Exploring the Virgin Islands

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St. Thomas beach in US Virgin Islands

Beach in St Thomas, Virgin Islands

The United States Virgin Islands are a group of islands East of Puerto Rico and comprising part of the Virgin Islands archipelago. There are three main islands – Saint John, Saint Croix and Saint Thomas -surrounded by smaller and minor islands. Whilst they are not technically part of the US proper, they are governed by the United States and as such travelling to them is the same as visiting any of the US states – if you’re a US citizen it’s essentially the same as taking a domestic flight. This also means that they use US Dollars and English (albeit with a local dialect) is the official language, making them generally relatively accessible Caribbean islands for English speakers and US citizens in particular.

St. Croix

Caribbean Sea

Caribbean Sea

St. Croix is the largest and most southerly of the three main islands US Virgin Islands. It is also fairly heavily populated with much of the island, especially the south western area where the airport and harbour are located, built up. The North and Eastern tip of the island are more mountainous and less populated. There are several protected historic and wildlife areas on the island including the Salt River Bay National Park on the North of the island, Christiansted National Historic Site and Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge.

Things to do

  • St. Croix is a popular scuba diving and snorkelling destination, with one of the largest living reefs in the Caribbean and five wrecks in close proximity to each other.
  • The Christiansted National Historic Site preserves five historic colonial buildings from the Dutch settlement on St. Croix including Fort Christiansvaern, two churches, a warehouse and the customs house.
  • Like the Christiansted National Historic Site, the Whim Plantation Museum is a monument to the days when St Croix was a prosperous centre of Caribbean trade and production. Ruined sugar mills and Scottish steam engines dot this sugar plantation with a beautifully restored house at its centre.
  • Seafood is, predictably, prominent on the menu in St. Croix and the island is rich with excellent restaurants with marina and beach views as well as those more hard-to-find establishments. In April, St. Croix restaurants celebrate the “A Taste of St Croix” event where they showcase the best the islands cuisine has to offer.
  • St. Croix is host to a variety of festivals throughout the year including the Crucian Christmas Festival (late Dec – early Jan) and the Agricultural and Food Fair (February). There is also a monthly “Sunset Jazz” festival and a Mardi Croix and dog parade the Saturday before Mardi Gras each year.

St. Thomas

Petersborg Peninsula, St Thomas

Petersborg Peninsula, St Thomas

Saint Thomas is the second largest of the US Virgin Islands and home to over 48% of the USVI population. Similarly to St. Croix, the main island is relatively urbanised and has two main cities, Charlotte Amalie and Red Hook. It is considered the most cosmopolitan of the three main islands although it is also possesses several smaller, lightly or completely unpopulated satellite islands.

Things to do

  • Shopping is probably high on the agenda for visitors to St. Thomas, with no direct duty or tax on purchases and an abundance of stores, boutiques and kiosks.
  • A skyride takes you to Paradise Point, 700 feet above sea level and boasting excellent views of the island.
  • Blackbeard’s Castle is a watchtower built to protect Charlotte Amalie’s harbour and is located at the highest point on Government Hill. Originally named Skytsborg Tower by the Danes, it was renamed after the infamous English Pirate, Edward Teach aka Blackbeard who supposedly used it himself at some point during his career.
  • Magens Bay is one of the more popular beaches on St. Thomas, boasting nearly ¾ mile of white sandy beach sheltered by a deep bay.

St. John

Reef Bay beach

Reef Bay beach

Saint John is the least populated of the three main United States Virgin Islands, with less than 3,000 inhabitants. Likewise, it is lightly developed with over 60% of the island reserved as an untouched national park. There’s no airport on St. John and so the most direct way to get there is to fly in to St. Thomas and take a boat across. It’s well worth the trip though, as the most beautiful of the islands and a real escape.

Things to do

  • St. John has a wealth of beautiful and secluded beaches all around the island. Practically the entire coastline is a network of bays offering sheltered, calm water skirted by soft white sand beaches. Perhaps the best of them is Trunk Bay which has won a host of honours and awards as one of the best beaches in the world.
  • The Reef Bay Trail through the national park rewards hikers with a descent through shady forests containing sugar estate ruins as well as remarkable ancient petroglyph rock carvings.
  • The Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins, located in the National Park, take you back to when St. John was part of the booming sugar trade, with ruins of the magnificent windmill and cultural demonstrations.

This article was written by Simply Caribe for the HomeAway blog. Simply Caribe specialises in holiday rentals in the Caribbean islands.

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Guest AuthorExploring the Virgin Islands

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