Fun things to see and do in Paradise
St. John is unique in the Virgin Islands. Two thirds of the island belongs to the National Parks Service and has escaped the pitfalls that accompany commercialism. Sure, St. John has it’s share of great nightlife, but the day-life is even better. And the underwater life will blow your mind.
Surrounded by coral reef formations and crystal clear water, St. John is a divers paradise. The bulk of the island remains undeveloped and in much the same condition that good old Chris Columbus and his compatriots found it. This is good for the surrounding waters.
The reef formations around St. John have not been ravaged by the inevitable consequences of development. The only pounding they take is from the periodic hurricanes and the careless feet of tourists. If you’re looking for an underwater paradise, you’ve found it.
It’s up to you to help keep it that way. Follow some simple rules and you’ll not only enjoy your underwater adventure but you’ll help ensure that others will get to enjoy it too.
Keep your fins and feet off of the coral at all times. Coral is an animal and an extremely fragile one at that. Your careless fins and feet can wipe out coral colonies in a nanosecond. It takes years for coral to recover from stomping. You don’t want to be a coral killer. It’s very bad karma.
Don’t take anything out of the water except trash. The seashells you find are either already a home for a crab or about to be. If you bring home an occupied shell, you’ll get the punishment you deserve when the crab inside dies a horrible and smelly death in your suitcase. Rest assured that even if the shell appears to be empty, there is a life form hiding inside. It will die and it will stink and you will be sorry.
If you come across a cigarette butt, a quarter or a soda can, by all means pick that up. You will be able to enjoy the smug feeling of superiority that comes with knowing that you’re an eco-sensitive saint and the offending trash thrower is going directly to hell. And you can put the quarter toward the next round of drinks after your dive.
There are many very professional dive operators on St. John, my favorite is Low Key Watersports in Cruz Bay. Trust them to show you the very best the island has to offer underwater and be sure to tip them well. After all, your life is in their hands and the happier they are, the happier you will be. Dive instructors work very hard and most of them do it for the love of diving not the phenomenally low pay. Take good care of them.
If you’d prefer not to spend your time underwater there are plenty of options for you. Head out to Trunk Bay and spend the day on the white sandy beaches soaking up the sun. Take a trashy novel and lose yourself in it for the day or a set of mask and fins and snorkel the underwater trail. Either way, it’s a beautiful way to spend the day.
A word, however, on those beautiful white sandy beaches. The sand is comprised of crushed pieces of coral. The coral is crushed not in a factory but through the efforts of the fish species that dine on it. These intrepid underwater diners spend their days chomping on corals and then, hold onto your hats, excreting the non-nutritious parts. Divers and snorkelers can verify this as they’ve seen it happen. Those non-nutritious parts are sand, beautiful white sandy beaches. Yes, dear, it’s all fish poop. Try not to think about this unless, like me, you find it extremely amusing.
You can bake yourself on the fish poop at Honeymoon Bay, Hawksnest, Lameshur to name just a few. Beach maps are available at various points on the island and everyone you ask will have a favorite beach they’ll be happy to direct you to.
Those who want to step back into time and enjoy an eco-sensitive camping experience should check out Concordia Eco-tents, Cinnamon Bay and Maho Bay. These campsites offer everything from ready-made tents with nice solid floors to vague assurances that “somewhere over there” will be a fine place to pitch your own tent. Go with the ready-made tents and enjoy the camp community that exists there already.
The camp communities are home to some of the cutest little trust fund babies you’ve ever seen. Don’t be fooled by the unwashed appearance of these young-un’s, they’re just as likely to be the heir to some industrial magnate back in the states as they are to be penniless students. A word of advice, try not to fall for the dreamy romance in the islands thing. Get to know him or her before you agree to get married.
Everyone will tell you to try the hiking trails through the National Park. There’s a reason for this. In addition to incredible untouched Caribbean forests, you’ll spy the ruins of sugar plantations, ancient petroglyphs and native species of birds, animals and plants. It’s truly a lovely way to spend the day. You can even travel the trails on horse or donkeyback through the Carolina Corral.
You can do guided hikes with several tour operators or strike out on your own. Some operators offer combo packages that feature sailing, kayaking and snorkeling in addition to your hike. There are hiking trails suitable for all levels of experience – from avid explorer to lazy beast – you’ll find the right trail.
Shopping St. John
If, like me, you think a good adventure includes the chance to spend your husband’s money, St. John will come through for you too. Shopping abounds, especially in Cruz Bay, where you can find locally created arts and crafts as well as high-end clothing and jewelry shops. The Virgin Islands is a duty free port so spend away, there’s no sales tax.
There are shopping spots in Coral Bay too and it’s a little more interesting over there. Interesting being a good thing.
Whatever your dream of life in the islands includes, St. John will have it. If they don’t, you can always move there and start your own business. Follow your bliss on St. John and you’ll feel like a local immediately. It’s that kind of place.