Monday, March 25, 2013

US National Park in the Caribbean & No Passport Required!

Where can you find such a place?  St. John US Virgin Islands.
View of ruins and coral blue waters at Lameshur Bay St John US Virgin Islands
Ruins at Lameshur Bay
 The Caribbean... If you haven't been, you really should, and if you have, then it is just a matter of when you are going back, not if.

View of beautiful Trunk Bay US Virgin Islands
Trunk Bay
St. John is the least populated, and most laid back of the 3 US Virgin Islands.  Nearly half of the entire island is a US National Park (Virgin Islands National Park).  There is camping just like in the other National Parks, but this camping is right on the powdery sand beach--complete with public showers, bathrooms, water equipment rental, snack bar and restaurant.  It also has the only under water trail in the entire US National Park system--at Trunk Bay (pictured above). 

Gentle waves on the powdery sand beach at Cinnamon Bay St John US Virgin Islands
One of the finest stretches of beach in the Caribbean - Cinnamon Bay
 St. John has many stretches of powdery sand beaches with gentle surf and shallow enough water for kids of all ages to be able to play in the water without getting into any trouble.  Some of the best beaches are Cinnamon Bay, Trunk Bay, Maho Bay and Francis Bay, but they are by no means the only beaches you should visit while you are there.

Wading by ourselves in the shallow water at Brown Bay US Virgin Islands
Brown Bay Beach completely to ourselves
As I have mentioned in previous posts, it is amazing what you can find with a short hike.  We hiked about a mile and a half from the road and had Brown Bay all to ourselves.  We didn't see another person for more than 4 hours while we were here.  And, here's a little secret.  The left side of Brown Bay was one of the two best places to snorkel on the entire island.  Let me know if you would like directions to the trailhead. 

Full Moon Through the Palm Trees at Cinnamon Bay US Virgin Islands
Full moon through the palm trees at Cinnamon Bay             
 Here's another tip.  Don't be afraid to get a handheld dive light and snorkel after dark.  A great many living things in the ocean are nocturnal, and you will see things that you won't likely see during the day.  We went night snorkeling 3 different nights while we were here--including during the full moon at Cinnamon Bay.  Highlights were color-changing Octopus and Squid, and schools of big silver Tarpon.
Holding my hand out to a Southern Stingray in shallow water at Francis Bay US Virgin Islands
Holding my hand out to a Southern Stingray in shallow water at Francis Bay
 Because most of St. John is a protected National Park, you will see wildlife of all kinds at every turn.  In addition to the abundant and spectacular aquatic life, you will find tropical birds, tree frogs, Iguanas, Mongoose, and even wild Donkeys.

Holding a Bright Orange Hermit Crab Emerging from Its Shell
Holding a bright orange Hermit Crab emerging from its shell
We found Hermit Crabs almost everywhere we went.  This one came out to take a look at us.  Our boys found one that was about 4 times as large as this one--Check it out below!
My son holding a huge Hermit Crab living in a large Conch shell
My son holding a huge Hermit Crab living in a large Conch shell

We had sea kayaks included with the villa we rented, (and an SUV too!) and they ended up being great for playing, exploring, and moving food and gear to more remote stretches of beach.

My sons trying to knock each other off the sea kayaks at Francis Bay
My sons trying to knock each other off the sea kayaks at Francis Bay

Three of our children with kayaks and snorkels at Waterlemon Cay
A short Kayak trip out to Waterlemon Cay
 The best snorkeling in St John was at Waterlemon Cay.  It is a tiny island just off shore, and you can easily and safely swim to it even if you don't have a kayak.  The best snorkeling is to the left.  The far side and the right side have good snorkeling too, but sometimes the conditions are pretty rough so just be aware.

A Small Black Tip Reef Shark Swimming in the Shallows at Waterlemon Bay
A small Black Tip Reef Shark swimming in the shallows at Waterlemon Bay
 This little Reef Shark swam along side us as we walked the beach early in the mornings at Waterlemon Bay.  You don't need to be very worried about these guys.  They are very shy once you get in the water, and they swim away before you get very close.  We also had numerous Green Turtles to swim with in the mornings at this beach, which are Callie's favorite thing in the entire world... except for me I'm assuming ;-)

View of Coral Bay St John US Virgin Islands from the Window of Villa Mahr
View of Coral Bay from the window of Villa Mahr where we stayed
 We stayed in an excellent villa on the mountain side overlooking Coral Bay.  We found it on, and it is called Villa Mahr.  Scott Mahr, whose father built this villa, was extremely generous with us and rented it to us for a great price.  We had a pool, washer and dryer, BBQ grill, and as I mentioned earlier, sea kayaks.  Plus he even rented us his 6 passenger SUV for far less than a rental company would have.

Family Picture at the Pool of Villa Mahr at Coral Bay St John US Virgin Islands
Family picture at the pool of Villa Mahr at Coral Bay
 Here we are at the pool at Villa Mahr.  I am not sure that my kids aren't still waterlogged to this day thanks to the easy access to the beaches and the pool on this trip.  They were constantly getting wet and having fun.

Beautiful Sunset and Moored Boats on the Glassy Water of Francis Bay St John US Virgin Islands
Beautiful sunset and moored boats on the glassy water of Francis Bay
I'll finish off this trip with another sunset.  This one is at Francis Bay--Callie's favorite spot in all of the Caribbean.

I have only barely scratched the surface of all of the fun we had in St John.  Thanks to a bit of research and planning, this trip was more affordable than you are imagining it was as you are reading this right now.  I am happy to share all of the details with you if you are interested, so please either comment on this post or send me a message if you want to know more.

It shouldn't be hard for you to see that my family cherishes the memories of this trip far more (and will for far longer) than any of the stuff we have ever received on birthdays, Christmas, or even out shopping for ourselves.  Don't spend your money and time getting them any more stuff.  Instead, why not Take Them Traveling!   



  1. I might make it to heaven or hell, but I'm going by way of St. John!


  2. As long as you and I are going by way of St. John (and I'm joining you in this), we'll at least enjoy the journey!