never leave it unattended. Never walk home alone if you’re intoxicated either.
Scams here are rare but if you’re worried about getting ripped off, you can read about common 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 backup plan to get off the island.
If you experience an emergency, dial 911 for assistance.
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!
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.
Saint John Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- 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).
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do group tours, go with Intrepid. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts with them too!
- Grassroots Volunteering – For volunteering, Grassroots Volunteering compiles a list of good local volunteer organizations that keep the money within the community.
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
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 (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 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 sex worker, sent her son off to be raised by a tugboat captain. Now he is coming back to San Nicolas, Aruba and Revilla’s life has become ruled by worry and the anticipation of reuniting with her son. This is the darker side of Aruba but it’s an easy beach read.
Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
This book was released a few years after Jamaican independence in 1962. It’s set in the 1830s and brings to life the fictional “madwoman in the attic” from the novel Jane Eyre. The book is about the woman’s backstory as it explores inequality of race, culture, and gender. It’s heavy reading and explores postcolonial issues, but it’s a beautiful book.
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 corporate jobs in publishing and sail from Toronto down to the Caribbean. 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 noticeable change in the author: how she and her husband went from workaholics with rigid schedules to learning to go with the flow as they realize they don’t need a lot of stuff to be content. 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 happening 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: