Things to See and Do
Hawksnest beach on Caneel Bay, St John.
Virgin Islands National Park – this outdoor paradise has 60% of its land protected as a national park while underwater within 3 miles of land the coral reef is a national monument. St. John is a dedicated eco tourist destination and whether you are there to swim, snorkel, dive, sail, or hike, the island offers plenty of good-feeling interest. Although just 3 miles from St. Thomas, St John is on a different planet.
Charlotte Amalie – this commercial island – far from virgin – is not everybody’s favourite but inescapable since most visitors travelling to the Virgin Islands arrive here first.
Visitors can make the most of their stay by exploring the Virgin Island’s best shopping and dining as well as outdoor activities and some great beaches such as Magens Bay and Lindquist Beach. Enjoy the spectacular view from Mountain Top and Blackbeard’s Castle.
Christiansted National Historic Site is a well-restored Danish port town with some special architecture including imposing Fort Christiansvaern, Customs House and the Scale House.
Buck Island Reef National Monument off St. Croix makes a great excursion from St. Croix with a large reef offering plenty of marine activities including one of only three underwater trails in USA. Buck Island’s western coast is home to Turtle Beach, a superb white sand beach that was selected as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world by National Geographic.
USVI Best Beaches
Trunk Bay, St. John
One of the best strands in the Caribbean. Soft white sand, clear blue water, picturesque twin peaks. More.
Salomon Beach and Honeymoon Beach, St John
Both on Caneel Bay, spectacular, uncrowded but needing a long hike from Cruz Bay or stay nearby. More.
Magen’s Bay, St. Thomas
The largest and the most popular swimming beach in St. Thomas, with a large expanse of soft white sand, calm, shallow water and good facilities, this is a fine place to spend the day.
Lindquist Beach, St. Thomas
This small, unspoilt beach is a hidden gem favoured by locals; it costs $2 pp to get on and there are no amenities.
Sandy Point, St Croix
The largest beach in the US Virgin Islands and one of Caribbean’s most sublime strands, it’s on the southwestern shore, but it’s only open to the public Saturdays and Sundays 10: 00-16: 00 as the 3-mile long stretch is part of the National Wildlife Refuge and home to the largest nesting population of endangered leatherback sea turtles.
Turtle Beach, Buck Island
Voted one of world’s most beautiful beaches by National Geographic, this turtle nesting beach is a sensational natural beauty. 2 miles off the north coast of St Croix, Buck Island is also one of Caribbean’s major diving destinations with an underwater visibility of 100 feet (30 m).
Average water temperature is around 84F (29C) in the summer and 79F (26C) in the winter in the Virgin Islands so most divers are comfortable in shorty or three-quarter style wetsuits year round. Underwater visibility normally ranges from 60 – 100 feet depending on weather conditions.
The best US Virgin Islands Dive spots
– Cow & Calf St. Thomas, two large rocks encrusted with coral off the southeast coast and Sail Rock with three cone-shaped pinnacles.
– Wreck of Wit Shoal II St. Thomas, home to barracuda, yellowtail snapper and grouper, this 330-foot former Navy tank-landing ship sank in 1985 and is covered with brilliant coral communities. West of Saba Island, southwest of St. Thomas.
– French Cap St. Thomas, an islet 6 miles offshore, this rarely visited diving spot is known for the Pinnacle, several tall rock spires shooting up from the sea floor swarmed by reef fish, sharks and rays.
– Eagle Shoals St. John, known for the Cathedral, a huge open chamber east end of St. John; also Carvel Rock studded with a series of dramatic rock formations; and colourful, rocky Congo Cay is visited by big pelagic fish such as eagle rays, reef sharks, and occasionally dolphins.
– Cane Bay St. Croix, is one of the Caribbean’s top beach dives and the most popular dive spot in St Croix, with a kaleidoscopic wall; Frederiksted Pier, another good beach dive on the western shore, best known for macro life such as seahorses and frogfish; Salt River Canyon offers one of Virgin Island’s best wall dives, the East Wall features vibrant marine life with soft coral roamed by pelagics such as hammerheads and black-tip sharks, while the West Wall drops to 90 feet with the spectacular Pinnacles; Butler Bay Wreck, five wrecks clumped together including the Rosa Maria, a 177 foot freighter at 110 feet, northwest tip of St. Croix.
Although serious storms can arrive in the low season, June – November, USVI are a more-or-less year round destination with a tropical climate moderated by winds, little temperature difference between seasons and relatively low humidity.
Typical daily maximum temperatures are around 90F (32C) in the summer and 84F (29C) in the winter. Minimum temperatures are around 79F (26C) in the summer and 73F (23C) in the winter.
Statistically the wettest period is between August and November and the driest period is between February and March.
The high season is the drier, cooler months December 15 – April 30, the Christmas season to Spring vacations. Best to avoid this period if you are a budget traveller, the prices are inevitably high. For those willing to risk rain, November – early December or May are the ideal months to travel on the (relatively) cheap.
A typical upmarket resort ferry, similar to the regular inter-island boats seen throughout the Virgin Islands but a bit more luxurious. Photo by Fred Hsu.
St Thomas has an international airport so most visitors fly in with American Airlines, United, Delta or US Airways or their partners directly from/via New York, Miami, Atlanta or San Juan (Puerto Rico).
Flights can also be found from other Caribbean islands such as Tortola, St. Maarten and Dominica. Alternatively there’s always a yacht or cruise ship!
Transport from this point will be either a short flight, a longish ferry ride or boarding your own yacht.
Flights are available between St. Thomas and St. Croix, between St. Thomas and Tortola of BVI.
To get to St. John, you need take a short ferry ride from St. Thomas as there is no airport in St. John. Both US and BVI have frequent and inexpensive inter-island ferry services.
Nationals from US do not need a passport to visit USVI (just ID card) while all other nationalities do. However, if you wish to visit another Caribbean country or BVI, US citizen will need a passport.
Nationals from EU and most other western countries do not require a visa for USVI but will need ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) to enter US territory.
The rates of tourist taxis are regulated and reasonable, though you may save a few dollars using a public bus, collective/shared taxi or safari bus.
The public VITRAN (Virgin Island Transit system) operates the length of each main island with a fare of $1 but confusingly some private dollar taxis (dollar rides) also run on the same route. Check with locals in advance.
A mini-bus tour with a guide can be a fun, but car rentals are also available to get around individual islands. Check driving conditions and rules. The Jeep Wrangler is the most popular car on the road in St. John.
A generic resort hotel in USVI. This is a Westin in St John.
Traditional food tends to be spicy. Try the local’s daily diet of Fungi, (no, not mushrooms! ) cornmeal cooked with okra served alongside boiled fish or Callaloo a thick stew made from callaloo leaf or spinach as substitute, with some meat and okra. Roti, meat or fish cooked with curry, wrapped by Indian roti bread is also popular snack in the islands.
The Virgin Islands’ Cruzan rum is known as the islands’ true poison, an appropriate souvenir to take back home!
St. John has long been one of the safest islands in Caribbean.
However despite their sleepy, easy going Calypso ambience, both St. Thomas and St. Croix have a modest reputation for crime – mainly thievery and burglary – and drug oriented violence between locals.
Tap water is perfectly safe to drink.
Most visitors to the islands plump for all-inclusive hotels close to a beach somewhere but those on a tight budget or wanting more privacy should look for apartment/condo rentals or private holiday villas for larger groups.
USVI currency is US dollars.
USVI uses a 110-220v/60hz system with US/Canadian style plugs.
English is the official language though a local dialect can be heard. Also Spanish and French Creole is spoken.