Things to Do in St John
Perched on St John’s northern shore, Maho Bay draws families and snorkelers to its calm, shallow waters. It’s easily accessible, as you can drive right up to the beach and park on the side of a road lined with groves of coconut palms.
Maho Bay is named after the beach Maho tree, which you can identify by its heart-shaped leaves and bright, yellow flowers. The narrow beach fronts a shallow, sheltered bay that is a popular anchorage for yachts. You might even spot a sea turtle swimming among the seagrass swaying below the surface. A coral reef on the southern coast of the bay provides excellent snorkeling.
At the eastern end of the beach hikers can wander along the Goat Trail, which leads to Maho Bay Eco-Camps, a pretty enclave of tent cabins. Here you can rent water sports equipment and have breakfast and dinner at the Pavilion Restaurant.
Caneel Bay is one of the first beaches you come to as you drive up North Shore Road out of St John’s main port, Cruz Bay. Much of the coastline here is monopolized by an extensive resort, but they guarantee access to Caneel Bay and their restaurants adjacent to the beach are accessible also. The area was once a plantation and the ruins of the old sugar works make an atmospheric detour. The beach itself is a three-dimensional postcard, while snorkelers will delight in sting rays, barracudas and other sea life.
Back in its heyday, the Annaberg Sugar Plantation was one of 25 facilities on the island producing sugar, along with molasses and rum. All that remains today are ruins, but they are an important reminder of St John’s past, and visitors can walk a trail that leads them through important structures such as slave quarters, windmills and factory remains.
Learn about 18th- and 19th-century sugar production and the importance of Annaberg, where slaves were brought in to clear the dense hillsides and terrace the slopes, allowing for farming. Slaves were also involved in actual sugarcane production and completed tasks like planting, harvesting and processing. When slavery was later abolished, the plantation was subdivided into small farms. Evidence suggests there were at least 16 slave cabins at Annaberg, each constructed using branches woven together with a mud, coral and lime mixture called daub.
St. John's Coral Bay prides itself on being the raffish alternative to the island’s main point of arrival, Cruz Bay. Its few dozen houses are haphazardly sprinkled on the green slopes tumbling down to Coral Harbor, a beautiful, protected cove. The red-roofed Moravian Church dates from 1750 and serves as a local landmark. Otherwise the town’s charm lies in its laid-back bars and restaurants where – unlike some Caribbean locations – tourists won’t necessarily outnumber locals. A short way out of town there is great snorkeling to be had at nearby Salt Pond Bay, or there’s always the secluded haven of Lameshur Bay, further round the twisting coastline. Alternatively, charter a boat and head for the nearby British Virgin Islands.