The U.S. Virgin Islands (also called the American Virgin Islands) are a group of Islands in the Caribbean that are an insular area of the United States. An insular area refers to a territory that belongs to the United States but is not part of the 50 states or the special District of Columbia, Washington D.C. The islands are geographically part of the Virgin Islands archipelago and are amongst the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles.
The Islands consist of the main islands of Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas, plus many other surrounding minor islands. The total land area of the territory is approximately twice the size of Washington, D.C. So it’s not that big. Consequently, you can enjoy the entire island during a 5-day vacation trip.
The population is a little over 100,000. Most citizens are of Afro-Caribbean origin. Tourism is the primary economic activity. In addition, there is a significant rum manufacturing sector.
The U.S. Virgin Islands is about 40 miles east of Puerto Rico and immediately west of the British Virgin Islands. They share the Virgin Islands Archipelago with the Puerto Rican Virgin Islands of Vieques and Culebra and the British Virgin Islands.
Things to Do in US Virgin Islands
The U.S. Virgin Islands are known for their white sand beaches, including Magens Bay and Trunk Bay. Also, strategic harbors including Charlotte Amalie and Christiansted are a hallmark of the islands. Most of the islands, including Saint Thomas, are volcanic in origin and have a hilly terrain. It’s a beautiful land, no less than a small paradise waiting to be shared and enjoyed.
Colorful colonial facades are the main feature of the local architecture. The earliest fortification in the US Virgin Islands is Blackbeard’s Castle. Other local attractions include Fort Christian, built in 1672, the Coral World Observatory, the Frederick Lutheran Church, Government House on Government Hill, Venus Pillar on Magnolia Hill, and Bluebeard’s Tower.
For a nice sip of rum, visit Christiansted, one of the two major towns on the country’s biggest island St. Croix. On West Airport Road, you will find the Cruz Rum Distillery, where you can taste the best island’s rum. Also, Croix Aquarium and St. George Village Botanical Gardens are worth a visit.
Visitors of the US Virgin Islands can rent a sailing boat or a powerboat, with or without a skipper. Kayaking tours through Mangrove Lagoon and St. Thomas Marine Sanctuary will give you an opportunity to watch egrets, herons, and other representatives of marine life. Also, boat races take place all year round.
US Virgin Islands are one of the most popular destinations for divers, due to its warm clear waters, rich marine life, and fascinating coral reefs. Some of the best diving spots include Andreas Reef, Carval Rock, Buck Island National Monument, and Submarine Alley.
The North Drop is the best-known spot to fish for white and blue marlin, sailfish and wahoo. Fishing trips with experienced skippers are widely available for booking. However, locals strongly encourage the “catch-and-release” way of fishing, to preserve the fish population.
St. John is the most unspoiled island, regarding tourist crowds. Two-thirds of the island is occupied by deep valleys. Also, most of its shoreline is occupied by the Virgin Islands National Park. Cruz Bay offers fabulous beaches, excellent diving opportunities, a laidback vibe, and a nice sight of local life.
The second largest cosmopolitan area in the US Virgin Islands, St. Thomas offers great shopping opportunities. Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the area, has imported goods from all over the world, a fabulous shopping center and numerous stores tucked into remodeled Danish warehouses, which line the picturesque Main Street on both sides.
Just a 10km-wide channel separates Christiansted from the small Island of Buck. There is one of the world’s most impressive marine gardens, situated offshore, which is maintained by the National Park Service as an underwater protected reef.
When to Go
The United States Virgin Islands have a tropical climate, with little seasonal change throughout the year. Concentrated rainfall occurs during the high sun period, from May to October. Meanwhile, in the winter the northeast trade winds prevail. Summer and winter high temperatures differ by 5 °F or less on average. Thus, the best time to visit is August to October.
What to Wear
You will need light clothes all year round. However, an umbrella or a raincoat will sometimes prove useful.
The official language is English. However, Spanish and Creole are also widely spoken.
The currency in use is the US Dollar. Most resorts, hotels, and restaurants accept credit cards. Also, ATMs are available in major towns on all three islands.
Local SIM Card & Free WiFi
The main mobile providers on the islands are AT&T and Sprint. However, it can be a trouble to find a local SIM card. So, if you are not planning to stay for a long time, choose roaming service instead. Also, be careful on St. John, because your phone can accidentally pick up British Virgin Islands connection, and you will be charged for roaming. On the other hand, you can dial most US numbers, including toll-free numbers, directly from the islands.
