Caribbean Travelweb

Guide To U. S. Virgin Islands


St. Thomas combines the natural beauty of the islands with a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is one of the most beautiful harbors in the world and the most visited port in the Caribbean. Elegant dining, exciting nightlife, and world-class duty-free shopping are abundant in Charlotte Amalie. The city's reputation as the shopping mecca of the Caribbean draws visitors from all over the region and around the world.

A mountainous island, St. Thomas offers stunning vistas in almost every direction. While Charlotte Amalie is full of energy, St. Thomas also provides natural wonders such as the indescribably beautiful Magens Bay and stunning views of the Caribbean from 1,500 feet above sea level. Drake's Seat is particularly famous for its vistas.

St. John, the smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, retains a tranquil, unspoiled beauty uncommon in the Caribbean or anywhere else in the world. Settled in the early 1700s by Danish immigrants attracted to the island's potential as a sugar cane-producing colony, St. John soon blossomed into a thriving society. The ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Plantation and other smaller plantations on the island attest to the island's agricultural history.

Today, two-thirds of St. John is part of the Virgin Islands National Park, featuring fascinating trails, secluded coves, and dazzling white beaches. The Reef Bay Trail takes hikers through dense forests, plantation ruins, and rock outcroppings marked by well-preserved petroglyphs. Trunk Bay, Hawksnest Bay, Cinnamon Bay, and Maho Bay are just four of the dozens of beaches. Cruz Bay, the center of activity on St. John, contains colorful shops, lively bars, and fabulous restaurants.

St. Croix's rich culture and history, along with its beautiful beaches and world-class recreational activities, create an experience unlike any other in the Caribbean. Since the day Christopher Columbus first arrived at Salt River on St.Croix more than 500 years ago, sugar and rum have shaped the island's life and land. Fifty-four sugar mills, each with imposing windmill towers and factory chimneys, still rest in the shadows of stately eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century homes. Located on the west end of the island, Estate Whim Plantation is just one example of these "greathouses." With acres of rolling green hills, St.Croix's plantation estates also bore crops of okra, cabbage, corn, and other vegetables still prominent in Caribbean cuisine. As the sugar industry declined after the 1960s, tourism became the most important industry on the island.

Christiansted and Frederiksted, the two main towns of St. Croix, flourished as commercial ports during the eighteenth century and nineteenth century. Distinct architecture reflects the seven flags--Spanish, Dutch, British, French, Knights of Malta, Danish, and American -- that have flown over the island. Today, visitors to St. Croix can enjoy a number of indoor and outdoor activities, from fine dining, shopping, and a casino, to golf, scuba diving, and horsback riding.

Getting There

The U.S. Virgin Islands have daily, non-stop flights from New York, Newark, Baltimore, Atlanta, and Miami. Connecting flights are availabe to and from Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, New York, Miami, and Atlanta via the San Juan hub. In addition, there's connecting service from Canada, Europe, South America, and the Far East. Commuter service between San Juan and St. Croix and St. Thomas is also available.

These airlines offer service from the U.S. mainland to St. Thomas.

American Airlines
Direct Flights From: New York, Boston, Miami, San Juan

Delta Air Lines
Direct Flights From: Atlanta

Spirit Airlines
Direct Flights From: Ft. Lauderdale

Direct Flights From: Boston

United Airlines
Direct Flights From: Chicago, Dulles, Newark

These airlines offer service from the U.S. mainland to St. Croix.

American Airlines
Direct Flights From: Miami, San Juan

Direct Flights From: Boston

Inter Island Travel

Inter Caribbean airlines serving the U.S. Virgin Islands

American Eagle

Cape Air

Seaborne Airlines, Inc.

Air Sunshine

Bohlke International Airways

Leeward Island Air Transport (LIAT)

Travel between the U.S. Virgin Islands is simple and convenient. St. Thomas to St. John is just 20 minutes from
by ferry (and 75 minutes to St. Croix (seasonal - November to May). There is also daily direct service between St. Croix and St. Thomas by small plane. The trip takes about 25 minutes. Helicopter service also connects the islands. Don't limit your choices, because you can easily include all three islands in your visit.

Entry Requirements

When traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. citizens enjoy all the conveniences of domestic travel – including on-line check-in – making travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands easier than ever. As a United States Territory, travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands does not require a passport for U.S. citizens arriving from Puerto Rico or the U.S. mainland. Entry requirements for non-U.S. citizens are the same as for entering the United States from any foreign destination. Upon departure, a passport is required for all but U.S. citizens.

