St. John, the smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is a pristine, protected wonder that offers undeveloped stretches of paradise and unparalleled beauty from its lush interior all the way to its white sand beaches. While many travelers pencil it in as a daytrip from the bustling and more commercialized island of St. Thomas, the only way to truly experience this Caribbean jewel is to stay along its shore and spend your entire vacation seeking out its hidden treasures.

Highly-regarded and consistently voted one of the best beaches in the world by Condé Nast Traveler magazine, Trunk Bay is so breathtaking that it is almost indescribable. The heart-shaped bay is lined by striking white sand and turquoise water so crystal clear that disrupting its calm and scenic splendor seems like a sin. While you will certainly find the usual suspects for activities, including swimming, sunbathing, and scuba diving, snorkeling is by far the most popular due to the underwater, self-guided trail located near the shore.

If Trunk Bay is the shining star of the island, then Caneel Bay is a full moon that radiates a soft glow over the north shore. Accessible through the Caneel Bay Resort, visitors will find seven beautiful beaches on 170 acres that are perfect for swimming, kayaking, and sunbathing. In addition to these spectacular bays, you can also try Honeymoon Bay, Cinnamon Bay, Leinster Bay, and Salt Pond Bay to escape the crowds and relax on a secluded, private strip of sand that is adjacent to the warm waters of the Caribbean.

Since many of the beaches are part of the Virgin Islands National Park, which covers more than 7,000 acres and 60 percent of the island, access to more than soft sands and eternal sunshine is almost always at your fingertips. Although the beaches are the featured attraction, hills, valleys, and tropical rainforests are all begging to be explored on the miles of hiking trails that tell a story of history and survival. Be sure to check out the Bourdeaux Mountain Trail, which leads to the highest point on the island; the Cinnamon Bay Nature Trail, home to sugar plantation ruins; and the Reef Bay Trail, always popular for its forest lands, petroglyph rock carvings, shimmering waterfall, and sugar mill remnants.

If you find that you have a little down time during your stay, be sure to visit Fort Berg (or Fortsberg) and the Annaberg Ruins. The Fort Berg ruins, located on a peninsula that juts out into Coral Bay, represent the site of a 1733 slave revolt that was viciously put down by soldiers. The Annaberg Sugar Mill Ruins, located on Leinster Bay Road, offer a glimpse of the equipment and labor needed to run an 18th century plantation in addition to breathtaking views of the shoreline.

Although St. John is known as being a sleepy island compared to St. Thomas, there is a small commercial center on Cruz Bay and friendly locals are certainly willing to help you along your travels. The laid-back atmosphere and abundant attractions make it easy to never explore another island, but if you feel compelled to journey across the water, you can hop aboard one of the ferries that regularly commute from Cruz Bay to Red Hook or Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas.

With unspoiled beauty around every corner and the warm waters of the Caribbean an inviting attraction, St. John is an island that requires your undivided attention. Rather than jumping from one island to the next, surround yourself with St. John’s lush mangrove forests and sparkling white sand beaches in a vacation rental. St. John vacation rentals offer relaxation at all hours of the day and place all of the picturesque activities and attractions of this island paradise just steps outside your private patio. Live like a local with St. John rentals and experience a getaway that surpasses all of your wildest expectations.

Jen W.