Travel: Harith Wickrema's Guide to St. John
by HARITH WICKREMA
PHOTOGRAPHY BY THINKSTOCK (ST. JOHN)
It’s not heaven. It’s St. John.
From the first time I visited St. John in the late ’80s, after a friend of mine built a home here, I instantly fell in love. With the fresh sea breezes and stunning views, St. John offers a unique combination of lush and pristine beauty and great restaurants and activities. But beyond the sheer beauty and fun of the island, one of the things that really resonated with me is that there is such a strong eco-friendly stance. A full two-thirds of St. John is preserved as a national park, and those natural resources will remain pristine due to the conservation eagerly embraced by the island.
I was brought up in Sri Lanka, where ecoefforts were standard out of necessity. You had to return your Coke bottle to get another one; we used newspapers for gift-wrapping. There was little waste. It was my way of life, and it instilled in me a concern and respect for the environment.
|One of St. John’s many natural treasures|
St. John’s mission to preserve and protect its land makes it that much more enjoyable when you set out to explore the island. One of my favorite places is Salt Pond Bay, a local beach off the beaten path. It’s not unusual to be alone once you get there—it feels like it’s your own private paradise. During certain months of the year, it is possible to harvest salt crystals from the ocean, to use for cooking. There’s also snorkeling and swimming. If you manage to catch a live conch—which is possible—during your outing, just make sure to set it free.
The Salt Pond is also where you can hop on the Kekoa catamaran. The handcrafted luxury boat picks you up at the pond and can take you to the Annaberg Plantation to see the sugar-mill ruins. It is now part of a national park, so the property is protected. There’s a windmill and slave quarters, with natural vegetation all around. During the sailing excursion, you can even have internationally renowned native photographer Steve Simonsen give you an underwater photo safari. I love to hike while I’m here; you can access the plantation this way, too. Our park rangers are excellent ambassadors for St. John. They are passionate about the island and love their jobs, which translates to an enhanced experience for the visitors. Getting to the island is very convenient—travel time is not very long, and there are many direct flights. You can leave in the morning and have your toes in the sand by the early afternoon. Plus, there is no need for passports or lines for Customs, since it is a part of the US. To get to St. John, you typically fly into St. Thomas and take a ferry or water taxi for the short trip to the island. That time on the water, with the fresh sea breezes and aweinspiring views, builds a sense of anticipation for what’s to come. The weather is outstanding; tropical breezes keep things comfortable even in the middle of the summer. In fact, many people don’t even use air conditioning here.
There is a great selection of places to stay and a range of hotels and rentals for basically every budget. And even with its lack of commercialization and the authentic Caribbean flavor, there are many excellent restaurants—La Plancha del Mar, Da Livio, St. John Waterfront Bistro, and Cactus on the Blue are some my favorites—galleries, and shops to explore.
But for me, although all of these attributes are wonderful, it always comes back to the eco-friendliness of St. John. If I have just one piece of advice for anyone visiting the island, it is this: Take in the serenity. Enjoy the natural beauty. And be gentle with Mother Nature.”