U.S. Virgin Islands Destination Guide
U.S. Virgin Islands Vacations and Destination Information
Located in the Eastern Caribbean, just 1,100 miles southeast of Miami, the U.S. Virgin Islands are surrounded by the clear blue waters of the Caribbean with an average temperature ranging from 77F in the winter to 83F in the summer. Each of our three major islands–St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John–possesses a unique character of its own.
St. Croix is the largest of the Virgin Islands and retains an unhurried island atmosphere. Explore the many beaches, old Danish towns or take an excursion to a national park. The average annual temperature range is 75°-84°F.
St. Croix is the largest of the United States Virgin Islands – 28 miles long and seven miles at its widest point. The island lies entirely in the Caribbean Sea, with all the beauty and warmth of a tropical destination. However, it is this island’s distinct history and cultural heritage that set it apart from other Caribbean islands. St. Croix is rich in diverse history that remains alive in the architecture, national parks, historic landmarks, botanical attractions, food, music and traditions that are an integral part of island life.
Following are just a few of the island’s highlights and attractions:
Christopher Columbus’ Discovery
Explorer Christopher Columbus found the U.S. Virgin Islands during his second voyage to America in 1493, first landing on the northern shore of St. Croix, which he named Santa Cruz (Holy Cross).
St. Croix Heritage Trail
The unique influences of Danish, French, Spanish, West Indian, African and other cultures on the architecture and history of the island are evident during this self-guided driving tour. Visitors can follow the Heritage Trail map and visit 200 historic and cultural sights on St. Croix.
Estate Whim Plantation Museum
This beautifully restored, 18th-century plantation greathouse is a museum of Danish island history that also includes a sugar mill and gift shop. The museum features an immaculate collection of sturdy mahogany furniture and hand-carved mahogany artwork in traditional style that reflects the talent of St. Croix master craftsmen of yesteryear, and has since been reproduced for international trade.
Home to many talented local artists, St. Croix’s small art galleries and studios showcase beautiful paintings, period-influenced furniture, jewelry and arts and crafts. The famed Crucian hook bracelet and jewelry are designed with larimar, a rare Caribbean gem.
Once a working sugar mill when sugar plantations supplied molasses for the rum trade, the Cruzan Rum Distillery today produces a variety of delicious rum from sugarcane and only the purest, natural ingredients. Visitors to the distillery will discover the time-honored process of rum production and enjoy free samples of Cruzan’s distinctive line of flavored rums.
Quelbe & Quadrille
From the fusion of French and African cultural influences emerged the native folk music and dance of the U.S. Virgin Islands known as quelbe and quadrille. Quelbe (also called “scratch band music”) has a unique acoustic sound. Quadrille is a cultural dance still performed at traditional and cultural festivities on the island.
Visitors who are feeling lucky can head to the casino for gaming at the Divi Carina Bay Resort & Casino.
Crucian Christmas Festival
Winter holidays are celebrated Crucian-style with a unique cultural experience of pageantry, music, food and dancing. St. Croix hosts this festival both in December and January of each year with much jubilation.
Buck Island National Monument
Located off the shores of St. Croix, Buck Island is one of only two underwater national monuments in the U.S., and the only one occurring naturally. Water enthusiasts can encounter tropical fish, coral reefs and exotic flora and fauna in a dramatic array of colors, during an unparalleled snorkeling experience through the monument’s 700 acres of protected national park.
Some of the best diving in the Caribbean can be found on St. Croix’s north side. Cane Bay Reef, Davis Bay and Salt River Bay are popular diving spots known for the 13,000-foot deep sub-sea canyon and steep diving walls. Divers off the coasts of St. Croix may also experience close encounters with rare species of sea turtles that nest seasonally on the island’s beaches.
The Buccaneer Resort features an 18-hole, par-70 golf course sprawling across much of the property’s 340 acres, and encompassing 5,810 yards of sloping fairways, deceptive bunkers and water hazards. St. Croix’s 18-hole, championship Carambola Golf Course designed by legendary architect Robert Trent Jones has served as the site of many LPGA tournaments.
During May, the annual St. Croix Half-Ironman International Triathlon attracts world-class athletes to compete in one of the qualifying races for the series of World Triathlon Corporation sporting events and the Ironman World Championship. Other sporting events like the St. Croix Coral Reef Swim also draw thousands of visitors each year.
Salt River, an ecological reserve protected by the National Park, is a natural wildlife refuge and a popular area for kayaking. Visitors can explore local plants and flowers at St. George Village Botanical Gardens. Guided hiking tours, bike excursions and water activities are organized experiences that are also sensitive to the environment.
The waters off St. Croix are renowned for world-class fishing.
St. Croix LEAP
The St. Croix Life and Environmental Arts Project (LEAP) recycles fallen mahogany trees into beautiful furniture and works of art.
