Planning a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands? St. Thomas vs. St. John, which one is worth your time? Here’s our experience maybe it’ll help you plan.

St. John, U.S.V.I. - 1Visiting either island is easy; just hop on a $7 ferry. However, if you’re planning a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands and trying to pick which island to choose as your base, maybe my experience can help you.

During our weekend stay on St. Thomas, we did a day trip to St. John. St. John island is exquisite! Two-thirds of it is U.S. National Park territory. The ferry to the island ran hourly on Sundays, and was our ferry ride an experience!

Ferrying over the ocean in a speedy mid-sized, double-decker ferry was gut wrenching. We sat on the upper level and we could feel our inner organs tumble as we cut through the thick, choppy, waters. It made me nervous to say the least.

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Ev can’t swim, so he’s extra nervous

We arrived at Cruz Bay harbor and instantly felt the mellow, relaxed island vibe that was pretty illusive on St. Thomas. The reviewers were right, St. Thomas and St. John are distinctively different, but contrary to what reviewers said about St. John not being a resort destination, it did have resorts, the Westin being one of them. But I imagine the resort life on St. John was more relaxing, as sleepy and verdant as the island itself.

We came to St. John’s on a whim, perhaps hoping to have better luck at finding good island food, so we didn’t know chartering a ‘taxi safari’ was the first order of business upon docking. By the time we figured it out, it was 20 past the hour and all the taxis were gone. Everyone else rented jeeps to do self exploration, but the way the island is set up—left side driving over steep hills, cliffs, and mountains—made us decline that option, and wait around for one of the taxi safaris to return.

We eventually ended up getting a taxi all to ourselves, Bryan, our driver, was nice and informative. Because it was just us, he took extra time in showing us around, giving us the inside scoop on politics and the economy as we went along. We went up, up, up and around the mountains and overlooks, then toured the old sugar plantation at Annaberg.

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On our way back down Bryan stopped to pick me some wild Bay Rum Leaves, incredibly fragrant and indigenous to St. John. He explained how the locals use to cure everything from colds to achy joints.

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By the end of our extended tour, Bryan felt like family and really made the trip to St. John’s a memorable one. Before he dropped us off at Trunk Bay Beach ( A Top 10 beach in the world), he took us by his favorite local spot to grab a bite to eat. The hot food bar in the back of a tucked away local grocery store tasted better than anything we had eaten on the islands, and it was much cheaper, too!

We arrived at Trunk Bay Beach with our styrofoam take-away containers and canned coconut waters in hand. I will never forget how beautiful Trunk Bay Beach is. The pristine white sands, the remarkable clear blue-green water with gentle waves lapping againsta perfect green backdrop…the warm bright sun…

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If I were to pick which island to stay at during our trip to the Virgin Islands, I would’ve picked St. John. Before arriving, Ev and I were hung up on which island to stay on during our stay. The reviews were a mixed bag; some preferred the city and night life that St. Thomas offered, while others raved about the natural beauty and nature-bent activities in St. John.

I know now, that I’m the nature type and St. Johns is definitely where it’s at. We sought an island experience that offered relaxation, culture, and history. As an African culture and history buff, I always keep an eye out for destinations that tell stories of the African diaspora. The U.S. Virgin Islands didn’t have much to offer in local culture in my opinion, it felt like being in America—like an extension of the U.S. mainland (food wise, especially). But It was great getting to see the Annaberg Plantation Ruins, a real sugar plantation.  I with they wouldn’t call them “ruins” though. Sometimes I wish we would just be real and open about history, and not hide from it, try to erase it, or sweep it under a rug. In this case replacing, “plantation” with a benign word like, “ruins” takes away from the pain associated with this historical artifact.

Nonetheless, if you’re planning a trip to the Virgin Islands, here’s my advice: No two islands are the same, check your cultural expectations at the airport gate, and lastly, you can pick any of the two islands and do day trips from there, but St. Johns offers more of an island experience.

If you’ve been to the U.S. Virgin Islands, tell us about your experience. Did you prefer St. Thomas or St. John? Why? 

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