Should you drive on St. John? Should you take taxis? How do you get there from St. Thomas? Let us share some transportation tips for our favorite island. Our family first fell in love with St. John in 2008 when my day job (college volleyball coach) took us to nearby St. Thomas and St. Croix, and we decided to take a few extra days to explore St. John. Over the years, we have returned every 2-3 years. It is really hard to express just how much we all love this little island. In 2017, you may remember hearing about this beautiful island getting pounded by two hurricanes back to back. While the island did take a beating, overall the island is once again flourishing and welcoming tourists. So, don’t hesitate to book your trip to paradise.
Driving on St. John and St. Thomas
The most important transportation tip is to note that they drive American cars (steering wheel on the left) but drive on the left side of the road. So, only you can assess if that is something that you will be comfortable doing. What are the hardest parts about driving there? First, you must remember that right turns are more akin to left turns in the States in regards to checking for oncoming traffic. Second, there is just a weird spatial aspect of driving from the curbside of the car. We have become quite adept at it (and Clint gets bad motion sickness, so we don’t really have any other option).
Where to Rent?
We always rent a Jeep on St. Thomas, and we highly recommend renting at Discount Car Rental instead of at the airport, as they are locally owned and their Jeeps are MUCH nicer (we are not sponsored by them!). We rented at the airport on our first trip, and we quickly learned a few lessons. First, you will be on ‘island time’ everywhere you go, so don’t get in a hurry. Second, the fact that our Jeep did not have its vinyl windows did not concern the rental agent in the least.
If you are concerned about the lack of convenience of using an offsite vendor, don’t be. The Discount Car Rental office is right down the road from the airport, and they will send a driver to pick you up when you land. All of their Jeeps are really nice, and they are completely local, which we love.
After getting our Jeep, we drive across the island to the ferry in Red Hook and take the short 30 minute car barge to St. John. Renting on St. Thomas also allows us to stop to get lunch or dinner at our favorite pizza place by the Red Hook ferry terminal (after typically a long day of travel). It also allows us to explore St. Thomas a bit on our return day. One of our other favorite transportation tips is to eat in Charlotte Amalie before heading back to the airport, because there are not many food options in the St. Thomas airport.
There are a few important things to note about the car ferry. First, arrive at least 30 minutes earlier than the scheduled departure time as they usually do sell out. Second, there are two different companies that operate car ferries. So, if you purchase a round trip fare make sure you ask for that particular company’s schedule for return. Otherwise, you can pay for a one-way trip and take the first available barge. You will actually pay once you are on the barge. Finally, do yourself a favor, and get out of your car during the trip over. The views of the islands going over are worth it!
Don’t want to rent?
If you don’t get motion sick or if you would prefer not to drive on the busier streets of St. Thomas, you can also take a taxi. Taxis in the USVI are typically ‘open air’ or pickup trucks that have converted the bed into bench seating. It is easy to catch a taxi to the ferry in Charlotte Amalie. It seems like a lot of people choose this option, and, since that ferry drops you off right in downtown Charlotte Amalie, you can still have a nice meal there before heading back to the airport).
You can then either rent a Jeep once you arrive on St. John, or you can use taxis to get around the island. Driving on St. John is not crowded. However, it is not for the faint of heart, as the roads are quite curvy and can be narrow. In addition, the locals drive faster around curves than we would like. So, in general, just use caution and be ready to be a defensive driver. The roads are generally in good condition now though (unless you take our advice and go to Little Lameshur Bay, where you definitely should have 4 wheel drive!).
All in all, it is probably a good thing that transportation to and around St. John is not super simple, as it helps it maintain a local feel and not fall prey to overcrowding. Any transportation obstacles are absolutely worth the effort though. St. John is certainly one of the most beautiful islands you will ever visit. We hope these transportation tips help make your trip go more smoothly. Please feel free to ask any specific questions you may have!