St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

This sparsely populated tropical paradise is just hours from American shores.

St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

Dallas and John Heaton/Jupiterimages

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Take the ferry from St. Thomas―land of spring breakers and duty-free shoppers―to St. John, and you’ll have the same involuntary response as someone who’s just relocated from mainland Oz to Tasmania: “Ahhhh.” Like Tassie, St. John is a literal island of calm. Other shared traits: low population density (a mere 4,200 people inhabit the 20 square miles that make up the smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands), high peaks, unusual wildlife (the mongoose is St. John’s answer to Tasmania’s devils), and a fresh catch of the day on almost every menu. Best of all: The U.S. Virgin Islands require a mere two and a half-hour flight from Miami and―if you stay on top of the specials―a few hundred bucks for a ticket.

Eat smart: For some of the tastiest soups and salads on the island, stop by Shipwreck Landing in Coral Bay. The gazpacho served in a generous pewter crock and garlic bread-accompanied Greek salad are an ideal midday meal.

Be fit: St. John has wonderful snorkeling, most within feet of the shore; but for a truly mind-blowing trip, take the 15-minute walk and subsequent 20-minute swim out to Waterlemon Cay. You’ll see countless creatures, from sea turtles to (non-threatening) nurse sharks, and the supersized fan corals that encircle the cay. If you don’t have your own gear, rent a snorkel, mask, and fins in Cruz Bay before you head to the beach.

Live well: Simply drive around the island, where you’ll find unbelievable beauty at every turn. You may want to rent a 4x4―the local vehicle of choice, given the island’s hilly terrain―for the duration of your stay anyway. Note that you’ll be driving on the left side of the road. The view down to Cinnamon Bay, in particular, will require copious space on your camera’s memory card. For more information, go to conradcars.com or bookajeep.com.

Where to stay: One of the planet’s first eco-resorts, Maho Bay is a rustic, camp-like complex of cabins connected by a series of elevated, tree-lined walkways where little goes un-recycled (you can even help yourself to former guests’ leftover sunscreen), and living is largely communal (think shared bathrooms, self-bussed plates, crowd-pleasing nightly entertainment). For more creature comforts and fewer people around, consider renting a villa. If you’re going with friends, the option becomes especially affordable.

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