US Virgin Islands — Overview
In 1917, the US Virgin Islands officially became United States territories, 50 years after their previous owner, Denmark, first offered to sell the islands to the United States in 1867. Today, the US Virgin Islands have become the top destination for United States citizens wanting an exotic Caribbean vacation getaway without needing a passport.
The largest, most famous, and most frequently visited of the over 80 US Virgin Islands are St John, St Thomas, and St Croix. St Croix is situated several miles south of St Thomas and St John. Sixty percent of St John’s landmass belongs to the Virgin Islands National Park, which includes the desert Ram Head and forested Reef Bay trails. St John’s is also surrounded by the constantly changing Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument. St John’s Trunk Bay Beach, most famous for its underwater snorkeling trail, and Turtle Beach on tiny Buck Island are consistently ranked among the world’s most beautiful beaches.
The St Thomas capital of Charlotte Amalie contains the liveliest nightlife, finest restaurants, and largest collection of duty-free shops in the US Virgin Islands. St Croix’s Salt River Bay and historic capital of Christiansted are the only known sights Christopher Columbus saw on current United States territory during his 1493 New World voyages. Although many US Virgin Islands visitors never venture away from the three main islands, tiny Bucks Island is worth a daytrip for its outstanding scuba diving, relaxing hiking trails, and breathtakingly beautiful Turtle Beach.
Most St Croix hotels are either modern North Shore beach resorts or picturesque Christiansted waterfront inns. Most St Thomas accommodations are situated in either Charlotte Amalie or the East End’s many beaches. St John contains a more limited, but more intimate, number of hotel rooms. Many former sugar plantations have been converted into self-catering condo complexes. Accommodation prices on all three major US Virgin Islands plummet between 25 and 50 percent during the low summer rainy season.
St Thomas’ Cyril E King Airport and St Croix’s Henry E Rohlsen Airport are the two main US Virgin Islands air gateways. There is no airport on St John’s, which can only be reached by boat. Ferries, cruise ships, and sailboats are also the most popular ways to travel between not only the three main US Virgin Islands, but also smaller islands such as Bucks Island and Water Island. Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands are also easy to reach by US Virgin Islands ferries.
Visitors not intimidated by driving on the left side of the road behind steering wheels placed on the left side of vehicles can easily rent cars on all three main US Virgin Islands. Large taxi buses, many of which are open air safari vehicles where up to 25 passengers are transported on open truck beds, are the most popular public land transportation throughout the US Virgin Islands. The smaller Water and Bucks islands can be easily explored by foot or bicycle.
- Charter a bareboat or fully crewed private sailboat to navigate the Sir Francis Drake Channel
- Attempt to catch a giant blue marlin and add to the 20 world sports fishing records set on the US Virgin Islands during the last 25 years
- Explore Trunk Bay Beach’s legendary underwater snorkeling trail
- Cook over an open flame and reliving 17th century Danish West Indies sugar plantation life near the ruins of Annaberg
- Take the Atlantic Ocean’s deepest scuba diving plunge beneath the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument
- Follow Christopher Columbus’ footsteps at the Christiansted National Historic Site and Salt River Bay
- Take advantage of the Caribbean’s most generous duty-free limits and deepest discounts at the shops housed within former pirate warehouses along Charlotte Amalie’s Dronningens Gade
- Soar above Charlotte Amalie’s skies aboard the St Thomas Skyride