Who knew that you could find quiet beaches, secluded hikes, pristine snorkeling, and an environmentally friendly resort in the Caribbean without shelling out hundreds of dollars a night? Todd and I certainly didn’t until we happened upon St. John’s USVI and the Concordia Eco Resort.[slideshow]

On a whim, Todd and I decided to go to the Caribbean over Christmas. Not exactly the cheapest place to visit that time of year! Just as we thought it wouldn’t work out,  without a huge financial commitment, we came upon an article I had torn out about snorkeling Waterlemon Cay on St. John’s and the Concordia Eco Resort.  We called immediately and, as luck would have it, they had one room left for the nights of our trip.

We couldn’t have imagined a better Caribbean experience.  Even at the busiest time of year in the Caribbean, we found ourselves frequently alone on hikes and on beaches.  Thanks to philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, approximately two thirds of St. John’s is preserved as a US National Park.  This means that for most of the island there are few roads, mega resorts, mobs of sunburned tourists, or drunk cruise ship passengers over running your paradise.  Cruz Bay, despite being a port town,  is remarkably laid back and retains it’s charm.  Coral Bay, on the opposite side of the island, is even smaller and more laid back than Cruz Bay.  It does have amazing dining, however.  (See Food Finds post on restaurants here).

So, what to do while you are on this paradise?  The options are numerous but here are some of the things we did which turned out to be fabulous!  Waterlemon Cay surpassed our expectations for snorkeling.  To get to Waterlemon Cay, you hike along a beautiful trail around Leinster Bay.  You can snorkel all the way around Waterlemon Cay but be mindful that with strong winds, the far side can be a bit rough for a novice swimmer.  Be sure to bring a picnic lunch and sunscreen.  Combine this with a hike up to the Anneberg Ruins for an amazing day of sun, snorkeling, views, and sheer Caribbean beauty.

The Reef Trail hike was a beautiful hike where you can get some good exercise.  Todd and I started at Little Lamshur beach and hiked up.  There was actually a decent amount of elevation gain on this hike.  We made it to the old plantation ruin, covered in a beautiful pink vine, before it got too late.   Little Lamshur is in the national park, it is a rather quiet beach.  At dusk, when Todd and I found ourselves alone on this beach, we threw caution to the wind and skinny dipped!!  The road to the beach is a bit bumpy but well worth the ride.  (4×4 may be advisable.)

Then of course there is Trunk Bay, Hawksnest, Cinnamon, and Maho Bay.  These have all been written about extensively and rightly so.  Beautiful, beautiful beaches.  FYI – Trunk Bay does get a lot of day-trippers from the cruise ships.  We went here later in the afternoon and had the beach all to ourselves.  No skinny dipping this time.

Driving is of course a small thrill unto itself on St. John’s.  You drive on the left side of the road and the steering wheel is also on the left.  Not too bad getting used to.  The roads are narrow two lane roads with sharp turns and 20% grades.  Nothing scary, just fun.  4×4 totally the way to go.

Last but not least, is our awesome hotel the Concordia eco resort.  Concordia is not for someone seeking a luxury 5 star Caribbean hotel experience. Concordia is a special place for so many other reasons. The location of this resort is unbeatable. Concordia is near Coral Bay.  Even though it’s only approximately 12 miles across this island, the steep, narrow, curvy roads make it hard to drive faster than 10 mph. Most people don’t even venture over to this side of the island.  The Coral Bay side of St. John’s is so much quieter you feel almost like you are alone in the Caribbean. The USVI National Park lies between the two sides of the St. John’s.  www.concordiaeco-resort.com/

Todd and I stayed in Premium Eco Tent #19.  A permanent canvas tent with everything a happy camper could want.  Full pan and dish set with 2 cooking burners, a sink for washing dishes, a cooler chest for food / beverages, a separate smaller building with solar shower / WC, and endless beautiful scenery. Potable water stations are located everywhere.  The way the tents are situated it is almost impossible to have any of your neighbors get a glimpse of you unless they are really motivated to do so.  Given the secluded setting of each tent, you can (and should) unzip all of the walls of your tent and let the amazing breezes blow through your tent along with the sounds of the sea and the glimmer of the stars.    In the event  you don’t feel like leaving this great place, the food here is very good as well.

St. John’s was a serendipitous, spur of the moment Life Bus experience.  One I could repeat year after year!  Enjoy this Caribbean jewel.  Oh yeah, don’t forget to keep a look out for the donkeys and sheep that roam the island freely.