Helpful Visitor Information

Getting around

Any U.S. driver's license is good for 90 days on the USVI, and while the minimum age for drivers is 18, many agencies won't rent to anyone under the age of 25. Driving is on the left-hand side of the road, even though the steering wheel will be on the left-hand side of the car. In addition, the law requires everyone in the car to wear seat belts. Many of the roads are narrow, and the islands are dotted with hills, so there's ample reason to put safety first. A variety of automobiles are for rent, from sporty four-wheel drives to air-conditioned sedans. Mileage is unlimited, you pay for gas.

St. Thomas

Taxis are common throughout St. Thomas. Buses run regularly between Charlotte Amalie and Red Hook (on the eastside of the island) and Charlotte Amalie and Bordeaux (to the west). For more information, call the VITRAN office at 774-5678. Charlotte Amalie also offers city buses for local transport and to and from the airport.

Most major car rental companies and several local rental companies rent automobiles on St. Thomas, offering everything from four-wheel-drive jeeps to luxury sedans and minivans. Most major roads are well-maintained asphalt.

St. Croix

Buses run regularly between Christiansted and Frederiksted from 5:30am to 9:30pm except Sunday. Service is also available from both cities to and from the airport. Exact change is required. For more information, call the VITRAN office at 773-1290, ext. 2291.

Taxis are readily available on St. Croix. In Christiansted, taxi stands are located near the Government House on King Street, and on Market Square. Frederiksted's taxi stand is next to Fort Frederik.

Most major rental companies and several local rental companies rent automobiles on St. Croix, offering everything from four-wheel drive Jeeps to luxury sedans and minivans. Parking can be limited in Christiansted. Most major roads are well-maintained asphalt.

St. John

Taxis are available on St. John. Visitors can take a two-hour tour of the island by taxi for a set fee. For more information, call the Taxi Commission at 776-8294.

Buses run from Cruz Bay on the west side of the island every hour on the half hour to Coral Bay on the east side of the island. Fares are one dollar each way.

A limited number of auto rentals are available in Cruz Bay.

Travel Tips

  • The U.S. Virgin Islands are in the Atlantic standard time zone, one hour ahead of Eastern standard time (during daylight savings time only).

  • Most visitors drink the local tap water without any problems.

  • Should you rent a car, remember to obey traffic laws wear your seat belt, and dive on the left side of the road!!

  • English is the official language.

  • Currency is the U.S. dollar. Traveler's checks and all major credit cards are honored.

  • The U.S. Postal Service provides mail services for USVI.

  • You can direct-dial from the United States Virgin Islands to the U.S. mainland. The service connects callers to Europe and South America.

  • The electrical current is the same as in North America (standard 120 volt/60 cycle).

  • Tipping of 15 percent to 20 percent is customary for good service. Some hotels automatically add a service charge.

  • Bring casual clothes for warm weather, as the average temperature ranges between 77F and 83F. Swimsuits should not be worn around town. Bring plenty of sunscreen and use it!!

  • Most visitors drink the local tap water with no harmful aftereffects. Those with more delicate stomachs might want to stick to bottled water.

Activities and Attractions

The golfing hub of the Virgin Islands is the challenging Carambola Golf Course (tel. 340-778-5638) in St. Croix. Also on St. Croix is the excellent course at The Buccaneer (tel. 340-773-2100) just outside Christiansted. The highlight on St. Thomas is the Mahogany Run (tel. 800-253-7103 or 340-777-6006), designed by George and Tom Fazio. There aren't any courses on St. John.

Horseback Riding
English, Western, and bareback riding are available on all three islands. St. Croix offers guided rides along its west end. Donkey rides are available in the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John.

Explore the beauty of these islands on a guided hike. Led by experienced herbalists and naturalists, hikers will discover indigenous plants, flowers, herbs, and wildlife. Popular hiking destinations include Reef Bay on St. John and Estate Mount Washington on St. Croix.

Bike tours are a fun way to explore the scenery of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Guided tours are available on St. Croix, and on Water Island off the coast of St. Thomas. Many tours include historical and ecological lessons. Full-day and half-day bike rentals are also available for those who want to explore the island on their own.

Tennis is a popular pastime on the islands. Many of the resorts provide tennis privileges for their guests. Public courts are available on all three islands as well.

Bird Watching
Bird watching is popular in the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John, and in the west end forest and the Sandy Point Wildlife Refuge on St. Croix.

Buck Island Reef National Monument, located off of St. Croix, is an excellent snorkeling location and one of only two underwater national monuments in the United States. Virgin Islands National Park on St. John also offers snorkeling along its coastline. St. Thomas visitors can take advantage of a guided kayak and snorkeling tour through the St. Thomas Marine Sanctuary or Magens Bay.

