Virgin Islands U.S. Information
Time Zone: GMT/UTC -3 (Atlantic Standard Time)
Driving side: Drivers drive on the left-hand side of the road.
Languages: English, Spanish, Castilian, French.
Religion: Baptist (42%), Catholic (34%), Episcopalian (17%)
Emergency #: Police: 911
Virgin Islands U.S. Local Customs
Unlike in some parts of the Caribbean, nudity is frowned upon throughout the U.S.V.I. and B.V.I. and is punishable by law. However, even though it is an offense, standards are more relaxed in the U.S.V.I.
Virgin Islands U.S. Culture
The US Virgin Islands have a hybrid heritage. The European legacy comes predominantly from the Danes, who owned the islands for over 250 years, plus traces from English and Dutch plantation owners. A French presence stems from the French Huguenots, who came to escape Catholic France in the mid-19th century or arrived when the French owned St Croix. The former have contributed to a community of people referred to as Frenchies who live, predictably, in Frenchtown, just west of Charlotte Amalie. Recent arrivals include a number of American and European expats and a handful of immigrants from nearby Puerto Rico. Today the dominant culture overlaying all these is distinctly American, the result of 80 years of US strategic and commercial interest in the islands.
Virgin Islanders are suckers for a beat. Local fungi bands play scratch instruments such as gourds and washboards and sing songs that often comment on local social and political issues. The music of the moment is 'mix,' a rollicking blend of calypso, reggae and hip-hop that you will hear blaring from cruising cars. Steel drum bands are enjoying something of a revival at the moment, it is a rare festival that does not have one on the program.
Virgin Islands U.S. Popular Destinations
St. John - This is one of the most secluded islands in the Caribbean. More than two-thirds of its land has been preserved as a national park. That means that unlike St. Thomas and St. Croix, St. John's landscape looks much like it did in the 1950s, with white-sand beaches and verdant tropical forests. Day-trippers from St. Thomas come over in the morning and usually depart before 5pm. After that, St. John becomes a crowd-free paradise. A noteworthy destination is the Annaberg Sugar Plantation. The ruins of this sugar plantation are the greatest reminder of St. John's plantation era. The remains of the building have been spruced up rather than restored, and the surrounding land is now lush vegetation. Visitors can explore the former slave quarters.
St. Thomas - Visitors to the islands of St. Thomas will be delighted by the Fort Christian, which stands in the heart of Charlotte Amalie. The fort was built in 1672, after the arrival of the first Danish colonists. The oldest building on the island, it has been vastly altered over the years and has housed a jail, courthouse, town hall, church, and, most recently, a historical museum. Head to the roof for a stellar view. Another worthwhile location on the island is Crown House. This 18th-century, stone-built mansion served as the home of two former governors. Among the many antiques here are memorabilia of governor Peter von Scholten, who occupied the premises in 1827. A French chandelier in the mansion is said to have come from Versailles.
Estate Whim Plantation Museum - In the early 19th century Whim Estate was one of its grandest operations. Today the neo-classical house, its outbuildings and grounds comprise an evocative museum giving an insight into the lives of the plantation owners and the slaves who lived and worked on the property. The main house is notable for its unusual curved walls and the waterless ventilation moat that rings it. Classical musical concerts are periodically held in the grounds. Just 10 minutes east of Whim is the immaculately presented St George Village Botanical Garden. Over 1500 species of plant life weave and wend around old plantation buildings, workshops and a dinky wedding bower. A walking tour pamphlet helps you find your way around.
St Croix - The island is the largest in the Virgin Islands, and less developed than rowdy St Thomas, so it is a good place to find isolated beaches and bend the elbow with locals not engaged in the tourist industry. The island is composed of forested hills and fertile lowlands and is surrounded by coral reefs. At its commercial height St Croix had about 100 sugar plantations, and decaying plantation houses and the stone towers of their windmills still litter the landscape today. Most of St Croix's excellent diving is to be found along its northern coast. The best hikes are in the hilly, forested northwestern corner of the island. The forest peters out in the southwest, turning into salt pans and mangrove. Sandy Point, in the extreme southwest, is one of only two leatherback turtle nesting grounds in the Caribbean.
Virgin Islands U.S. Beaches
Magens Bay Beach - Located at St. Thomas, this half-mile loop of pebble-free sand and remarkably calm water, is by far the most popular and picturesque beach in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Two peninsulas protect the shore from erosion and strong waves, making Magens an ideal spot for swimming. Expect a lively crowd here in the high season.
