Starter Kit to the US Virgin Islands
When most people think of America’s best beaches, their minds drift off to waves lapping on Hawaii’s or Florida's shores. But there’s another batch of islands open to Americans...and you don't need a passport to go. As an American territory, the US Virgin Islands offer sun and sand to those looking for an idyllic island getaway. But there’s more to the USVI than lazing on a beach all day. Hiking trails, spectacular scuba diving, sugar plantation ruins, and charming colonial cities, complete with cobblestone streets, all beg to be explored.
Whether by plane or cruise ship, most visitors enter the USVI through St. Thomas. The island also serves as the commercial center, with hundreds of duty-free shops, many of them focused in downtown Charlotte Amalie. St. Thomas is also one of the busiest cruise ports in the Caribbean, meaning cruise crowds can grow thick here. Magens Bay, a crescent-shaped stretch of sand named among the world’s most beautiful beaches, is a cruise tour staple. To enjoy the beach without the crowds, either head out early for a sunrise swim, or check the island’s cruise ship schedule and plan accordingly.
Don’t Miss: Plan to visit in April to experience St. Thomas' Carnival in all of its street-dancing, steel-drum music, feathered-costume glory.
Just a quick three mile ferry ride from St. Thomas, St. John is the smallest and least developed of the USVI. Virgin Islands National Park covers and protects nearly two-thirds of the island, making it a magnet for nature lovers and eco tourists. Choose from more than 20 hiking trails on the north and south shores, some of which pass by 18th century sugar mill ruins before emptying onto stunning beaches complete with reef and wreck dive spots. At Trunk Bay, explore a different kind of trail by strapping on a snorkel and following parrotfish and yellowtail snapper as they swim amidst the coral. As the day winds down, hang with the expat crowd in Cruz Bay and sip some "plantation punch" (a rum, orange, and lime juice concoction with a dash of nutmeg).
Don’t Miss: The last Saturday of each month, vendors take to the streets for St. John Saturday, a market where everything from jewelry and clothes to produce and tropical flowers are sold.
Forty miles south of St. Thomas sits St. Croix. Its distance deters most tourist crowds, giving the island an easygoing, off-the-beaten-path vibe. And its size—nearly twice that of St. Thomas—means there’s a lot to discover. Explore the candy colored buildings in downtown Christiansted, built in the 18th century by Danish settlers, on a walking tour, or head to Frederiksted for a taste of the island with a distillery tour at the Cruzan Rum Factory. Rain forest covers the northwest and sugar plantation ruins are scattered throughout the island, a reminder of the island’s colonial history.
Don’t Miss: A short boat ride away, Buck Island is known for its superior scuba diving. Don’t pass up the chance to dive the Cane Bay Wall, a spectacular drop-off that plunges more than 2,000 feet, covered with coral and teeming with marine life.
While St. Croix has its own airport, most visitors enter the USVI via the Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas. Non-stop flights are common, making the islands an easy getaway from the continental US. St. Thomas is also one of the most visited cruise ports in the Caribbean, with upwards of 1,000 ship arrivals each year.
Ferries provide year-round travel between the islands, with hourly service between St. Thomas and St. John, and service running twice a day from St Thomas to St Croix on most days.
Winter time, from December through April, is high season for the islands. But with generally low humidity and temperatures that range from 78F to 83F year-round, there’s never a bad time to visit.
Member Comments Post a Comment
Be the first to comment!
Fodor's Top News & Features
- Cheap and Chic: 10 Affordable Hawaii Hotels
- 10 Castles You Can Actually Afford to Sleep In
- 10 Best Lakeside Hotels in the US
- Pot Tourism: How to Buy Marijuana in Colorado
- Where to Eat in San Francisco Now
- 5 Perfect Dublin Itineraries
- World's Best Destinations for Solo Travel
- 7 Great Food Festivals & Street Fairs on Oahu
- Where to Drink in Chicago Now
- 10 Top Bakeries Across the US
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Fodor's Go List 2014: Where we are going in 2014
- World Cup Fever: Start planning your trip to Brazil!
- Fodor's 100 Hotel Awards: Check out the winners of 2013
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- $599 & up -- 5-Nt. Jamaica All-Incl. Getaway w/Air, 45% OffCheapCaribbean.com
- $858 & up -- Punta Cana: 4-Star Seaside Family Getaway w/AirApple Vacations
- $185-$265 -- San Francisco 4-Star Hotel, 50% OffWestin St. Francis
- $56 & up -- Oceanfront room at Myrtle Beach Resort, 30% OffSea Watch Resort
- $189-$199 -- Weekends at Downtown Los Angeles 4-Star HotelThe Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites
- $119-$159 -- Tucson AAA 4-Diamond Resort, Save 45%The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa