us virgin islands travel guide

U.S. Virgin Islands Travel Guide

Are you dreaming of an easy, breezy tropical escape? Consider the U.S. Virgin Islands, also known as America’s paradise.

The U.S. Virgin Islands are ideal destinations if you want to travel somewhere that feels exotic but offers all the conveniences of home. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, you’ll enjoy Caribbean allure, such as beautiful beaches, neon-blue water and volcano-formed terrain. And, you won’t need a passport, foreign currency or new language skills to explore these islands.

It’s also simple to get there. With two major airports, a bustling cruise port and plenty of places for smaller ships to dock, the U.S. Virgin Islands are closer than you think.

If you’re ready to learn more, this vacation travel guide shows you where to go, what to do and tips for planning your U.S. Virgin Islands getaway.

list of virgin islands

Table of Contents

What Are the U.S. Virgin Islands?

The U.S. Virgin Islands is a group of islands situated between Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands. During the 17th century, the English and Danish split ownership of the territory. In the 19th century, the Danish portion experienced economic decline, and the United States eventually purchased it in 1917. This U.S. territory consists of four main islands.

1. St. Croix

St. Croix is the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands. On St. Croix, you’ll find Mount Eagle, standing 1,088 feet tall, and diverse terrain with lush vegetation to the west and dry, rocky landscapes to the east. The island’s center holds stunning white beaches — perfect for lazing in the sun.

Unlike St. Thomas and St. John, which have volcanic origins, St. Croix grew out of a coral reef. This island is also less crowded than bustling St. Thomas and boasts a blossoming food scene and historical attractions.

2. St. Thomas

St. Thomas, also called Rock City after its hilly terrain, is home to the territory’s capital — Charlotte Amalie. This island is the region’s hub for travelers and where you’ll find plentiful restaurants, high-end shops, popular attractions and gorgeous beaches. It’s also an ideal spot to start a sailing trip or a deep-sea fishing excursion.

3. Saint John

St. John is one of the smaller islands and about a 20-minute ferry ride from St. Thomas. More than two-thirds of the island is the Virgin Islands National Park, where you’ll find notable prehistoric sites, sugar factory ruins and powdery white beaches. St. John is ideal for escaping crowds and immersing yourself in nature. 

4. Water Island

Water Island is a tiny, mainly residential island located a short ferry ride away from St. Thomas. Water Island features unspoiled beauty, picture-perfect views and laid-back vibes. Here, you can rent a golf cart and explore paradise at your pace.

The territory also contains dozens of smaller islands, and most are uninhabited. So, if you want to spend a day island-hopping and finding remote, hidden cays to call your own, you can do that, too.

virgin islands guide

 

What to Do in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Each island offers a distinct personality to suit travelers with varying interests. Whether you love to learn about colonial history, sample local cuisines or snap photos of tranquil landscapes, you’ll find it all in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Here are ideas to launch your trip planning.

Sample Local Fare

The U.S. Virgin Islands abound with opportunities to surprise your taste buds. The cuisine is a fusion of cultures, influenced by African, European and American palates.

If you’re visiting St. Thomas, head to Red Hook on the island’s east side, where you’ll find an array of lively bars and restaurants. You’ll have opportunities to taste craft cocktails and fresh, locally caught seafood. In St. Croix, eat like a local and choose johnnycakes, conch fritters, callaloo or meat-stuffed roti. Save room for vanilla ice cream topped with homemade preserves.

To try an iconic concoction, fill your glass with a banana daiquiri — a sweet and refreshing banana-and-rum cocktail. You can visit the home of this famous beverage at Mountain Top, an establishment perched on the tallest peak in St. Thomas. Here, you can enjoy breathtaking Caribbean views alongside your fruity drink. 

Hike the Day Away

If you love getting lost in nature, St. John will meet your needs. Here, you can visit Virgin Islands National Park, which is a must-do activity for hikers. The park offers over 20 trails, including boardwalks twisting through ruins.