Sapphire Beach - This beach is one of the finest on St. Thomas and is a favourite with windsurfers. Come here for some of St. Thomas's best shore snorkeling and diving (off Pettyklip Point). Visitors do not have to worry about equipment, water sports concessions abound here. Take a moment to enjoy the panoramic view of St. John and other islands.
Trunk Bay - This beach, on St. John, which is protected by the U.S. National Park Service, is a favourite with cruise-ship passengers. It is famous for its underwater snorkeling trail. Trunk Bay is consistently ranked in magazine polls as one of the top 10 Caribbean beaches.
Sandy Point - The biggest beach in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Sandy Point lies in the southwestern part of St. Croix, directly to the west of Alexander Hamilton Airport. Its waters are shallow and calm. Because the beach is a protected reserve and a nesting spot for endangered sea turtles, it is only open to the public on weekends from 9am to 5pm.
Cane Garden Bay - The most popular beach in the British Virgin Islands and a close rival to Magens Bay on St. Thomas for scenic beauty. Its translucent waters and sugar-white sands are reason enough to visit Tortola. It is also the closest beach to Road Town, the capital.
Moving Around Virgin Islands U.S.
There are international airports on both St. Thomas and St. Croix. From the US, American Airlines, Delta and US Airways have direct flights from several US destinations. Often these flights land in St Thomas first, then go on to St. Croix. Most flights from Europe connect via Miami or San Juan in Puerto Rico. American Eagle, Seaborne Airlines, Cape Air and Air Sunshine offer services between the US and British Virgin Islands.
The best way to travel between the islands is by boat. Frequent ferries depart from Charlotte Amalie and Red Hook on St. Thomas for the short jaunt to St. John. There are also dozens of yacht charter companies providing visitors with the opportunity to sail from island to island at their own pace. To travel between St. Thomas and St. Croix, visitors can also take a seaplane, doing trips several times a day.
Hiring a car or jeep is a good way to get around the islands, though finding a parking space in Charlotte Amalie can be troublesome. Scooters and motorbikes can also be hired, but are not recommended. Signage around the islands is usually restricted to route numbers, make sure your map includes these and remember to drive on the left. There are decent, if slow, bus services on St Thomas and St Croix, and a fledgling service on St John that runs between Cruz Bay and Salt Pond. Taxis are abundant on all islands. They charge a set rate based on the destination and how many passengers are carried.
National festival and holidays
Carnival on St Thomas - Carnival means is a crazy week full of masquerades, drumming, dancing, feasting and mocko jumbies (costumed stilt walkers). Unlike other Carnivals in the Caribbean, which precede Lent, St Thomas' takes place after Easter, usually in late April.
Virgin Gorda Easter Festival - Although primarily of local interest, Easter weekend is a big event on Virgin Gorda, featuring street parades and a beauty pageant. The islanders use the occasion for non-stop partying. Just arrive on Good Friday, Holy Saturday, or Easter Sunday, and you should have no trouble being directed to the party. The festival takes place over Easter weekend.
Virgin Islands Carnival - This annual celebration, with origins in Africa, is the most spectacular carnival in the Virgin Islands. Over the years, the festivities have become Christianized, but the fun remains. "Mocko Jumbies," people dressed as spirits, parade through the streets on stilts nearly 20 feet high. Steel and fungi bands, "jump-ups," and parades bring the event to life. Events take place island wide, but the most action is on the streets of Charlotte Amalie. The Carnival takes place after Easter, in April.
Carnival in St. John - The elements of Carnival are combined with emancipation and independence celebrations in this festive event that culminates on July 4 with a big parade. Thousands of St. Thomas residents flock here for the parades, calypso bands, colorful costumes, everything leading up to the selection of Ms. St. John and the King of the Carnival. The Carnival is held the first week of July.
Useful Virgin Islands U.S. Links
St Croix, USVI Beaches and Beach Reviews
St Croix, USVI beach reviews, pictures and information related to St. Croix. Activities and points of interest available on St. Croix. Everything from sunscreen recommendations, Caribbean food recipes, Caribbean Rum drinks and Island history.
Recent Virgin Islands U.S. Travelogue
Caneel Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands trip report
Details: We left from Newark Airport 12/9 (13 degrees F when we left) on a 9am flight and flew directly to St. Thomas airport. We walked over to Caneel Bays reception area at the airport... read more
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