St. Croix’s Henry E. Rohlsen Airport has a lengthy, 10,000-foot runway and recently opened an additional wing. The newest section of the east wing of the terminal houses a new baggage claim area and transportation facility, and serves as an air-conditioned lounge.
St. Croix’s Ann E. Abramson Pier
Located in Frederiksted, the Pier can now accommodate the cruise lines’ largest new megaships, including the 140,000-ton Eagle class cruise ships. The Pier’s recent $3.6 million enhancement allows two cruise ships to dock simultaneously.
St. John is just offshore from St. Thomas and tailor-made for nature lovers since much of the island is National Park. The average annual temperature 75°-84°F.
St. John, the smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, retains a tranquil, unspoiled beauty uncommon in the Caribbean or anywhere else in the world. Settled in the early 1700’s by Danish immigrants attracted to the island’s potential as a sugar cane producing colony, St. John soon blossomed into a thriving economy. The island’s unspoiled forests and stunning beaches attracted the attention of wealthy families who sought privacy and tranquility on the island. In 1956, Laurence Rockefeller was so moved by the island that he bought and donated broad expanses of land to the National Park Service to keep St. John “a thing of joy forever.” St. John was recently voted “Best Island in the Caribbean/Atlantic” by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler in the publication’s prestigious annual Readers’ Choice Awards poll.
The following are some of the island’s highlights and attractions:
Virgin Islands National Park
Two-thirds of St. John’s 19 square miles is designated as protected national park land. Laurence Rockefeller deeded approximately 9,500 acres of rolling green hills and underwater preserve to the federal government more than 40 years ago. There are 22 self-guided hiking trails within the Virgin Islands National Park, where visitors can discover ancient petroglyphs and beautiful foliage along the way.
Sustainable tourism programs and environmentally safe practices keep the island pristine and clean. Visitors are encouraged to appreciate the previous resources of the natural environment while enjoying the island’s beauty. Numerous ecotourism activities and attractions ensure the preservation of natural resources and ecosystems.
St. John offers a variety of accommodation styles to suit all tastes and preferences. The island has two major luxury resorts – Caneel Bay Resort, and The Westin St. John. In addition, there are a plethora of villas, condominiums, and bed and breakfast inns from which to choose. St. John is also home to several ecotourism resorts and campgrounds for a closer-to-nature experience.
Two towns/two personalities – Cruz Bay and Coral Bay
In downtown Cruz Bay, visitors can enjoy the shops and restaurants at Mongoose Junction or Wharf side Village. Coral Bay is an especially scenic town, boasting the highest point of elevation in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
This former sugar plantation maintains a wealth of history and cultural folklore. Travelers can revisit the remnants of plantation life and the occupation of slaves during the 18th century. Park rangers conduct demonstrations of cultural traditions, including basket weaving, music and dance, each week.
St. John Annual Fourth of July Celebration
This annual festival extends from early June through July 4th to celebrate the island’s rich cultural heritage. Pageants, music concerts, sporting races and food fairs are all part of this month-long festival, which culminates in an awe-inspiring fireworks spectacular.
St. John offers some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, including Trunk Bay and Hawkesnest Bay.
Snorkeling, snuba and scuba diving are ways to explore St. John’s underwater paradise. Visitors interact with extraordinary flora and fauna at Trunk Bay, where underwater placards placed on the snorkeling trail describe the surrounding ecology. Colorful fish and coral are abundant in the waters off this island. Snuba, an activity that combines the skills of snorkeling and introductory diving skills, is an option for visitors not quite ready for scuba diving, but interested in exploring the island up to 20 feet beneath the surface. Divers enjoy venturing into the deep waters off St. John, particularly near Carvelle Rock and other points near the Pillsbury Sound where the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean come together.
Getting Around the Island
To explore St. John’s unique terrain, visitors can rent a jeep or a 4 x 4 vehicle for getting around the island. St. John has many steep hills and “hook backs” that lead to the most breathtaking landscapes and overlooks in the Caribbean. Only a 20-minute ferry ride away is the island of St. Thomas – perfect for a day trip.
St. Thomas offers a wide variety of attractions, beaches and activities such as watersports, golf, tennis, sightseeing, restaurants and nightlife. The capital city, Charlotte Amalie, is a major port of call for duty-free shopping. The average annual temperature 75°- 84°F.
St. Thomas combines the natural beauty of the islands with an energetic, cosmopolitan atmosphere. Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the United States Virgin Islands, is the most visited port in the Caribbean and boasts one of the most beautiful harbors in the world. The city’s reputation as the shopping mecca of the Caribbean attracts visitors from around the world who are drawn to its elegant dining, exciting nightlife and international, duty-free shopping.
A mountainous island, St. Thomas offers stunning vistas in all directions, with views of the Caribbean from 1,500 feet above sea level. Breathtaking natural wonders like magnificent Magens Bay and Drake’s Seat are also world- renowned. For the sports-minded, St. Thomas is well known for its world-class yachting and sport fishing, and welcomes golf enthusiasts to the George and Tom Fazio-designed Mahogany Run Course.
