EACH NIGHT a quiet symphony of crickets, tree frogs and crashing waves along the beach of Hawksnest Bay lulls a visitor to sleep. In the morning the sight of turquoise waters glistening at sunrise beckons before you're even out of bed. The call is simple, "Come in, this is the way to start your day," and the response is just as rapid. Fifteen steps from your door, and you're in the water.
Such is the experience of a stay at Caneel Bay. With seven beaches to choose from on the northwest peninsula of the island, life is simple—swim, snorkel, scuba dive, repeat.
In 1956 famed philanthropist Laurance Rockefeller opened Caneel Bay Resort and donated a surrounding tract of 5,000 acres to the federal government. This land forms the majority of the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park, which constitutes approximately 60% of the tiny island's 20 square miles.
Life moves slowly on St. John, where the top speed limit is 20 mph. Winding through the island's mountains and lush forests, the roads are narrow and steep. There is no airport, and the island is accessible only by boat or ferry from St. Thomas and St. Croix, the other two main bodies of land in the U.S. Virgin Islands. White sandy beaches line every curve of the island, and 18 miles of hiking trails meander through the mountains. The stone remnants of long-abandoned sugar mills are both a striking sight and a welcome reminder that you have left the industrialized world behind.
Because most of St. John is a national park, it's easy to disappear amid the lush trees and think you are the sole person on the island. The resort's five-star Self Centre is the only building in a veritable jungle of trees overlooking Caneel and Honeymoon beaches. During a visit for a Thai massage, the morning skies open for a brief shower. The dance of the rain on the roof, the mist through the windows and the rustling of the trees quickly induce a gentle sleep. When the massage ends, the air is clean and your spirit is refreshed. Outside, through the trees, the beach awaits again. Water truly is the best way to greet each waking moment.