St. John is a hiking mecca thanks to the Virgin Islands National Park, which protects approximately two-thirds of the island. Trails snake through valleys and over ridges; most offer sweeping ocean views, a culmination at a gorgeous unspoiled beach, or a combination of the two. Hike the L’Esperance trail with a VINP guide and you get the added bonus of a boat ride along the island’s south shore.
Though you can hike L’Esperance on your own at any time, joining the VINP guided hike is the best way to learn in-depth history while educating yourself on the flora and fauna you’ll encounter on the two-and-a-half-mile trail. The best part of hiking with the VINP: in lieu of hiking back up to the trail head, you’re taken back to Cruz Bay via boat, which offers some well-deserved relaxation after the three-hour hike down.
A taxi will deliver you from the VINP visitors center in Cruz Bay to the L’Esperance trail head, which is just off Centerline Road a little more than three miles outside of town. Not long after your hike begins, you’ll encounter the ruins of the L’Esperance estate—a stone bridge, some graves, and a great house that was used as a residence into the mid-20th century. Lush tropical plants offer shade during the first half of the hike down, where the ranger will point out unimaginably large termite nests in the crooks of trailside trees and the solider crabs that frequent the great house ruins. The next stop on the hike is at the island’s only baobab tree, where the ranger will likely engage in the hilarious and heart-pounding game of “tarantula fishing.” She’ll slowly feed a long piece of grass down one of the numerous ground spider holes at the base of the baobab, anxiously awaiting the telltale pull of the curious spider investigating the intrusion into his home. Most spiders shy away from the sunlight, but every now and then, the entirety of a tarantula’s large, fuzzy body will emerge as hikers jump and squeal.
From there, the hike continues and the heat intensifies as the environment changes from moist tropical forest to dry forest; shade becomes more scarce as lush foliage gives way to cacti and other scrub vegetation. Here, you might be lucky enough to encounter fruiting wild pineapple, which is not the traditional pineapple you’d expect, but rather small round yellow fruits with a pleasantly mild, citrus-flavored taste. The second set of ruins you’ll explore before hitting the beach is the Estate Sieben great house. At long last, the trail delivers hikers to Genti Bay, a small sandy beach on the south shore’s Reef Bay. Here, you can enjoy lunch and a refreshing swim before the M/V Sadie Sea picks you up and brings you back to Cruz Bay. Views along the journey back include several of the island’s gorgeous vacation villas and the Westin Resort, and if you’re hiking during the winter, you might be lucky enough to catch a whale sighting as well.
You’ll need to sign up for the hike and pay the fee ahead of time. To do so, visit www.friendsvinp.org. The L’Esperance hike is a popular activity among visitors, and registration closes once 31 hikers have signed up, so it’s best to register well in advance.