Coral Bay’s motto is “Successfully avoiding progress since forever!” and they mean it. Welcome to a small corner of the world where folks would die for one another, yet they don’t know each other’s real names because everyone goes by a nickname.
Coral Bay will have you wondering where the conveniences are hidden. They certainly aren’t anywhere to be seen. Regardless, this town has a pull that is indescribable and attracts more and more people every year.
Surely folks can’t live like this – scarce fresh produce, undependable electricity, government corruption and Mother Nature unleashing hurricanes nearly every year. How do the residents cope? They do, and they love it.
Favorite Coral Bay eateries like Skinny Legs promise not amazing, but “Pretty ok food” and “Same day service”. This tiny hamlet is filled with unique artists, real deal salty sailors who adore the sea more than anything on earth, and the quirkiest characters the world has to offer. To visit Coral Bay is to visit one of the last strongholds of environmental care and diverse lifestyles.
Coral Bay will leave you wondering, “Hmm… could I make it here?” because you won’t want to leave!
To get the real deal Coral Bay experience, try some of my favorite things to do:
This destination is underrated, rarely visited, and so worth seeking out. The trails are unmaintained so watch for thorny growth such as the ensnaring catch and keep. There are two parts of Fortsberg – the battery and the fort. The battery is lower and more easily accessible. Getting to the actual fort is a little more of a challenge but well worth it.
At the battery, cannons are positioned in every sea facing direction. It’s amazing to see how the Danish secured the seafront with the gun’s spacing. Under the large trees you can easily imagine guards taking a break under their shade many years ago. The views looking out from the battery are astounding beaten only by the fort’s views above.
The fort has a well preserved cookstove and officer’s quarters. This is the site of the 1733 Slave Rebellion which was one of the most successful in history and lasted six months. In the days of sugar plantations, slavery was legal here. The treatment of the slaves on St. John was some of the worst and inhumane anywhere in the world. In 1733 a group of slaves went up to the door at Fortsberg under the ruse of delivering firewood. They had knives hidden in the wood and overtook the guards, secured their muskets, then worked on securing the rest of the fort. They fired off a single shot from a cannon to signal the waiting fighters and the rebellion was in full swing. For six months the Danish could not regain control of the island. Only after assistance from the French did they retake control.
2. Hansen Bay
Far from the ferry dock and the hustle and bustle of Cruz Bay, you will find a pristine, locally loved oasis known as Hansen Bay.
A fact that is not well known about the beaches of St. John is how they are owned. Outside of the National Park, all the coastlines of St. John are public. It is access to these stunning shorelines which is regulated and restricted. At the East End’s Hansen Bay, the two ladies who own the property leading up to the shoreline have made a strong and noticed commitment to making Hansen Bay a beach which can be loved and enjoyed by all.
For a donation to their operation and a small fee of $2.50 to park, you are welcome to enjoy the beach, picnic tables, and a variety of water sports and toys. They often have cookouts to be enjoyed by all. This is one of the only beaches on St. John which allows dogs! While out this way, take the drive along the East End Road for some really spectacular views!
3. Hurricane Hole
Hurricane Hole is one of those places that looks exactly as you imagined paradise to be. Sparkling teal waters give way to a thriving coastline which is unique to the Hole. The main parts of the coastline are filled with mangroves and offer some of the most stunning underwater life you have ever seen. The nursery environment of the mangroves is one that should not be missed. See everything from baby lobsters, to neon corals which only grow in shadows, to small schools of fish enjoying the protection of the mangroves. Among the mangrove shorelines, you will find small, hidden white sandy beaches that are only accessible by boat.
Looking for more than snorkeling? How about the history of this beautiful harbor? In the 1700s Hurricane Hole hosted a real pirate swap meet and has a structure from the era still standing. Find this special historical spot and travel back in time to picture what deals took place and imagine gorgeous square riggers anchored in the harbor.
In Water Creek search for the cannon pointing straight up. The cannon was used as a careening post for many years. Here is where crews took their boats through an extensive maintenance process to protect the boat’s bottom. Lines would be tied along shore and the boat would be laid over on its side for scraping, repair, and treatment of the hull.
Hurricane Hole has everything from old wrecks, stunning waters, and a unique snorkeling experiences while offering inspiring views of the south side and the sea. But be careful, this location is a national monument and is one of the most regulated waters on St. John.
4. Boat Day
Tour Coral Bay’s bays and beaches by private charter boat to find secluded, peaceful beaches with vibrant, undamaged reefs. To make a boat day more affordable, split the trip with some new found travel companions. A day on a boat with an experienced captain will deliver a truly unique experience. For example, visit the cays of Leduck or Flanagan. Both of these uninhabited islands are within three miles of Coral Bay and have lively reefs full of color and diversity.
In addition to the cays, much of the coastline of Coral Bay is only accessible by boat. Remoteness gives these locations another ounce of preservation which is seen in their biodiversity. Tuck around East End Point into Newfound Bay to discover its beautiful mid-cut reef guarding a stunning lagoon with colors of unimaginable hues.
The best thing about a charter (usually $650-$700 for a full day on a private boat) is the ability to choose your day’s priorities. There are a wide range of charter boats out of St. John. How to choose? Look at obvious things like price and availability, but also the longevity of the company and your captain’s experience. Trust a business that has been around for years while retaining captains with extensive knowledge.
There are other beaches and islands beyond Newfound Bay and the cays that I’ve mentioned, but I can’t tell you every single secret, right? Instead, contact me to book a boat trip with one of the charters I run. I am happy to be your guide! Check out her relaxing picnic boat tour on Serena Sea or a personalized power cat tour on Flyaway Charters!
About Leah Randall
I have been going back and forth to this beloved rock since 2004. When my Dad bought a scuba diving charter business in 2013, I made my move from off-island-local to for-real-local. Just as everyone does down here, I dabble in many things.