St. John Stories and Tips

The Maho Experience

Tropical Flower Photo, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

If you’re considering staying at Maho Bay Camps, here are some more details and handy hints on life at Maho. (If you don’t know anything about Maho yet, start by reading my accommodation entry, which should give you a basic idea of what it’s like and whether it’s for you.)

Activities

Maho can easily be the focus of your entire vacation. Visit the activities desk and you’ll find endless possibilities. There are $10 yoga sessions every weekday morning; massages can be arranged by appointment; several tour boats operate out of Maho Bay, offering plenty of snorkeling, diving, and sailing excursions; Hamilton’s Taxi offers equally excellent on-land excursions to beaches, hiking trails, restaurants, and nightlife; Maho’s art center does a variety of classes for children and adults; there are Movie Nights in the dining pavilion every other evening; the registration desk has a lending library of games; and—my favorite of all—there are glassblowing demonstrations most nights (see "Eco-Stuff" section below for more details).

Maho also has its own private beach, Little Maho; and the adjacent beaches of Big Maho to the west and Francis Bay to the east can both be easily reached either by short hiking trails or by simply swimming around the rocks at either end of Little Maho. (For more info, see my separate entries on the Maho Bay beaches and Francis Bay.) There’s a beach café at Little Maho, as well as a beach shop and equipment-rental stand where you can get just about anything you’d want—one day we rented a kayak there to take a trip out to nearby Whistling Cay.

Wildlife

Remember, you’re out in nature here—and if that sounds like a drawback to you rather than an attraction, stop reading right now! Most of Maho’s elevated walkways are named after the animals you’ll spot: Lost Donkey Walkway, Pea Hen Parkway, Lizard Lane, Crab Ramble Road, Banana Quit Cut-Off (the official bird of the Virgin Islands), Goat Trail, Tree Frog Trail, Mongoose Highway, Iguana Alley. And yes, we did see most of these during our stay—even an iguana, which was pretty exciting. What you’ll see the most of are the lizards, small anoles that I, for one, found adorable. Less adorably, there are also bugs and mosquitoes everywhere. Leaf bugs (I don’t know what they’re actually called, but they’re large green bugs that look like leaves) are ubiquitous, especially around (and in) the bathrooms at night. Another nighttime annoyance is the frogs, which make a tremendous din—if you’re a light sleeper, you might want to consider bringing earplugs. And a daytime annoyance is the small army of cats that have taken up residence at Maho and make daily rounds of the cabins and dining pavilion begging for scraps.

Eating

Maho’s open-air dining pavilion, with its sweeping view out over Francis Bay, has to be seen to be believed—and the food is really good, too. The only problem is that it’s fairly pricey: expect to pay $5-$10 for a full breakfast and $14-$22 for dinner. But we ended up eating practically all our meals there anyway, because we found that trying to cook on the propane stove and use the icebox (which in this tropical heat was able to keep the ice from melting for all of about, oh, 30 seconds) was a little more trouble than it was worth, especially considering that the food and supplies available at the camp store, though perfectly adequate, were less than thrilling. If you choose to go this route, be sure to check the expiration dates on everything—most of the food in the store is pretty fresh, but occasionally you’ll find something that’s been sitting there for quite a while.

The dining pavilion also has a bar, which has happy hour from 4:30-7:30pm in the high season and 5-6pm in the off-season. During happy hour, all drinks are a dollar off, which means $2 for a bottle of beer, $3 for draft, and $5 for a glass of wine. But the best news for all you cheapos out there is the free popcorn that they have during happy hour, which, if you abuse the privilege enough, could conceivably be your dinner. (A less radical way to save money on dinner is to split it between two people—the dinners are pretty huge, so as long as your appetites are moderate, it should be enough. You can fill up any lingering emptiness in your stomach with trips to the salad bar—you’re only supposed to fill up your salad bowl once, but come on, how are they going to keep track of that?)

Eco-Stuff

Remember, Maho bills itself as an "eco-resort," and they definitely put their money where their mouth is. There are signs everywhere reminding you not to waste water or energy. They use solar power as much as possible. The raised boardwalks, in addition to being walkways, also have the water and sewage pipes and power lines attached to their undersides so they don’t have to run along the ground and disturb animals’ habitats.

And just how will all this eco-ness affect your stay? Well, water is a big deal here, for one thing—it’s a precious resource in these parts. It’s desalinized seawater, and at Maho, it’s divided into two varieties: potable (drinkable) and non-potable (you guessed it, non-drinkable). There are only a couple of potable-water spigots in the entire camp; the main one is by the dining pavilion. Everything else—the bathroom faucets, the showers, the other water spigots—is non-potable. Every cottage is equipped with a huge jug, which you can fill up at a potable-water spigot so as to have your own supply of potable water. The good news is that there are many more non-potable water spigots scattered around the campground, and they’re fine for things like doing dishes and cooking—you can drink that water, too, of course, if you boil it first.

Maho also recycles all of its glass—and they’ve come up with a brilliant way to do it: glassblowing. The camp’s two resident glassblowers give fascinating demonstrations a few nights a week, making everything from simple mugs, bowls, vases, and plates to fancy doodads like glass fish, accompanied by the oohs and ahhs of the crowd looking on. Stopping by to watch the glassblowing was one of my favorite things to do in the evenings, even though the glassblowing hut was always swelteringly hot. And all the things that they make in the demonstrations are then sold in Maho’s art gallery—I picked up a great vase there to take back to the folks.

Other Miscellaneous Tips

1. The Maho Bay complex, with its network of raised boardwalks zigzagging all over the hillside, is easy to get lost in. They’ll give you a map when you check in—use it right then to learn the way from your cabin to key places like the dining pavilion, nearest bathroom, and registration desk.

2. Be sure to bring a flashlight. It gets very dark here, and the walkways aren’t lit, so you’ll need it to get around in the evening and at night.

3. Every cabin location has its advantages and drawbacks: view; amount of privacy; number of stairways you have to climb to reach it; proximity to the bathrooms, the dining pavilion, the beach, and the road. If any of these is particularly important to you, be sure to mention it when you make your reservations or at check-in and see if they can accommodate you.

4. There’s a free "help-yourself" center across from the registration desk. This is where departing guests can leave anything they don’t want to take back with them, and incoming guests can help themselves. There’s always plenty of pulp fiction, usually some sunscreen, and a varying selection of food items—if you’re lucky, things like peanut butter; if you’re not, stale crackers. The pickings are best at the end of the weekend, when people have just left to go back home.

5. If you don’t have a rental car, memorize the schedule for Frett’s shuttle, which runs several times a day between Maho and Cruz Bay and will drop you off or pick you up anywhere along the route. You’ll find the schedule printed on the back of the camp map they give you at check-in. There are also several places you can realistically walk to from Maho, including Cinnamon Bay, Annaberg Plantation, and Leinster Bay. However, the side road that runs up to Maho from the main road is a killer—so steep you practically need ropes and grappling hooks to climb it. If you’re on your way back to Maho on foot and you’re not in training for the Olympics, I’d suggest waiting as long it takes for someone to drive by and agree to give you a lift.

6. Have a fabulous time! There’s no other place in the world like Maho!

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