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st. john

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virgin islands on line : st. john : exploring

The smallest and most serene of the U.S. Virgin Islands is St. John. In 1956, two-thirds of the island plus 5,000 offshore acres were deeded to the National Park Service by Laurence Rockefeller, preserving St. John's unspoiled beauty. A short, picturesque ferry ride from Red Hook or Charlotte Amalie, St. John promises a memorable visit.

St. John's earliest inhabitants were the peaceful Arawak Indians, then the fierce Caribs. In 1718 the arrival of the Danes began an era of thriving cotton and sugar plantations, an economy dependent on slavery. In 1733 the slaves revolted, taking over the island for six months before the Danes, helped by the French, regained control. Slavery was finally abolished in 1848. See the Annaberg Sugar Mill, its ruins of sugar mill and slave quarters overlooking Sir Francis Drake Passage and the British Virgin Islands.

Enjoy some of the best snorkeling at Cinnamon Bay and popular Trunk Bay with its fascinating underwater trail. Take the Seashore Walk at Leinster Bay where shorebirds are having as much fun as you. For an adventure, try the Reef Bay Hike offered by the National Park Service -- a three-mile hike (luckily, it's downhill) through subtropical vegetation, past ancient Indian carvings called petroglyphs. The trail ends at Reef Bay, where hikers can take a swim before heading back to town. Call 340 776-6330 for information and reservations. The Park Service (340 776-6201) also offers island bus tours in season.

Save some time to explore Cruz Bay, once a bustling port serving the rum and sugar industries. Home to most of the island's residents, Cruz Bay now bustles with locals and visitors enjoying its unique shops and fine restaurants. Just north of town is charming Mongoose Junction, considered one of the prettiest shopping areas in the Caribbean. A mix of shops here offers elegant jewels and fashions, funky local crafts and exotic imports, plus shady retreats for a cool drink and snack.

St. John has more to offer than can be appreciated in a short visit to the island. Most visitors leave planning a longer stay in tranquil St. John in the not-too-distant future.

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