Wi-Fi connection is widely available throughout the country. Most accommodations provide their guests with Internet connection for free in public areas, although not so often inside rooms. So do most restaurants and bars in major towns. Internet cafes are also plentiful.
The predominant religion is Christianity, mainly Protestantism.
The residents of the US Virgin Islands are very friendly and helpful. Also, their life is quite relaxed. During business meetings, politeness and courtesy are expected. The common form of greeting is shaking hands. During most occasions, casual dressing is fine. However, on some occasions, formal clothing is obligatory.
Top-end restaurants offer various cuisines, from French and Italian to Chinese. The number of eating facilities on the islands is growing rapidly. Mostly, they offer seafood, burgers, and steaks. A 10% – 15% service charge is either included in the bill or expected as a tip. Local specialties include fresh fish and lobsters, kallaloo, sauce, and fungi. The main local drink is Cruzan Rum.
Getting around the islands is possible by ferries, which leave from Charlotte Amalie and Red Hook Dock on St. Thomas to Cruz Bay on St. John. However, there are no regular ferries to St. Croix. Airplanes don’t fly between the islands. For moving around on the island, renting a car would be the best option. Or take a taxi if you don’t drive.
Roads between main towns are in good condition.
Renting vs. Bus, Train, Taxi
Taxis are available on all the islands. They follow standard routes between various points, and the fares are standard as well. Also, sharing taxis is a common practice. If you want to hire a car, you can do it at the airports and in the main towns on St Croix, St John, and St Thomas. Jeeps or mini-mokes are popular modes of travel.
Right or Left Driving
Cars drive on the left side of the road.
US Virgin Islands Trip Cost
US Virgin Islands is not the cheapest destination. Even a space in a campsite or a cheap room in a guesthouse will cost a minimum of US$30. The public bus is US$5, and a taxi will cost up to US$30. A meal in a budget restaurant will cost US$10 – US$20.
On the other hand, dinner in a better restaurant will be around US$25 – US$75. Double room in a hotel will cost US$150 – US$250 and a rental car – a minimum of US$70.
If you can afford a top-end vacation, be prepared to pay a minimum of US$300 for a room in a fancy resort. A three-course meal in a top restaurant will cost you US$60 – US$100.
As for entertainment, a sailing day trip will cost US$120. And a kayaking tour will be US$50 – US$60.
Electricity & Plug Type
How to Reach
Airlines, which operate flights to the US Virgin Islands, are American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, Spirit, and United. A flight from New York takes approximately 4 hours, from London – 22 hours.
Getting by boat to the US Virgin Islands is possible only from the British Virgin Islands. Ferries regularly sail to St. Thomas and St. John. Main ports are Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, Frederiksted on St. Croix, Cruz Bay on St. John, and Christiansted on St. Croix.
Where to Stay
On the US Virgin Islands, you will never feel the lack of hotels to stay in. The density of accommodation facilities for a mile here is, probably, the highest in the Caribbean. Prices, of course, vary greatly, from budget variants to top luxury suits. On St. John and St. Thomas, there is also a variety of guest houses and villas, available for rent. By the way, the islands’ hotel association has a counter at the airport and assists visitors with hotel reservations.
There are two main campsites on US Virgin Islands, and they are both situated on St. John. One of them, Cinnamon Bay Camp is located in St. John National Park. Bare plots, plots with tents and cottages are available for rent, for a maximum stay of two weeks. The other one is located at Maho Bay, right next to a beautiful beach. Both sites are very popular, so you should book in advance.
How Safe Is US Virgin Islands
Generally, the US Virgin Islands are considered a safe travel destination. As everywhere, before visiting, you need to have vaccinations against the following disease: tetanus, hepatitis A, and diphtheria. Vaccinations against tuberculosis and hepatitis B are also sometimes advised.
You need to get travel insurance when going to the US Virgin Islands because medical costs in the country are very high. On the other hand, they are of rather high standards. Hospitals are available on St. Croix and St. Thomas. And a clinic is located on St. John.
Mains water is generally safe to drink. However, water precautions should be taken, when you are outside of the main centers. Milk and dairy products are safe, as well as meat, poultry, seafood, fruit, and vegetables.
September 13, 2016 2:42 pm