Reef Bay Trail takes visitors to petroglyphs and a former sugar mill. Ram Head Trail promises stunning views, while the Francis Bay Trail, which meanders around a salt pond, is ideal for bird-watching. Yawzi Point Trail is an easy hike worth investigating for its colonial ruins and access to small, rocky beaches.

To fill your day with hiking and history in St. Thomas, consider visiting Hassel Island. Situated in the Charlotte Amalie harbor, the island hosts unique military ruins and interpretive trails. While there, keep your eyes peeled for tortoises and iguanas.

Explore Underwater Worlds

There’s plenty to see offshore in the Virgin Islands’ warm, clear waters. You might start at the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, located next to Virgin Island National Park in St. John. This area protects 12,708 acres of submerged marine habitat and surrounding mangrove forests. Here, you can view colorful marine life residing in gnarled mangrove roots. 

From the coast of St. Croix, you might visit Buck Island Reef National Monument, which is the image of Caribbean paradise. Buck Island has an essential beach for hawksbill sea turtles and provides a haven for migratory birds. Elkhorn coral surrounds it, and you’re welcome to snorkel or dive among the many plants and animals that call the reef home.

On St. Thomas, you might visit Coral World Ocean Park – one of the island’s top attractions. This park could be your top choice if you want to get in the water with sea mammals and have up-close encounters. Here, you can swim with dolphins, sea lions and sharks or explore the ocean floor via an underwater trail surrounded by a coral reef.

Treat Yourself to Retail Therapy

St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix all offer unique opportunities to shop and find one-of-a-kind souvenirs. For a luxurious, high-end shopping experience, head to St. Thomas, where you’ll find jewelry, watches, perfumes and china at discount prices. When you need a break from browsing fine jewelry, make your way to Rothschild Francis Market Square, and pick up fresh, local fruit, like papayas and mangoes.

On the island of St. Croix, Christiansted and Frederiksted are the places to go shopping. You’ll find smaller boutiques selling handicrafts, art and locally-made jewelry.

St.John has treats for shoppers, too, found in Cruz Bay. Here, you can look for handmade jewelry, baskets, bowls, ceramics and other pieces of art. Sample rum, chocolate or wine as you shop and relish a day of self-pampering.

Absorb History

Do vacations feel incomplete without a dose of history? The U.S. Virgin Islands are rich with historical attractions and hidden gems to add context to your journey. For example, you might visit Fort Christian, a National Historic Landmark located in Charlotte Amalie. The fort, built during the 17th century, was once a military structure and police station. You can view exhibits displaying the Islands’ past, including art and furniture. 

In St. Croix, take a self-guided tour of the Christiansted National Historic Site. The site is an urban park containing several colonial structures such as Fort Christiansvaern, the Scale House and the Danish Custom House. Here, you can explore seven acres and get a feel for life in St. Croix’s colonial days. While you’re there, enjoy a picnic and views of the vivid blue sea.

Be a Beach Bum

If you’re craving sunshine, sand and a warm, salty breeze, the U.S. Virgin Islands will not disappoint. Some of the world’s most gorgeous beaches are here, such as Magens Bay Beach in St. Thomas and Trunk Bay Beach in St. John. At Magens Bay, you’ll have access to amenities like restrooms, a restaurant and bar, water sports equipment and lounge chair rentals, plus the essentials — calm, turquoise waters, white sand and swaying palm trees.

Trunk Bay Beach, located within Virgin Islands National Park, is another must-see. Considered one of the most breathtaking beaches in the world, Trunk Bay has all the amenities you could ask for, plus an underwater snorkeling trail. 

tips for cruise planning

Tips for Planning Your Trip

Planning a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands is a relatively stress-free task. As mentioned earlier, American citizens do not need a passport to enter the islands. Plus, English is the official language, and the islands use the U.S. dollar as currency. Still, any trip to a new place requires a little preparation. Here are tips to help you plan.

