4 Destinations to Explore the Culture and History of St. John

When you come to a Caribbean island there are certain things you expect. Things that make the experience distinctively Caribbean. White sand beaches. Clear blue ocean waters. The distinctive lilt of Calypso and the smooth burn of rum. That is what draws you in. And, over time, to the outsider this becomes the culture of the area.

But the Caribbean is more than a week on the beach. It is a region with a rich history.  Civilizations rose and fell there long before history was recorded. Countries fought over its ownership. Pirates roamed the seas and slavers built empires. At one time plantation owners ruled what is now the Virgin Islands. There is a story to tell that goes beyond frolicking in the surf. And no island tells its story better than St. John.

These four St. John attractions tell the tale of the island and the region. Visiting one, or all four, will leave you with a deeper understanding of the Caribbean and its people.

Cinnamon Bay Educational Center and Archaeological Laboratory

Archeology Education Center

Cinnamon Bay has been established as a key archaeological site for scientists around the world to learn more about pre-Columbian life in the Caribbean. Once home to a community of native islanders, many clues about the daily life, social structure, and religious beliefs have been discovered here.


Archeology in the Park from Friends of VI National Park on Vimeo.

The Cinnamon Bay Educational Center and Archaeological Laboratory provides a history of the Caribbean dating back 3000 years. Similar to a museum, artifacts and exhibits are on display illustrating early island life for inquisitive visitors.

Archeology Education Center st john

Archeology Education Center Cinnamon Bay

A visit to the center and lab are a great way to begin to understand the local culture of St. John today and the knowledge gained make the other historical sites on the island more interesting once armed with this background information.

The Annaberg Plantation

There are many abandoned plantations throughout the Virgin Islands but few are as interesting to visit and as well suited to learning about the history of the islands as the ruins at Annaberg. The Virgin Islands National Park Service runs the Annaberg Historic District, a site which includes the centuries old ruins of the once great agricultural center, and rangers are available for guided tours of the premises.

Annaberg Ruins

The plantation has been partially restored to better show how rum, molasses, and sugar were grown and processed using only rudimentary tools and machines. On a tour, visitors learn about the technology and living conditions of plantation life from the 18th and 19th  century.

Annaberg Ruins

Annaberg Ruins st john

The Annaberg Plantation is well designed for unguided tours as well, with well-maintained paths equipped with informative signs about the location. A few hours at Annaberg leaves one with an appreciation for the history of St. John and makes discovery of the other plantation ruins on the island more interesting and informative.

The Reef Bay Petroglyphs

reef bay petroglyphs sign

Hiking through the Reef Bay Valley is an experience few people forget. A beautiful walk through lush vegetation, the trail ends at the ocean where trekkers are usually picked up by boat.  This alone would make the trail memorable.  But along the path is a treasure. At the base of a waterfall, petroglyphs dating back thousands of years accompany the journey.

reef bay petroglyphs

Hundreds of carvings telling the story of the Tanai, a pre-Columbian civilization who once inhabited the area.  The petroglyphs are living history, and make the hike educational and thought provoking.  Archaeologists have used these ancient markers to help piece together the story of the first inhabitants of St. John, making the site scientifically and culturally important. 

reef bay petroglyphs

Ruins at Caneel Bay

Exploration of ruins is not just reserved for the more frugal visitors to St. John. One of the most luxurious and popular destinations in the Caribbean, the Caneel Bay Resort, features ruins of their own. Home to the remains of a sugar plantation, the resort has incorporated an educational experience into their five-star approach to vacationing.

caneel bay st john ruins

ruins at caneel bay

The ruins at Caneel Bay rise in stark contrast to the manicured landscape, telling the story of St. John for visitors from around the world. Weddings and events are held within the stone walls, providing a unique and impressive backdrop for every occasion. The resort offers fine dining in a portion of the ruins and with advance booking private events are held by candlelight in the historic site.

Honoring the Heritage of St. John

St. John is deeply committed to exploring and sharing its past. The island is full of archaeological treasures and reminders of its heritage. Rather than downplaying these opportunities to learn for the legions of visitors which descend on paradise every year, St. John features them. By combining preservation, conservation, and education St. John has found a way for visitors to enjoy the paradise they expect while learning about the true culture of the island.  These four attractions are prime examples of this commitment to honoring the history and heritage of the U.S. Virgin Islands.