Caribbean: US Virgin Islands - St. John
From picturesque hiking trails to calm, dazzlingly clear water in a spectrum of blue hues, the small oasis of St. John will refresh and rejuvenate even the weariest newlyweds. The sleepy hamlet of Cruz Bay is home to most of St. John's 3,500 residents, not counting the 350 or so feral donkeys that stake their own claim. When you max out on serenity and need to shop, visit Mongoose Junction, a lovely collection of boutiques and galleries in Cruz Bay, or catch a quick ferry ride west to the duty-free frenzy of St. Thomas, also a U.S. territory. Likewise, the mellow British Virgin Island of Tortola is just a 15-minute ferry ride away (don't forget your passport).
In a Word: Unspoiled
St. John's natural wealth wowed millionaire Laurence Rockefeller, inspiring him to purchase much of the Manhattan-size island and then deed a good share of it to the U.S. federal government in 1956 to protect it from over-development. Today, the Virgin Islands National Park encompasses nearly 80 percent of the island and includes 5,650 acres of offshore aquatic habitat.
Why We'd Go: Two Features You'll Never Forget
- Hiking vistas: Of the island's 22 trails, Reef Bay Trail is one of the best, with a relatively easy three-mile descent through forest and cactus woodlands. Along the way, you'll see haunting sugar mill ruins and pre-Columbian carvings. Bring your bathing suits: The trek peters out at Reef Bay, perfect for a refreshing dip. The Virgin Island National Park Service offers guided hikes and boat rides.
- Underwater schools: Beautiful Trunk Bay, on the north shore, offers a snorkel "trail" and "SNUBA" diving. Both are hybrids: The underwater "hike" displays 15 plaques that point out coral and identify fish, while SNUBA combines snorkeling and diving (you draw air via a hose from the boat instead of from a tank strapped to your back). Tip: Inquire about cruise ship schedules and go in between dockings to avoid crowds.
Pucker Up: Best Place to Smooch
Reserve a table at rustic Le Chateau de Bordeaux, (340) 776-6611, located at one of the highest vantage points on the island, for innovative cuisine, a long list of Bordeaux wines, and a stunning view of the moon rising over the British Virgin Islands. Be sure to bring your camera and arrive pre-sunset to snap pictures and sip lime coconut daiquiris on the deck.
When to Go: St. John at its Best
- Best weather: February to August. Year-round temperatures range from 69 (winter evenings) to 84 degrees. Rainy season runs from September to January.
- Best prices: Mid-April to mid-December; exact dates vary by hotel. Note: Hurricane season swirls from June to November (September is trickiest).
- Festival highlights: A parade through Cruz Bay on July 4 marks the climax of the Fourth of July celebration, which includes beauty pageants and a food fair.
Photo: U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism