If you are looking for an island getaway to relax in the sun or to play and have fun, the U.S. Virgin Islands are an excellent choice. They are not far from the United States, you do not need a passport to vacation there, and they are certain to provide whatever kinds of Caribbean beauty and adventure you seek.
Originally named by that persistent explorer Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493, the Virgin Islands include the main islands of St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas, as well as the smaller Water Island and many other minor islands. Several countries have claimed these islands (Spain, Great Britain, Netherlands, France, and Denmark-Norway) over the years, and Denmark was the last to own them before selling them to the U.S. around the time of World War I. The U.S. bought the islands for a cool $25 million because they feared that Germany would seize the islands to use as a submarine base during the war.
The tropical islands were the perfect setting to establish sugar plantations with warm temperatures and fertile soils to grow the sugar cane. Because the work on these establishments was so laborious, slaves were imported from Africa to tend the fields. After several attempted uprisings by the African people, slavery was at last abolished in 1775.
Today, tourism fuels the economy of the islands. Approximately two million visitors per year come to the Virgin Islands from all over the world. Many of them come on cruise ships. There are also international airports in both St. Croix and St. Thomas.
As a visitor to the Virgin Islands, you will feel at home with the main language of English. There is also a second language spoken called Virgin Islands Creole. This is often used in informal and family settings and varies slightly from island to island. Driving may not be quite as comfortable as you will find yourself on the left side of the road and also with a left-sided steering wheel.
Attractions You Won’t Want to Miss
Charlotte Amalie is the capital of this unincorporated territory of the U.S., and is located in the island of St. Thomas. This is one of the best shopping areas in all of the Islands with its duty free and tax free offerings to visitors. Strolling down Main Street in Charlotte Amalie, you will be able to purchase local gifts to take home including handmade linens, hand carved wooden chess sets, leather purses and belts, et cetera. You will also be delighted by the restaurants (both outdoor and indoor) serving seafood and other local treats.
St. Thomas is also home to the second oldest Jewish Temple in the Western Hemisphere—Beracha Veshalon Vegimuth Hasidim—or the St. Thomas Synagogue, as it is often called. This amazing building, still in use for religious services, also houses a museum which displays over 300 years of Jewish history in the Islands. It is located on a very steep hill though, so you may want to hop into a taxi to reach it.
Also in St. Thomas, catch the spirit of the islands by visiting Coral World, a marine park with underwater observatory displaying amazing Caribbean marine life. They have it all—turtles, stingrays, sharks, a beautiful lagoon and nature trails. Be adventurous and enjoy the scenery that you can’t view at home.
Blackbeard’s Castle in Charlotte Amalie recreates the tower of the famous pirate. He may or may not have actually been here, but the scenery with beautiful gardens and rock waterfall are worth a peak.
If snorkeling is your thing, try the marine sanctuary on Buck Island near St. Croix. Shallow diving with exquisite beauty awaits. The underwater sea gardens are all a part of Virgin Islands’ marine life to explore.
Be sure not to miss the National Park on St. John. The park has over 20 walking trails for you to explore and delight in with tropical birds, iguanas, turtles, and geckoes. Swimming, archaeological sites, forests, and plantations await you. The Annaberg Sugar Plantation located in this area is very well preserved, and serves to show the trials of the African slave in the Caribbean in days gone by.
Relaxation and Respite
Of course if you are just looking for tranquility and beauty of solitude near the ocean, check out the island of St. John. Set aside from tourist attractions, more than two-thirds of the island as mentioned above has been preserved in a national park. It still has the white-sand beaches and lush tropical forests. When the cruise visitors finish their day trip to St. John island by about 5 pm, it becomes a beautiful and crowd-free paradise.