The following are some of the island’s highlights and attractions:
St. Thomas has more than 40 pristine white sand beaches with turquoise waters.
St. Thomas provides some of the most scenic and picturesque views of the Caribbean. Visitors can enjoy beautiful overlooks, including Drake’s Seat and Valdemar Hill. Paradise Point Tramway lifts visitors 700 feet above sea level on a cable car, for one of the most spectacular views of Charlotte Amalie harbor. Situated at the top of the lift on Flag Hill is a complex that includes a café restaurant, a nature trail and several retail shops. Paradise Peak — a winding quarter-mile nature trail — gives visitors the opportunity to explore additional overlooks of the island.
Cruising the Caribbean
Attracting thousands of visitors each year, St. Thomas is the Caribbean’s number one cruise ship port, and truly a shopper’s paradise. Cruise ship passengers enjoy a special duty-free shopping status: No customs duties or sales tax are imposed on tourism-related items.
St. Thomas’ Mahogany Run, a George and Tom Fazio design, boasts 18 of the most beautiful and challenging holes in the Caribbean. Golfers extol the virtues of this 6,022-year, par 70-championship course for its sheer beauty and exhilarating play, especially on the 13th, 14th and 15th holes. This signature trio, aptly nicknamed the Devil’s Triangle, turns an already ambitious round of play into a veritable Cliffside drama in which golfers must overcome a formidable stretch of Caribbean Seat that sprawls between the tee and the green.
Wet and Dry Water Activities
Opportunities and facilities for snorkeling, scuba diving, snuba, parasailing, windsurfing and kayaking are all available within the beautiful turquoise waters surrounding St. Thomas. For those visitors who prefer to enjoy the water without getting wet, the U.S. Virgin Islands offers submarine cruises and glass bottom boat rides. Both day and night tours are available to explorers of all ages.
St. Thomas’ close proximity to the other U.S. Virgin Islands makes island-hopping fun and easy. Visitors staying on St. Thomas can quickly take a ferry over to St. John for a day trip, or a seaplane or ferry to St. Croix.
Historic Ft. Christian
Built in 1672, Fort Christian is a U.S. national landmark and the oldest standing structure in the Virgin Islands. Built to protect the town’s harbor from the raiding European armadas that sailed the Caribbean centuries ago, Fort Christian also once served as St. Thomas’ first Government House, a church and community government center. Today, the brick fortress is home to the Virgin Islands Museum, where early island memorabilia and antique maps trace the islands’ colorful history.
Coral World Marine Park & Observatory
Located on the northeast shore at Coki Point, Coral World is recognized as an internationally renowned tourist attraction. The 4.5-acre park consists of an underwater observatory tower, a tropical nature trail, a marine gardens aquarium, and an 80,000-gallon coral reef tank. The circular, glass-enclosed tank offers visitors a glimpse of the Caribbean Sea and its underwater inhabitants. The aquatic panoramic view provides an up-close look at beautiful species of coral, tropical fish, stingrays, barracuda, tarpon, moray eels, seahorses, crabs, nurse sharks, sea anemones, and more. Other special attractions include an open-air shark pool, a “touch” pond, and Sea Trekkin’.
Virgin Islands Carnival
Celebrated on St. Thomas each spring, the month-long celebration of Carnival provides revelers with extravagant displays of pageantry, spirited music festivals, mouthwatering food festivals and colorful parades.
St. Thomas Synagogue
Overlooking the pristine beaches and crystal-clear water of Charlotte Amalie Harbor, the Synagogue of B’racha V’shalom Uv’gimilut Hasadim (meaning “Blessing, Peace and Loving Deeds”) exists as one of the most impressive religious structures in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The dedicated Jewish community and congregation, traceable back to the late-17th century, completed the present synagogue in 1833. The synagogue’s membership continues to carefully maintain its interior, including the impressive Ionic columns and mahogany benches.
Local Arts and Crafts
Visitors can find a variety of locally made goods on St. Thomas, including paintings and silk-screened prints. Local artisans sell their products in the marketplace of downtown Charlotte Amalie, along Main Street, in Vendors’ Plaza, at Havensight Mall, and at other locations throughout the Island.
Fine Dining, Exciting Nightlife
St. Thomas offers a wide variety of culinary delights ranging from West Indian fare to international cuisine. Caribbean and West Indian delicacies such as conch, kallaloo, fungi, curried chicken, plantains, sour sop and johnnycakes are tantalizing additions to be sampled at many of the island’s first-class restaurants. Exciting nightlife includes performances of calypso, reggae, quelbe, jazz and pop music by talented local musicians.
Banana Daiquiris on Mountain Top
While touring St. Thomas’ higher elevations, visitors can treat themselves to a taste of contemporary island culture with a stop at Mountain Top for a refreshing banana daiquiri. Since the 1960’s, this site has offered the legendary cocktail made with local rum, cane sugar and bananas.