Introduction to the Island of St. John

The St. John Pastoral Retreat is located on the stunningly beautiful island of St. John, which is the third smallest and most exclusive island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The U.S. Virgin Islands are an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the eastern Caribbean Sea, approximately 50 miles east of Puerto Rico. St. John is truly what one imagines an earthly paradise to be – beautiful turquoise and blue waters, white sand beaches fringed with palm trees, cooling trade winds, amazingly clear water that is perfect for scuba diving and snorkeling to observe the plentiful sea life (sea turtles, colorful tropical fish, and coral formations), beautiful tropical flowers (hibiscus and bougainvillea and many others) and tropical birds (banaquits, mangrove cuckoos, hummingbirds, gulls, zenaida doves, magnificent frigatebird, pelicans), and even mountains! The island is only about nine miles long by two to three miles wide, and has less than 5,000 fulltime residents. It has over 50 beaches - some sand, some pebble. It is very possible to find a secluded beach all to yourself! The Virgin Islands National Park encompasses about two thirds of the island (courtesy of Laurence Rockefeller who donated most of the park’s land in 1956), so St. John will be forever protected from mass development, and will be able to be preserved in its natural state for generations to come.

St. John only has two towns – Cruz Bay (aka Love City), and Coral Bay. Cruz Bay is located on the island’s west end (closest to St. Thomas) and is the islands main town (which is where the majority of the islands residents live), complete with two grocery stores and two quaint shopping “malls”. Coral Bay is located on the east end of St. John and is sparsely populated. It is home to Skinny Legs, a famous beach grill and bar that has served Coral Bay and the many yachties that ply the Virgin Island waters.

St. John is so small it does not have an airport, nor does it even have a traffic light! Access to the island is via a short 15-minute ferry ride from Red Hook Harbor (which is located on the east end of the Island of St. Thomas, the most populated and developed U.S. Virgin Island), or a 45 minute ferry ride from downtown Charlotte Amalie, also on St. Thomas. St. Thomas has an airport which receives commercial flights from many places, including San Juan (Puerto Rico), Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Dallas-Fort Worth, New York and Atlanta.

St. John is located just across the Sir Francis Drake Channel from the British Virgin Islands. The BVI’s are best known as one of the world’s best yachting waters. The BVI’s, along with St. John, surround the Sir Francis Drake Channel, which is more like a lake than the ocean. The islands (usually) protect the Channel from open ocean swells, creating a fabulous, protected area to enjoy sailing. The most populated BVI is Tortola, just 4 miles from St. John. Tortola is a beautiful island, and is an easy ferry ride from St. John. Tortola has a large fleet of yachts for lease where tourists can rent a yacht (with or without crew) and sail all around the BVIs for a week or more. It is truly magical to sail here! Jost Van Dyke is a small Island in the BVI’s that is famous with the yachting crowd. Jost Van Dyke has beautiful bays and beaches and beach bars that cater to tourists. Virgin Gorda is the largest of the BVIs and its biggest claim to fame, besides being the home of Little Dix Bay (a stunningly beautiful bay and beach), is The Baths, a very unusual geologic formation of very large boulders that are located right on the beach! The Baths draw many tourists who swim and hike in amongst the boulders. All of the above BVI islands can be accessed via ferries from St. John, and can also easily be reached through the use of private boats.

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