US Virgin Islands – An Exotic Destination Close to Home
I recently traveled to the US Virgin Islands, a territory of the United States located in the Caribbean Sea. With turquoise blue waters, white sand beaches, luscious rain forests, and the convenience of domestic travel, the USVI has something to offer even the most discerning traveler.
In early March I visited 3 of the US Virgin Islands (USVI), St Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John. The weather and beaches were amazing and the ocean views and breezes refreshing. I traveled from March 3-11 and I spent 4 nights in St Croix, 3 in St Thomas and 1 night in St John. I had site inspections at 12 different hotels/resorts, and tried many restaurants, including local specialties like La Reine Chicken Shack. I also experienced (driving on the wrong side of the road!), hiking, snorkeling and various other activities while visiting the islands. Each Island in the USVI has attracts a different type of traveller.
St Croix is the laid-back island that has more of a focus on culture, food, and festivals. There are also a few golf courses and some of the best diving in all of the Caribbean. St Croix is the most overlooked of the islands but also the most diverse in scenery. From the beaches to the rain forest, the island feels spread out and uncrowded. If you’re looking for some tropical fun you’ll find the Cruzan Rum, Mutiny Vodka, and Captain Morgans distilleries on St. Croix as well. And let’s not forget about La Reine’s Chicken or the beer-drinking pig. St. Croix is an easy 20-minute seaplane flight from Christiansted Harbor to Charlotte Amalie in St Thomas. The seaplane was inexpensive and an experience everyone should have once in a lifetime.
St Croix has two major towns, Chrstiansted and Fredriksted. When locals say town they mean Christiansted while Fredriksted is closer to the rain forest. The Danish Heritage is on full display in the two Forts and Governor’s house located on the island. Udall is considered the easternmost point in the United States and a great place to watch the sunrise. Bucks Island National Park has an underwater snorkel trail and a white sandy beach. If you are not a scuba diver, a half-day trip to Buck Island is highly recommended. A car is a must to get around the island and driving is easy, but there are not many street lights.
St. Thomas is the cosmopolitan island most people have been to at least once on a cruise. It has the only 5 Star Luxury property of the islands, The Ritz Carlton, which was recently fully refurbished. St Thomas has a wide variety of white sand beaches and several condo resorts. Magen’s Bay is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and St Thomas has some of the best dining venues on the islands and new restaurants pop up regularly.
Charlotte Amalie is the downtown area that has many art galleries, jewelry, and other shops as well as numerous restaurants. It was through one of the alleys ways I met Tulip who is a local artist and shop owner of Tropical Creations Gallery & Boutique and Cultural Center. In her shop Tulip had hand-made batik fabrics, paintings, Christmas Ornaments, and even native recipe books. Most of the items in her shop were made by Tulip or other local artists.
Red Hook is where you will find a variety of restaurants and pubs as well as the ferry to the jewel of the USVI, St. John.
St John is an outdoor lovers’ beach paradise. Hiking, Kayaking, paddle boats, snorkel, boating, diving can all be had here. Most accommodations are self-catering condo resorts and come with beach chairs and a cooler. Open Safari-style taxis will take you on a tour or to your selected beach. Or you can rent a car and try your hand at driving on the wrong side of the road!
Two-Thirds of St John is a National Park and most of the beaches on St John are part of the park. There are also several sugar plantation ruins that are available to explore including Annaberg, where I met “Charlie”. He was from Tortola and explained to me the garden he keeps as a volunteer for the NPS. In the garden, Charlie was growing native plants that had been used by his grandmother and explained the usage for each. I even got to try real sugar cane. Travelers should visit the park service center for additional information on hiking.