Decide When to Go

You can expect warm weather year-round on any of the U.S. Virgin Islands, but it’s still worth considering your preferred time to go. For example, if you want to enjoy mild weather and minimal rainfall, plan to visit the islands in the early spring.

Winter is peak season, and when many travelers flock to the Caribbean for its warm weather. If you plan to visit during the busy winter months, ensure you book your journey and excursions as soon as possible.

The region sees fewer crowds from June through November, which is hurricane season. The summer months also see temperatures in the upper 80s, though the breeze can help keep you cool.

Know How to Get Around

There are several ways to explore each island’s interior and hop from one to the next. As you plan excursions before you embark, consider how you’ll get around once you’re there so that you can spend less time planning during your trip. 

If you plan on visiting one of the islands for a few days, you might want to rent a car. Renting a car is less expensive than riding a taxi and gives you the freedom to go off the beaten path. Be ready to drive on the left side of the road, and put your cellphone away — it’s illegal to use a handheld cellphone while driving. 

You can ride a ferry from St. Thomas to visit St. John or Water Island. To visit St. Croix from St. Thomas, consider boarding a seaplane for a memorable ride.

An easy way to see the islands is to take a Caribbean cruise. A cruise enables you to experience the best of each island, and you might have other worthwhile Caribbean destinations on your itinerary. A smaller, more intimate cruise line, like Windstar Cruises, ensures you’ll visit must-see ports during your journey, including secluded harbors where you can escape from all your cares.

Pack Right

It’s smart to pack as lightly as possible for your trip, so you don’t have to worry about too much luggage and can save room for souvenirs. But, you’ll want to add a few things to your must-pack list.

  • Reef-friendly sunscreen: The territory prohibits sunscreen containing oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene, ingredients thought to harm marine life. To keep your skin protected from the sun and avoid harming wildlife, bring sunscreen with gentler ingredients.
  • Casual but modest clothes: Of course, you’ll want to bring your swimsuit and sandals for the beach, but make sure to pack more moderate clothes for land excursions. Wearing beach clothes to town makes it harder to blend in with the locals, who tend to dress comfortably but conservatively. You may want to bring dressier items for nights on the town. Whatever you pack, ensure the fabric is light and breathable.
  • Raincoat: Even during dryer months, a rain cloud can appear over the islands. Fortunately, topical showers are usually short-lived, but you still want to bring a light raincoat to keep dry.
  • Insect repellent: Pack insect repellent to protect yourself from itchy mosquito and sand fly bites. Remember, there’s no need to overpack bug spray or any other toiletries. If you need to restock, you can easily purchase more items.

Also, even though you won’t need a passport to enter the U.S. Virgin Islands, you should bring yours if you plan on visiting the British Virgin Islands or other Caribbean countries during your journey.

Learn How to Stay Safe

The U.S. Virgin Islands are relatively safe, and locals are generally friendly and helpful. However, as with many travel destinations, sometimes crime occurs, usually related to theft. To stay safe, avoid wandering around St. Thomas or St. Croix at night alone, and keep valuables stored in your room’s safe.

You may also want to avoid driving at night if you’re not used to driving on the left. Many roads are curvy, steep and poorly lit, so it may be best to get a taxi for nighttime driving. plan a cruise

Plan Your Voyage With Windstar Cruises

The U.S. Virgin Islands appeal to many travelers because they’re highly accessible and offer a wide variety of attractions and incredible beaches. The islands are where people celebrate, relax, explore and remember what life is all about.

If you’re ready to escape your daily routine and take a breath of fresh, Caribbean air, we’re waiting for you to step aboard. At Windstar Cruises, our Caribbean voyages are easy to plan and even easier to enjoy.

Our small, elegant ship will sail you to sparkling Caribbean gems, including popular ports and secret harbors. Our attentive staff will pamper you the entire journey. To learn more about our Caribbean cruises or to start planning your trip, contact us today.

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