Two-thirds of St. John is protected by the National Park Service--which means that visitors will be able to enjoy the untouched beauty of this Caribbean jewel as Mother Nature intended.
Committed environmentalists, St. Johnians have become pioneers in the field of “Ecotourism.” The U.S. Virgin Islands lead the world in the development of “sustainable tourism,” which protects the beautiful natural environment while allowing visitors to enjoy it in its pristine wonder.
Within the 11,560-acre national park on St. John are many of the island’s accommodations built in the spirit that Laurence Rockefeller intended when he deeded the land to the National Park Service years ago.
Environmentally conscious properties and campsites are abundant.
The wide variety of guest houses and villas available to visitors are also popular on St. John. These accommodations range from charming and intimate to grand and luxurious. Most have breathtaking views, and many have private swimming pools. Beautiful hotels, campgrounds, small inns and “eco-resorts” are available for travelers.
The best way to get to know St. John is to choose from the several modes of transportation available for seeing the island’s exotic and tropical sites. To view St. John’s rugged beauty, you may tour the island by safari bus. Your tour guide will entertain you with tales of the island’s folklore and tropical wildlife. Centuries-old sugar plantations offering a glimpse into St. John’s past may be found along the island’s coastline.
Jeeps are another popular way of getting around on this 19-square -mile island which is composed mostly of green mountaintops and white-sand beaches. Jeeps may be rented in Cruz Bay, one of St. Johns tow towns—the other town is Coral Bay.
Tropical rain forests and wooded hillsides are usually explored by foot—either with or without a tour guide. Hiking trails with ancient petroglyphs, small waterfalls and streams, secluded resting spots and cliffside views are easy to find on St. John.
Unique boutiques, specialty shops, fine restaurants and quaint open-air cafes may be found in Mongoose Junction, Wharfside Village and throughout Cruz Bay. Additional restaurants and shops may be found on the other end of the island in Coral Bay.
Even after just a brief visit, you will agree that St. John is a nature-lover’s paradise.
Day-long boat excursions are available to take you from St. John to any of the nearby islands inhabited or not. What could be better than a deserted island for a romantic picnic? You may also choose to stay closer to St. John and explore the many intricate bays and inlets of this gorgeous island. St. Thomas is also just a short ferry ride away from Cruz Bay.
Elegant jewelry, local pottery and artwork, colorful island-wear and exotic perfumes can be purchased in the island’s many unique boutiques and specialty shops. Local craftspeople often incorporate the island’s natural beauty in their artwork.
Fine restaurants and quaint open-air cafes may be found in Mongoose Junction, Wharfside Village and throughout Cruz Bay. Other fine restaurants are located on the other end of the island in Coral Bay or nestled in the mountains high above St. John.
St. John has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and the right of access to most beaches is protected by law. You may not have time to visit all of them, but Hawksnest Beach and Trunk Bay shouldn’t be missed.
Endless Vacation magazine reports that St. John is one of ”the best places in the entire Caribbean to explore the under- water world while snorkeling at a leisurely pace. With a snorkel, mask and fins, you can make the brief transition from sun-drenched beach to magical underwater landscape that’s second to none.” Trunk Bay even offers an underwater snorkeling trail complete with illustrations and descriptions of the nearby sea life perfect for either the beginning snorkeler or the more seasoned underwater explorer. Watersports-equipment rental, snack bar and restroom facilities are all available at Trunk Bay.
Party lovers will surely want to visit St. John’s carnival held every Fourth of July. With parades, boat races, a coronation ceremony for the Carnival King and Queen and fireworks, Carnival is one of St. John’s most exciting annual events.
Even after just a brief visit, you will agree that St. John is a nature-lover’s paradise.
The capital is Charlotte Amalie (population, 1990, 12,331), on
Thomas. Other communities in the group are Christiansted and Frederiksted, both
on St. Croix. The total area is 344 sq km (133 sq mi), and the total
population (1990) is 101,809.
The islands are generally hilly to mountainous. Crown Mount (474 m/1556 ft) on St. Thomas is the highest point. The climate is tropical, moderated by prevailing trade winds. The average annual temperature is 26.7° C (80° F). Vegetation is luxuriant and diverse. Mineral resources are lacking, although sand and stone are mined for local construction.
