The U.S.V.I. includes four uniquely different islands; St. Croix (the largest), St. Thomas (the busiest), St. John (small, quiet and scenic).
The mix of American and Caribbean influence makes the United States Virgin Islands “America in the Caribbean“.
The local population consists of citizens from other Caribbean islands, Americans, Europeans and Hispanics. While English is the main language, you will also hear the dialects of Spanish, French-Patois and Creole.
The musical beat of the islands are a mix of calypso, reggae, steel drums, R&B and hip hop. The local bands sing songs on political and social issues, accompanied to the beat of washboard and gourd instruments.
St. Thomas is the major cruise port of the Caribbean, and the ultimate duty free shopping destination. This is the most popular tourist destination in the Virgin Islands, and offers lots of dining choices, a variety of accommodations including hotels, resorts and fine villas.
St. Thomas is legendary for its hundreds of duty free shops that line the streets of Charlotte Amalie, the capital city. In between the three main strips are side streets and alleys filled with dozens and dozens of shops where you can literally “shop til you drop“. U.S. citizens are allowed $1200 in duty free shopping, and you can send gifts home to yourself, family or friends with no duty or tax.
St. Thomas is an extremely hilly island with little flat land. From a distance the hillsides are covered with bright, colorful flowers. Venturing into the hillside you find yourself surrounded by a subtropical forest of palms, mangrove swamps, and mango, papaya, breadfruit and coconut trees.
Two of the best hilltop views on the island are found at Drake’s Seat, which offers a panoramic view of the nearby islands, and another favorite viewing spot is St. Peter Mountain. Since there is little flat land on the island, just about every turn offers another fantastic view. And, the Skyride to Paradise Point, a modern aerial cable car, is your ride to the best sightseeing in the Virgin Islands. The trip is 7 minutes one-way and takes you 700 feet above sea level.
After sightseeing, stop for lunch in Frenchtown. This unique town is located about a half-mile from Charlotte Amalie. This area is popular with locals and tourists alike, and is home to many great restaurants and bars. Frenchtown is home to the descendants of immigrants from the French island of St. Barthelemy.
Aside from beautiful beaches, awesome views from the hills, first class shopping, and fine dining, the climate in St. Thomas is always a constant. The temperature never drops below 70 degrees, and never gets warmer than 95 degrees. Here you’ll find perpetual sunshine, cooling trade winds and rain showers that last only a few minutes.
Charlotte Amalie boasts a beautiful natural harbor, and there are many protected bays, which make this a perfect destination for beach lovers. St. Thomas offers some of the finest beaches which include Morningstar Beach, Coki Beach, Bluebeard’s Beach, Hull Bay, Limetree Beach, Magens Bay, Sapphire Beach and Vessup Bay. Two of my favorite beaches are Magens Bay and Sapphire Beach. Magens Bay is protected by reefs, and offers great swimming, while Sapphire Beach offers wonderful views of St. John and the surrounding islands.
Moving on to the largest island, St Croix, you will find the pace a bit slower than St. Thomas. Two major towns, Christiansted and Frederiksted offer their own distinctive style with Danish history and architecture. Both towns offer quaint, little shops where you can find deals on perfumes, china, crystal and jewelry. Shopping on St Croix is not as extensive as in the St Thomas shopping district, but it is less crowded and you can find many unique items to purchase.
St. Croix also has a fine array of hotels, resorts, villas, fine dining and expansive beaches. Sandy Point, the largest beach in the U.S. Virgin Islands is a protected reserve. The waters are shallow and calm, and this is a nesting spot for sea turtles. There are many other fine beaches with protected coves, which make this island a hit with families and honeymooners.
Another favorite spot for visitors to St. Croix is a trip to the National Park at Buck Island. This island is home to Turtle Beach, voted one of the best beaches in the world by National Geographic. Buck Island is a world class diving site, with a unique underway trail. Full and half day trips are available.
St John, the smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands offers limited accommodations, restaurants and nightlife. What St. John does offer is peace and quiet in the perfect Caribbean tropical paradise.
Life is very laid back, and the locals are extremely friendly, always willing to engage in conversation and provide directions and information. If you’re looking for an active nightlife, this may not be the ideal destination. There are about four small bars on the island, and after dinner the favorite island activity is heading to bed.
Two thirds of St. John is a 7,000 acre U.S. National Park. The geography of the island is a rocky coastline, overlooking crescent shaped bays, and white sand beaches. Every beach is pristine with turquoise waters, secluded emerald cays, and panoramic views. Trunk Bay is the most popular beach, and hands down one of the best in the world. If you think that’s an exaggeration, “Google” “Trunk Bay“, and see for yourself.
For the more adventuresome, there are miles of hiking trails, and St. John offers some of the best diving and snorkeling in the Caribbean. The turquoise waters are teaming with hundreds of rainbow colored fish and coral.
While shopping on St John is limited compared to the two other islands, shoppers will find distinctive quality items, and unique local crafts not found in St Thomas or St Croix.
Cruz Bay is the main town, with gift shops, well stocked grocery stores, dive centers and jeep rental services. There are only two luxury hotels on the island, along with expensive villas. For the budget conscious, there are more offering in the eco-resort and campgrounds in the National Park.
Island hopping is quite popular for visitors to the Virgin Islands. Traveling between St. Thomas and St John can be easily done by a 20 minute ferry ride. The distance between St Thomas and St Croix is far greater, and travel can be arranged by private boat charter or seaplane. The British Virgin Islands can be reached from St. Thomas by ferry or small plane. And, the island of Puerto Rico is only 50 miles away.