Luxury Travel: Nature’s Calling at Caneel Bay

by Catherine Trifiletti

St. John’s Caneel Bay celebrates 60 years of hosting guests who come as vacationers and leave as family, enriched by a deep appreciation of nature’s awe-inspiring beauty.

Caneel Bay Resort (Courtesy of Caneel Bay)

ART OF RELAXATION: “Presence is beauty,” Suki calmly reminds her four yoga students after an early morning session overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

One look at the turquoise ombré waters rustling under a breeze and her point is made.

Being present is an ongoing battle in the frenetic chaos of a digital age that keeps people connected 24/7, so much so that there is even an app reminding its users to take a deep breath, look around and absorb the moment. Caneel Bay (from $599/ night) specializes in these moments, leaving its guests at the whim of nature’s bounty. It’s a place where worries give way to relaxation during a peaceful morning walk among dancing palms or a rum- glazed view of the starry night sky.

Guests are welcomed with a bottle of Cruzan Rum and a note from the property’s managing director with one simple request: “Please take a few moments to embrace the beauty surrounding you.” It is an easy task, made easier by Caneel’s seven pristine, private white sand beaches.

NATURAL HAVEN: In the late ’50s, environmentalist Laurance S. Rockefeller donated more than 5,000 acres of land on St. John to the National Park Service with the caveat that it stay free from development. His commitment to the preservation of this U.S.Virgin Island has ensured that 60 percent of the land remains protected.

With the same dedication, Rockefeller opened Caneel Bay in 1956 as an ecological property that would highlight the beauty of the national park rather than distract from it.The result is a quiet, unspoiled, 170 acre preserve where nature is king. His original vision for Caneel has been tirelessly cared for by a dedicated team that maintains the grounds’ effortless appeal. Impossibly green manicured lawns teem with life, from flora varietals to wandering iguana, mongoose and deer.

But there is no greater example of nature’s precedence than the donkey herd that roams free through the sprawling property. Donkeys were imported in the 18th century to assist Dutch sugar cane operations and remained long after the colonizers left.The resort has since welcomed them as a part of the Caneel family.

Land animals aside, the property’s true stars can be found under the sea.Turtles, rays and a dizzying array of colorful fish and coral make each underwater excursion more exciting than the last. Every guest at Caneel is offered snorkeling gear to keep during their stay.

UNINTIMIDATING LUXURY: Accommodations are unassuming, not meant to compete with the natural beauty of the grounds. Furthering its retro appeal, none of the 166 rooms, currently undergoing renovations, have televisions or telephones. The cuisine at Caneel mirrors the simplistic nature of Rockefeller’s vision – fresh ingredients with a nod to tradition.There is a feeling on the property that Rockefeller’s spirit and zest for the natural world is still supremely present. As for the stresses of life, Caneel Bay gives you every reason to let them all go.

Something for everyone:


Sunset boat rides or intimate dinners at ZoZo’s Ristorante on the property’s sugar mill ruins ensure unencumbered quality time.

(Photo by Catherine Trifiletti)


Afternoon snorkeling at the aptly-named Turtle Bay Beach or on-demand frozen cocktails and a float at Scott’s Beach make for a beachcomber’s paradise.

(Photo by Catherine Trifiletti)


Yoga and pilates at the property’s fitness studio plus a full service dive center that offers guided eco tours and scuba excursions are the perfect ways to stay active.

(Photo by Catherine Trifiletti)


United offers nonstop flights to St. Thomas, where Caneel Bay’s ferry service awaits visitors for the short boat ride to the property on St. John, accessible only by boat.

This article appeared in the March 2017 issue of Washington Life. 

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