Tourism is vital to the economy of the Virgin Islands. Some 32 percent of all paid employees are engaged in retail sales or in services provided by recreation, motels, hotels, and restaurants. The number of tourists visiting the islands rose from about 200,000 in 1960 and 1961 to some 1.5 million in 1986; in the same period, spending by tourists grew from $26 million to more than $500 million. Products manufactured in the islands include rum, watches, textiles, and pharmaceuticals. The islands also have petroleum and alumina processing plants. The annual budget in the late 1980s exceeded $303.5 million.
The islands form the easternmost outpost of the United States. The United States Marine Corps maintains an air base on St. Thomas and an airfield on St. Croix.
Education and Government
Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of 51 and 16. Free schooling is provided in elementary and secondary schools. In the late 1980s the islands' 70 public elementary and secondary schools had an annual enrollment of about 29,000 pupils. The College of the Virgin Islands (1962), a public institution on Saint Thomas, had an annual enrollment of about 2550 students.
From 1917, when the United States acquired the Virgin Islands, to 1931 the islands were governed by the Department of the Navy. In 1931 jurisdiction was transferred to the Department of the Interior, and a civil governor was appointed by the president. Since 1970 the governor has been popularly elected. The unicameral legislature is elected for two-year terms and is composed of 15 senators, 5 each from Saint Croix and Saint Thomas, 1 from Saint John, and 4 at large. Executive power is vested in an elected governor and lieutenant governor, an attorney general appointed by the governor, and other officials. The government comptroller is appointed by the secretary of the interior, and the judge of the district court is appointed by the president of the United States.
Christopher Columbus discovered the Virgin Islands on his second voyage to the Americas in 1493. He named the islands for Saint Ursula and the other virgin martyrs associated with her. Columbus attempted to land at Saint Croix in November 1493 but was driven away by fierce Carib Native Americans who inhabited the island. The Carib Native Americans were annihilated, but no permanent settlements were made. The Virgin Islands remained a Spanish possession throughout the 16th century.
Denmark colonized St. Thomas in 1666. The Danish West Indies Company controlled the group until 1755, when Frederick V, king of Denmark, bought the islands. In 1800, during the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain blockaded St. Thomas and in 1801 occupied the island. In 1802 Saint Thomas was returned to Denmark. From 1807 to 1815 the British again occupied the Danish West Indies; in 1815 the islands were once more restored to Denmark.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Virgin Islands flourished as a center for the slave trade and as a producer of sugar. To harvest the sugar, the Danes began to depend on slavery and started importing slaves from Africa in 1673. The slave trade was prohibited by the Danish government in 1792. A slave revolt on St. Croix in 1848 led to the slaves' immediate emancipation. The slaves had the tacit support of the Danish governor of the islands, Peter von Scholten, who was opposed to slavery. After the emancipation of the slaves, the economy of the Virgin Islands disintegrated. The population of the islands dwindled. It was not until the 1940s that the economy began to recover.
During the American Civil War (1861-1865), the Union began to negotiate with Denmark for the purchase of the Virgin Islands in order to establish naval bases in the Caribbean. Nothing came of the negotiations, however, until World War I (1914-1918). In 1917 the United States bought the Virgin Islands from Denmark for $25 million and built a naval base in order to protect the Panama Canal and to prevent Germany's seizure of the islands.
Virgin Islanders have been U.S. citizens since 1927. After World War II (1939-1945), the Virgin Islands began to prosper again. Federal aid, local industry, and the growth of tourism helped improve the islands' economy. In 1946 William Henry Hastie became the first appointed black governor of the islands. The Organic Act, which was passed in 1954, created a 15-member senate. Then in 1968 the Congress of the United States passed a law granting the people of the Virgin Islands the right to elect their own governor. Melvin Evans, appointed in 1969, was the first native-born black governor of the territory and in 1971 became its first elected governor; he served until 1975. In 1975 Cyril E. King became governor and served until his death in 1978. King was succeeded by his lieutenant governor, Juan Luis. Luis was elected governor in the 1978 and 1982 elections. Alexander Farrelly was elected in 1986 and again in 1990. Roy Schneider became governor after the 1994 elections.
In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo caused at least $500 million in damage, and 1000 U.S. troops were sent in to suppress looting and unrest. The islands were damaged again when Hurricane Marilyn struck St. Thomas and St. John in 1995. The islands were declared a disaster area and the National Guard was called to help.