Caribbean Travel and Life Magazine lists Reef Bay Hiking Trail on St. John as one of the 10 best hikes in the Caribbean. This 2.5 mile hike features not only a variety of tropical plants and animals and several ruins of 17th Century sugarcane plantation buildings and estates, it also features Petroglyphs believed to have been made by the Taino Indians 500 years prior to Christopher Columbus’ visit to the Virgin Islands.
The Reef Bay Trail adventure starts on the Centerline Road, 4.9 miles east of the Cruz Bay. From there, go down some steps to the trailhead kiosk and officially begin your hike. The National Park signs, arranged at key locations, make navigation easy and provide information about plant life, animal life and the incredible ruins you’re going to see.
You’re surrounded by a variety of huge trees that populate the sub-tropical forest even before you reach Josie Gut Plantation Ruins – half a mile from the Centerline Road. Some of the trees that stand out are the Indian Locust Trees, Silk cotton trees, Mammee Apples and Mangos. The second ruin you’ll come to is the Estate Par Force, which was built in the 1930’s and was owned by Anna Marsh, who cultivated fruit trees and raised cattle.
About halfway down the trail, you’ll come to a fork that leads to the Petroglyphs. This trail follows remnants of an old wall and ends in a freshwater pool surrounded by large, smooth rocks bearing the carved symbols and drawings. The site of the petroglyphs itself is regarded by the pre-Columbian Taino Indians to be sacred and ritualistic for the spirits and their ancestors.
Another trail, not far from the entry of the Petroglyph’s trail, leads to another estate ruin – the Great House. Although there’s not much left of the building except for massive stone walls, there’s a patio with lush tropical foliage by the pillars that’s a great setting for a romantic picnic or even a wedding.
The last ruin on the trail is the Reef Sugar Mill. This well preserved ruins helps you picture a bustling sugar mill in its heyday. Simple but stunning Dutch architecture and inspect the huge steam engine used to squeeze juices out of the sugarcanes. An evaporation room with huge cauldrons gives insight to the traditional process of refining sugar juice.
Just a short and easy hike downhill from the Reef Sugar Mill, you’ll find yourself on the Southern shores of St. John – at Genti Bay beach. Dig your feet into soft white sand, take a dip, or snorkel with the fish, turtles and rays that call the sea grass patches home.
The return trip on Reef Bay Trail is the challenge—its pretty much all uphill. Be sure to bring water and a camera to capture the amazing scenery on this incredible trail.