St Thomas, St John, and St Croix are the biggest and mostvisited of the 60 islands that make up the US Virigin Islands.Their appeal lies in the amalgamation of the exotic and therecognisable, an island paradise with modern comforts and a balancebetween Caribbean culture and American practicality.
The energetic capital of Charlotte Amalie and its attractiveharbour lies on St Thomas. It is the most Americanised of the chainand is famous for its world-class duty free shopping. Nearby StJohn is an unspoilt nature lover's paradise, with most of itsforests, pristine beaches, and reefs part of a protected nationalpark.
St Croix is the largest of the islands and is fairly remote fromthe others. Historic remnants are scattered about the landscape, asare the pretty Danish-influenced towns of Frederiksted andChristiansted. Additionally, snorkelling at Buck Island is also anattraction.
Surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean, theseislands boast some of the most splendid coastlines in the world,with white sandy beaches, astonishing coral reefs, plentiful marinelife, secluded coves, and untouched rainforests rising up above thesea-swept landscape.
Caribbean colour touches every aspect of the islands, blendingwith the strong Danish influence in the towns. White sails glideeffortlessly across the emerald waters; local craftsmen displaytheir unique island art along cobblestone alleyways; tiled villaroofs provide a splash of red against the verdant hillside; busymarkets supply the essentials for a delicious cuisine; and thesounds of folk songs and calypso bands fill the air.
The Virgin Islands are among the most popular cruise shipdestinations in the Caribbean and the port towns of CharlotteAmalie, Christiansted, and Frederiksted are often swamped withnewly arrived passengers in a frenzy of shopping and dining. Themost popular beaches are seldom deserted, and the key reef areasare often a flurry of flippers and snorkels.
Luxury resorts and fine hotels share the streets with oldcolonial architecture. Yet it is still possible to escape thecrowds and find that bit of elusive paradise, to relax away fromthe divers and sailors, the sightseers, the ecological tour groups,and the shoppers.
A few miles off the northeastern shore of St Croixlies the tiny paradise of Buck Island, one of the best excursionsin the Virgin Islands. The entire island and its surrounding coralreef is a protected nature reserve and includes a beautiful beach,an incredible coral marine garden, and two major underwatersnorkelling trails with signs that introduce snorkellers to thetypes of coral and sea life.
Turtle Bay Trail and East End Trail together havebecome one of the most popular attractions in the US VirginIslands, while there are also some excellent scuba diving sites offBuck Island Reef. Those wanting to visit Buck Island should take ataxi or drive to Christiansted or Green Cay, on St Croix, and thenfind a boat trip going to the island. There is no regular ferryservice, but it is generally easy to find and join a boat tour.
One of the prettiest towns in the Caribbean, Christiansted has aperfect harbour setting and is the capital of St Croix. Dominatingthe waterfront is the large yellow building, Fort Christiansvaern,built in the late 1700s to protect the town's harbour againstpirates during its days as capital of the Danish colony. It servedas an important trading centre for sugar and rum.
Much of the original Danish colonial architecture remains,including the Old Custom House, government buildings, and theatmospheric wharf area lined with pastel-coloured warehouses.Original Danish streets signs survive among modern enterprises liketourist shops, courtyard restaurants, and a spirited bar scene onthe waterfront. There are plenty of beach activities nearby and apopular excursion is a trip to Buck Island, which offers superbbeaches and coral reefs.
Charlotte Amalie, named in honour of the wife of KingChristian V, is the Danish-flavoured capital of the US VirginIslands, a busy port and important merchant centre since the 18thcentury. The beautiful harbour is ringed with whitewashed housesand painted villas, their red roofs a splash of colour against thegreen hillside. Cobbled, Danish-signposted streets and alleywayslead down to the waterfront lined with shops, boutiques andcolonial architecture.
The old Danish merchant warehouses form aworld-famous shopping district, selling imported goods from aroundthe globe. The harbour is usually filled with cruise ships,ferries, yachts and fishing vessels, and is one of the most visitedports in the Caribbean, creating a tourist hub that is vibrant andmultinational, but often overcrowded.
