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Saintly in St John’s

This past February my girlfriend and I took a 2 week Caribbean vacation. Our destination was the U.S.Virgin Islands, more specifically St. John. As with most caribbean vacations the purpose was lots of rest and an excessive amount of relaxation. However, St. John has something more to offer than just clear tranquil water and pristine beaches around every corner.

Over 70 percent of the Island and its surrounding coral is protected and operated by The Virgin Islands National Park System. The hiking is absolutely breathtaking, (quite literally) with sweeping views stretching out to Tortola and Virgin Gorda (British Virgin Islands). The trails, which are clearly marked with signs, range from flat and lush for novice hikers, to drier and steeper for those seeking a more strenuous workout. For the salty dogs, there is great snorkeling to be had in virtually every bay despite your level of expertise. Trunk Bay which is host to the “Underwater trail”, pointing out various species of coral for the curious observer, was voted “best beach for snorkeling” in [ Caribbean Travel and Life February 2001] issue. If it’s shopping you crave, the Caribbean duty free Mecca of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas is just a 30 minute ferry ride away, allowing you the freedom of duty free bargains at a close distance.

We opted to incorporate the beauty and ecology into our accommodations and researched a handful of different options. In an effort to gain the most out of what St. John is about, the way to go is “eco-tourism”. The concept being that guests are given an environmental learning experience in addition to “a place to hang their hat”. We chose Maho Bay, which is on the northern coast. Maho Bay Campgrounds is quite a concept really, consisting of 117 tent/ deck like structures that start from just off the beach and climb their way up into the lush mountains. Conceived by award winning “Eco-God” Stanley Selengut, who has additional Eco-properties on the Island, the ideology is preservation and awareness of the fragile ecology that is so much a part of St. John. Some of the properties actually have achitecture and furniture that is made from recycled materials. More specifically, the Maho tent cottages are actually very comfortable as much as they are environmentally friendly. Guests are supplied with a propane two burner stove for cooking, as well as the necessary utensils and a 5 gallon container for drinking water which helps in preserving the island’s most precious resource. There are communal bathhouses that utilize the water preservation concept as well with spring facets and cool water pull-chain showers.

A modern day “Swiss Family Robinson” resort, the campground is complete with a small store for the necessary provisions, an activities desk (where guests can sign up for sailing and snorkeling excursions), a cyber hut (for e-mailing friends and family), and a watersports center (with snorkeling equipment, small sailboats, and floatable mats). We actually learned quite a bit about the history and vegetation through “Hamilton’s Island Tour” (a guided open air taxi ride covering the entire Island). There are two large pavillions, one just off of the registration desk where breakfast and dinner are served (a new menu theme nightly) and another where guests can get zen with a morning yoga session. The dinner pavillion also features post-dinner events from music to informational slide shows and serves as a great meeting place for guests to mingle about their day’s agenda. Even children get a chance to meet and mingle with other kids through various activities organized by the friendly Maho staff

As most people will tell you, “you get what you pay for”. We both left Maho feeling we got a a whole lot more than we paid for (although some would probably question just what it was that we got). Sure you could opt for The Westin Resort or The St. John Inn returning home with nothing more than a tan and some snapshot photos. Or you could spend $100-$115 a night (double occupancy high season) to learn about Island history, Ecology, and make friends with the locals. You’d learn about water preservation and the importance of the Flora and Fauna (while using biodegradable dish soap), and just why you should never seek shelter beneath a Manchineel tree during a rainstorm. You might even have such a positive experience that giving up your modern conveniences (a hot shower even) seem well worth trading in for a newfound home…Island style on St. John.

For more information on Eco-Tourism on St. John, U.S.V.I. visit the link below or e-mail or e-mail [email protected]

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