The Virgin Islands form part of the Caribbean Leeward Islands and comprise the US Virgin islands on the west and the British Virgin Islands on the east. Some of the better-known US Virgin Islands include St Croix, St John and St Thomas. St Croix is the largest of the US Virgin Islands and has a unique, diverse culture and history with its sugar plantations and rum distilleries. St John appeals to nature lovers and honeymooners with its 7,000 acres of parkland stunning scenery, while St Thomas is renowned for its luxury hotels and super yachts and is also home to US Virgin Islands’ capital of Charlotte Amalie. If you are looking for total seclusion, The British Virgin Islands offer some of the least developed but most exclusive of the islands in Caribbean and visitors can stay in Tortula Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke.
Things to see and do in the Virgin Islands
Attractions: Aside from the beautifully unspoilt beaches and secluded bays, there is plenty to do in the Virgin Islands – and the great thing is that, in true Caribbean style, you can see and do everything at your own pace. Of the three main US Virgin Islands (St Croix, St John and St Thomas) St Thomas is the most developed island. Visit the port of Charlotte Amalie with its pastel coloured houses and historic buildings or take a cable car up to Paradise Point for a great vista of the bustling harbour. Also visit the 17th Century Fort Christian, which was once a Dutch stronghold, or simply enjoy the calm waters of the beautiful Magens Bay. Over in St John, you will find the stunning US Virgin Islands National Park which covers about two thirds of the island and is a refuge for wildlife and various species of flowers (don’t forget your camera!) In St Croix, visit Christiansted, a waterfront town with stone arches, restored town houses and plenty of attractions such as Fort Christianvaern, Customs House and the Old Scale House. Also visit St Croix’s other pretty waterfront town of Frederiksted, which has interesting attractions including Fort Frederik, and Emancipation Park to explore. Over in the east of the archipelago, the British Virgin Islands offers a less developed, more exclusive experience with its own unique set of attractions. In Tortula, visit the Mount Sage National Park and in Virgin Gorda, head to the observation tower at Gorda Peak for spectacular views over the whole archipelago.
Events/festivals: The most anticipated event of the year on each of the islands is the Carnival. In the US Virgin Islands, the carnival events take place in St Thomas in April/May, in St Croix in December/January and St John in June/July. Over in the British Virgin Islands, the carnival (or the Emancipation Festival) is the biggest cultural event of the year and takes place in July and August. Events and activities throughout the carnival celebrations include parades, dancing, calypso music and a fabulous party atmosphere!
Sports: Boating and sailing are popular sports in the Virgin Islands, and you take sailing lessons or hire your own boat or yacht to explore the region. The conditions here are also great for other watersports including windsurfing, surfing, diving and snorkelling. Unsurprisingly, the American influence on the US Virgin Islands has transcended into their love of American sports and American football, basketball and baseball are popular among the locals – alongside more ‘traditionally Caribbean’ favourites such as cricket and football.
Nightlife: If partying is your thing, St Thomas boasts the liveliest nightlife of all the Virgin Islands. Here, you will find nightclubs and beach bars aplenty. The other islands – mainly due to their lack of population – are distinctly more laid back and less tourist-orientated, and the bars and restaurants are mainly centred around the hotels and resorts. In the British Virgin Islands, Tortola’s capital Road Town is the place to be after dark.
Eating/Drinking: You will find a whole range of cuisines available in the Virgin Islands, although local specialities include kallaloo (a stew of okra, meat and seafood), fungi (a cornmeal and okra side dish) and plenty of wonderfully fresh fish and seafood such as lobster, grouper, tuna and mahi-mahi. The locals’ favourite tipple is Cruzan Rum (brewed in St Croix) which has a strong and distinctive taste. Bush tea is the islanders’ favourite hot drink which is a generic term for any herbal tea that is made using native plants, such as lemongrass.
Shopping: Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas’ capital port has a good selection of duty free shops which line the Main Street, Back Street and Waterfront (and the alleys in between). There are also a couple of small shopping malls. Here you will find popular brands including Cartier and Fendi and a good selection of unique shops and boutiques. Popular souvenir items include the locally brewed rum, Cruzan, plus other locally handmade items including batik, carved dolls and woven bags.
When to go
The Virgin Islands enjoy a great all-year round climate. The heat is tempered with gentle trade winds that make the temperature pleasant throughout the year, rarely reaching over 90 degrees F or falling below 70 degrees F. Winter is generally considered the ‘dry season’ however, rainfall can occur at any time throughout the year, but is usually confined to a short, sharp tropical shower. As with most Caribbean islands, the official hurricane season runs between June to November but ample advance warning is given.
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