St. John is the smallest of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands (St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix) with a population of less than 5,000. Two thirds of St. John is designated as a National Park.
St. John is thought to have been inhabited as early as 100 AD. However, the first European to see the Virgin Islands was Christopher Columbus. On Columbus’ second voyage to the New World, he claimed the islands for Spain and called them “Once Mil Virgenes” or 11,000 virgins. The Danish established the first settlement on St. John in 1718. The island became home to cotton and sugar plantations which relied heavily on slave labor from Africa. After a series of uprisings, slavery was abolished on St. John in 1848. Over the next twenty-five years, the plantations declined and much of the population left the island. In 1917, the United States purchased St. John from Denmark as a strategic location for a naval base. In 1956, Laurence Rockefeller donated most of the land he owned to the U.S. National Park Service with a stipulation that it be protected from development.
Today, St. John’s unspoiled parks, beaches, and reefs are a huge draw to tourists. Tourism is now the island's main industry.
St. John is a mere 7 miles long and 3 miles wide. The highest point is Bordeaux Mountain at 1,277 feet. Cruz Bay is the main town on the island where the majority of residents live. St. John’s main port is located in Cruz Bay and daily ferries from St. Thomas arrive here. There is no airport on St. John so ferries provide the only access to and from the island.
The climate in St. John varies only slightly over the course of the year. The hottest months are June, July and August with high temperatures in the mid 80’s. The coolest months of the year are December, January, and February where the high temperatures are in the upper 70’s. Temperatures rarely drop below 70 degrees in the evenings. St. John does not have a rainy season, but more rain tends to fall in May, August, and September through November. February and March are typically the driest months of the year.
Tourists flock to St. John to enjoy its laid back atmosphere and natural beauty. Because so much of the island is undeveloped, there are a wide variety of trails for hikers of any level. The beaches on the north shore of the island have been cited as some of the world's best by travel publications. The National Park includes unspoiled coral reefs surrounding the island. Thus, snorkeling, diving, kayaking and sailing are popular activities. There are only a few resorts located on St. John, but there are also a variety of villas and campgrounds on the island. In the evenings, travelers enjoy fine dining and local bars. Carnival, which lasts for a month between June and July, is St. John’s biggest annual festival.
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