Of the 60 mostly uninhabited islands that make up the US Virgin Islands, the biggest and most visited are St Thomas, St John and St Croix. Their appeal lies in the amalgamation of the exotic and the recognisable, an island paradise with modern comforts, and a balance between Caribbean culture and American practicality.
The energetic capital of Charlotte Amalie, with its attractive harbour, lies on St Thomas. This island is the most Americanised of the chain, famous for its world-class duty-free shopping. Nearby St John is an unspoilt nature lover's paradise, with most of its forests, pristine beaches and reefs part of a protected national park. The largest of the islands is St Croix and its remoteness from the others, the historic remnants scattered about the landscape, the pretty Danish-influenced towns of Frederiksted and Christiansted, and the snorkelling at nearby Buck Island are the attractions here.
Surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean, these islands boast some of the most splendid coastline in the world, with white sandy beaches, astonishing coral reefs and pristine marine life, secluded coves, and untouched rainforests rising up above the sea-swept landscape. Caribbean colour touches every aspect of the islands, blending with the strong Danish influence in the towns. White sails glide effortlessly across the emerald waters; local craftsmen display their unique island art along cobblestone alleyways; tiled villa roofs provide a splash of red against the verdant hillside; busy markets supply the essentials for a delicious cuisine; and the sounds of folk songs and calypso bands fill the air.
The Virgin Islands being among the most popular cruise ship destinations in the Caribbean has meant that the port towns of Charlotte Amalie, Christiansted and Frederiksted are usually swamped with newly arrived passengers in a frenzy of shopping and dining. Main beaches are seldom deserted, and the key reef areas are often a flurry of flippers and snorkels. Luxury resorts and fine hotels share the streets with old colonial architecture. Yet it is still possible to escape the crowds and find that bit of elusive paradise, to relax away from the divers and sailors, the sightseers, the ecological tour groups, and the shoppers.
The official currency is the US Dollar (USD) divided into 100
cents. Most credit cards are accepted, including American Express,
Diners Club Mastercard and Visa, and are useful for withdrawing
cash at ATMs. Travellers cheques are widely accepted in hotels,
shops and restaurants provided they are in US Dollars. Foreign
exchange bureaux are available to exchange other currencies, but it
is best to arrive with US Dollars as many banks and hotels will not
exchange foreign currency.
|US$ 1 =||US$ 1.00||Â£ 0.65||C$ 1.02||A$ 0.97||R 8.46||EUR 0.79||NZ$ 1.26|
Note: These currency exchange rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.
Health risks include hepatitis A and dengue fever. Only bottled water should be drunk outside the major towns. Medical facilities are of a high standard, but health insurance is vital as medical care is very expensive.
Entry requirements are the same as for the United States of America. There is no immigration control for visitors arriving from mainland USA. Visitors from countries that qualify for the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) must have a machine-readable passport (MRP) that has a bar code on the photo page. Eligible travellers under the VWP must include biometrics in their machine-readable passports if they wish to enter the country without a visa; this means that unique personal data, such as fingerprints or iris details, must be included in passports. All passports must contain a digital photo image in order to travel visa-free. Those travelling under the VWP must also register on the US government ESTA website three days before departure, which allows the US to screen visitors before travel. All visitors to the USA will have a photograph and two fingerprints taken by an inkless scanner on arrival, including those travelling visa-free under the Visa Waiver Programme. All travellers arriving or departing by air, land or sea between the USA and Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, Bermuda, and Central and South America are required to present a valid passport. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.
US Virgin Islands Tourism
US Virgin Islands Tourist Office, St Thomas: +1 340 774 8784 or www.usvitourism.vi
Foreign Embassies in US Virgin Islands
US Virgin Islands Embassies
St Thomas is the second largest and most sophisticated of the Virgin Islands with a strong Danish influence especially evident in Charlotte Amalie, the main town and capital. Being the most accessible of the islands also means it is the most heavily developed and visited, with visitors from around the world attracted by the town's reputation as an international shopping Mecca.
It is also scenically beautiful, with numerous headlands and coves, forested hills providing stunning vistas over the Caribbean, and some of the best white-sand beaches in the Caribbean. Magens Bay beach on the north coast is acclaimed as one of the finest in the world and the sparkling waters and coral reef of Coki Bay are superb for snorkelling. Fabulous panoramas can be viewed from Drake's Seat, a high point in the centre of the island from where Sir Francis Drake used to watch for enemy ships.
Sports and activities are abundant on St Thomas. There are snorkelling and dive sites, excellent greens for golf enthusiasts, sport fishing and yachting opportunities. The educational Coral World Marine Park and Observatory provides a unique look at the goings-on of Caribbean marine life, and the nearby resort town of Red Hook is a smaller version of Charlotte Amalie, with dining and shopping. It is the jumping off point to other Caribbean islands and the upmarket beach resorts nearby.
Combining natural beauty with first-rate amenities, St Thomas offers numerous activities on and off the water, fine hotels and international cuisine.
The smallest of the islands, two thirds of St John consists of a national park, a peaceful and largely unspoilt paradise for nature lovers that offers pristine forests, secluded white beaches, hidden coves, reefs and miles of hiking trails.
Danish immigrants were the first settlers and became extensive producers of sugarcane. Today the abandoned 18th century plantations scattered about the island provide a reminder of a once-thriving agricultural community. A walk around the ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Plantation, for example, offers a historical glimpse of St John with magnificent views of the British Virgin Islands.
In 1956 the beauty of the island grabbed the attention of the wealthy Laurence Rockefeller who bought a large piece of land to preserve its pristine loveliness and donated it to the government as a national park. Today the Virgin Island National Park offers numerous guided or independent hiking trails into the interior with stunning views from the ridges and a variety of flora and fauna, including wild cats, hummingbirds and iguanas. Of the dozens of beaches the most popular is Trunk Bay, one of the world's most photographed spots, that offers swimming and excellent marine life in the protected reefs. There is also an underwater snorkelling trail with signs identifying the types of coral and its inhabitants.
The centre of activity on St John is Cruz Bay, a small town offering speciality shopping, lively bars and delicious cuisine, as well as jeep rental services and dive centres. There is limited accommodation on the island.
Less developed than St Thomas, St Croix is the largest and most remote of the three inhabited Virgin Islands, covered in forested hills, fertile lowlands and surrounded by coral reefs with excellent diving, particularly along the north coast.
Located 40 miles (64km) south of St Thomas, the island has two main towns, Christiansted on the north east coast and Frederiksted to the west. Both prospered as commercial ports during the 18th and 19th centuries. Christiansted is a lively town offering trips to the tiny Buck Island as a popular excursion. Frederiksted is smaller and a sleepy place until the occasional cruise ship arrives for a spree of duty-free shopping. Both towns contain numerous examples of fine Danish colonial architecture. The surrounding landscape is scattered with remnants of sugar plantations, stone windmill towers and ruined houses from the island's commercial heyday in the sugarcane industry. Whim Greathouse is an impressive planter's mansion, restored to reflect its glory days in the 1700s, and is one of the main historical sights on St Croix. Rum production was another of the island's primary industries and visitors can visit the Cruzan Rum Distillery for guided tours and free tastings. The Heritage Trail is a self-guided trip that links the main sights of interest on the island.
Along with its picturesque beaches and superb diving, St Croix has a variety of indoor and outdoor activities, including hiking, historic sights and attractions, golf and horse riding. There are fine hotels, excellent dining and casinos.
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