For those weary of duty-free shopping, CharlotteAmalie offers numerous other attractions, as well as elegantrestaurants and an exciting nightlife. Blackbeard's Castle on topof Government Hill offers superb views over the harbour, and issaid to have been the lookout tower for the legendary pirate,Captain Blackbeard.
The red brick Fort Christian is the oldest standingbuilding on the island, where Danish soldiers stood guard againstpirates and invaders. The fort has served as a jail, church,government house and community hall in its long history and todayhouses the Virgin Islands Museum.
The best way to appreciate the stunning beauty of CharlotteAmalie and the St Thomas Harbour is from above. The idea for thetramway, which carries visitors over Flag Hill to Paradise Point,700 feet (213m) up, began in the 1980s, when two ambitiousbusinessmen bought more than 30 acres of Flag Hill from the Queenof Denmark.
After a few setbacks, including Hurricane Hugo, the tramwayopened in 1994 and has been a favourite tourist activity eversince. If visitors are fortunate enough to catch one of the lasttrams of the day, they will witness a magical vista of twinklinglights against the soft Caribbean twilight.
At the top, there is a collection of unique shops as well as acasual restaurant perfect for watching sunsets while sipping acocktail and listening to a local band. Paradise Point has beenvoted the best live entertainment venue and the best touristattraction multiple times.
Coral World Ocean Park is arguably the island of St Thomas'premier tourist attraction and has been enormously popular foryears with visitors of all ages. The marine park is built on twolevels: an over-water floor with interesting exhibitions, a touchpool, restaurants, and a gift shop; and an underwater observatorywhere visitors can gape at exotic marine life in its naturalsurrounds.
Coral World also boasts Sea Trek technology - that is, 'helmetdiving technology' - allowing you to walk along the ocean floor forup to half an hour with no need for an oxygen tank or a snorkel.This technology was successfully used to stage the island'sfirst-ever underwater wedding, which took place at Coral World inJanuary 2001.
St Croix Ultimate Bluewater Adventures has been called 'thefriendliest dive shop on earth' and offers a fantastic opportunityto anyone who wishes to become a fully-certified diver while onholiday in the Virgin Islands.
While experienced divers will find their every need catered for(try the night dives!), the real beauty of the operation is theease with which complete novices can obtain their PADI Open WaterDiver certification, under the expert guidance of highly-qualifieddive staff.
Over and above experiencing the beautiful underwater sights ofthe Caribbean, doing a diving course in the US Virgin Islandsallows visitors to the islands to leave with a skill that they'llcherish for the rest of their lives.
The islands are hot and humid throughout the year, with mostrain falling between August and October. The busiest tourist seasonis from December to May, during the northern hemisphere winter, andoutside of these months rooms are cheaper and the islands lesscrowded. Between April and August, the waters are calmer andunderwater visibility is best for diving and snorkelling. Mosttravellers prefer to avoid the rainy season in the US VirginIslands, but this Caribbean gem can be enjoyed at any time ofyear.
The official currency is the US Dollar (USD) divided into 100cents. Most credit cards are accepted, including American Express,Diners Club, Mastercard, and Visa, and are useful for withdrawingcash at ATMs. Foreign exchange bureaux are available to exchangeother currencies, but it is best to arrive with US Dollars as manybanks and hotels will not exchange foreign currency.
English is the official language. Spanish, Creole andsome French are also spoken.
120 volts, 60Hz. Two-flat-pin plugs arestandard.
A valid US passport is required. A visa is not required.
UK passport holders require a valid passport for travel to theUS Virgin Islands. British Citizens require a passport valid forduration of stay. Passports with other endorsements must be validfor six months beyond period of intended stay. Under the VisaWaiver Programme (VWP), most British citizens do not require a visafor holiday, transit, or business purposes provided that theirpassports are machine-readable, the stay does not exceed 90 days, areturn or onward ticket is held, and they check into the USgovernment ESTA website prior to departure to register.
Canadians require a passport valid for duration of stay but avisa is not required. Visitors should hold tickets and documentsrequired for return or onward destination.
Australian nationals require a passport valid for duration ofstay but do not require a visa for tourist stays of up to 90 days.Passports need to be machine-readable, a return or onward ticket isrequired, and Australians must check into the US government ESTAwebsite prior to departure.
South Africans must hold a passport valid for duration of stay,and a visa is required. Visitors must have return or onward ticketsand the necessary documents for further travel.
Irish nationals require a passport valid for duration of stay,but as Ireland qualifies for the US Visa Waiver Programme, visasare not required for tourists or business stays of up to 90 days.Visitors must have machine-readable passports, return or onwardtickets, and they must register on the ESTA site beforedeparture.
A valid US passport is required. A visa is not required.
New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for duration ofstay but do not need visas for stays of up to 90 days. NewZealanders require machine-readable passports and return or onwardtickets, and must register on the US government ESTA website beforedeparture.
Entry requirements are the same as for the United States ofAmerica. It is highly recommended that passports have at least sixmonths validity remaining after your intended date of departurefrom your travel destination. There is no immigration control forvisitors arriving from mainland USA. Visitors from countries thatqualify for the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) must have amachine-readable passport (MRP) that has a bar code on the photopage. Eligible travellers under the VWP must include biometrics intheir machine-readable passports if they wish to enter the countrywithout a visa; this means that unique personal data, such asfingerprints or iris details, must be included in passports. Allpassports must contain a digital photo image in order to travelvisa-free. Those travelling under the VWP must also register on theUS government ESTA website three days before departure, whichallows the US to screen visitors before travel. All visitors to theUSA will have a photograph and two fingerprints taken by an inklessscanner on arrival, including those travelling visa-free under theVisa 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 avalid passport. Immigration officials often apply different rulesto those stated by travel agents and official sources.
There are no significant health risks. However, only bottledwater should be drunk outside the major towns. Medical facilitiesare of a high standard, but health insurance is vital as medicalcare is very expensive.
Tipping of 15 to 20 percent is customary for good service. Somehotels and restaurants automatically add a service charge and roomtax.
The US Virgin Islands are generally safe for travellers and thevast majority of visits are trouble-free; however, normalprecautions against petty crime should be taken, especially in theback streets of towns at night. Don't leave valuables lying on thebeach when snorkelling or swimming.
In the US Virgin Islands, politeness is important. Greet peoplebefore asking questions or requesting assistance. Greetings dependon the time of day, with good morning, good afternoon, and goodevening being common. You may hear locals thanking 'jumbi'(spirits) for good luck, or blaming them for misfortune.
The economy in the US Virgin Islands revolves primarily aroundtourism, though petroleum refining takes place off St. Croix. Likemany other Caribbean countries things are pretty relaxed, andformal business attire is generally not considered necessary as theclimate makes this quite uncomfortable. The people are friendly andpolite and shaking hands is common upon introductions for men andwomen; business cards are handed out upon introduction. Businesshours are typically 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday, with lunch breaksaround 12pm.
The international country code for the US Virgin Islands is +1340 and the code for dialling out internationally is 011 (followedby the relevant country code, for example 01144 for the UnitedKingdom). City/area codes are not required. The AT & T WirelessGSM mobile network covers the islands. Internet cafes are availablein the main resorts.
Travellers to the Virgin Islands who are residents of the USAand are over 21 years are allowed to return the the US with 4litres of alcoholic beverages; 100 cigars or 1,000 cigarettes, taxfree, granted they have been purchased in the Virgin Islands.
US Virgin Islands Tourist Office, St Thomas: +1 340 774 8784 orwww.usvitourism.vi
United States Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 74999000.
United States Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 238 5335.
United States Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 4314000.
United States Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 62145600.
United States Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +354 (0)1 668 8777.
United States Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 4626000.
British Embassy, Washington DC, USA: +1 202 588 6500.
Canadian Embassy, Washington DC, USA: +1 202 682 1740.
South African Embassy, Washington DC, USA: +1 202 232 4400.
Australian Embassy, Washington DC, USA: +1 202 797 3000.
Irish Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 462 3939
New Zealand Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 3284800.