St. Thomas offers plenty of shallow reef sites teeming with colorful tropicals and tons of soft corals. Sites such as Cow and Calf Rocks provide caves, caverns and swimthroughs, while Sail Rock has fast current thrills and the chance to see large critters.

Diving St. John is quite similar to St. Thomas. Lots of dives with extended bottom times. Check out the Major General Rogers, a Coast Guard tender ship, intentionally sunk in just 65' of water as an artificial reef. You will be amazed at the swarms of schooling fish and large barracuda patrol the wreck on a regular basis.

What so different about diving St. Croix? Walls! Sites such as Cane Bay Drop-Off provide walls starting in as little as 40'. Along the crest of the walls, hard and soft corals are found in abundance. St. Croix also offers a great selection of wreck and shallow reef dives.

The consistent trade winds and calm waters provide ideal conditions for windsurfing. Many major hotels and resorts offer on-site rentals and personalized instruction. Experienced windsurfers will enjoy crossing Pillsbury Sound, which stretches from the shores of St. John to St. Thomas.

In the last 25 years or so, more than 20 sport fishing world records have been set from the Virgin Islands, mostly for the mega blue marlin. Other abundant fish in these waters are bonito, tuna, wahoo, sailfish, and skipjack. Sport fishing charters, led by experienced local captains, abound in the islands; both half-day and full-day trips are available. But you needn't go out to sea to fish. On St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix, the U.S. government publishes lists of legal shoreline fishing spots (contact local tourist offices for more information). Closer inshore, you'll find kingfish, mackerel, bonefish, tarpon, amberjack, grouper, and snappers.

On St. Thomas, many men line fish from the rocky shore along Mandahl Beach, which is also a popular spot for family picnics. The shore here is not the best place for swimming, because the water drops off dramatically and the surf tends to be rough. On St. John, at the Virgin Islands National Park, the park waters are open to fishermen with hand-held rods. No fishing license is required for shoreline fishing, and government pamphlets available at tourist offices list some 100 good spots. Call tel. 340-775-6762 for more information.

Other Watersports
Parasailing combines hot air ballooning, hang gliding, and parachuting into one beautiful ride. Snuba, a combination of snorkeling and scuba diving, is popular on St. John. Submarine and glass-bottom boat rides are available on St. Thomas. Sea kayaking is a unique way to explore the shorelines and estuaries of the islands.

The beauty of St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix has attracted a cadre of professionally trained chefs who know how to prepare fresh fish and local fruits. You can dine on everything from terrific, cheap local dishes such as goat water (a spicy stew) and fungi (cornmeal and okra) to imports such as hot pastrami sandwiches and raspberries in crème fraîche. Fresh local seafood is plentiful and always good; wahoo, mahimahi, and conch are popular.

In large hotels you'll pay prices similar to those in New York City or Paris. Fancy restaurants may have a token chicken or pasta dish under $20, but otherwise, main courses are pricey. You can, however, find good inexpensive Caribbean restaurants. To snack on some local fare, order a johnnycake (a deep-fried dough round made of cornmeal and white flour) or a thick slice of dumb bread (a dense round loaf often cut into triangles and filled with cheddar cheese) from any of the mobile food vans parked all over the island.

Dining is informal. Few restaurants require a jacket and tie. Still, at dinner in the snazzier places, shorts and T-shirts are inappropriate; men would do well to wear slacks and a shirt with buttons. Dress codes rarely require women to wear skirts, but you'll never go wrong with something flowing.

Shop for local handicrafts (clothing, art, jewelry -- some with gemstones), liquor (especially rum), calypso and steel-band recordings, leather goods and pottery created by local artisans. St. Thomas has excellent duty-free shopping (jewelry, gemstones, cameras, watches, perfumes, crystal, linens, designer clothes, liquor). The duty-free limit for U.S. citizens returning from the U.S. Virgin Islands is US$1,200 per person, but just because something is duty-free doesn't mean it's cheaper than in your hometown: Know your prices before buying. U.S. citizens are also allowed to take home six fifths of liquor duty-free, more than from other places around the Caribbean. However, one bottle must be distilled in the islands (Southern Comfort and Cruzan rum qualify). Shopkeepers will package the six bottles for you.

Though St. Thomas has the largest variety of duty-free shopping, many of the stores also have branches on St. Croix. On St. John, Mongoose Junction is the best-established shopping center.

Shops in the downtown areas are usually closed on Sundays, unless a cruise ship is in port. Shops at the larger hotels are usually open on Sundays. Look for bargains on perfume, liquor, cameras, china, porcelain, crystal, imported clothing, leather goods, watches, jewelry, and gold, as well as crafts made by local artisans. Many of these items can be bought for 40 percent less than in the United States; liquor and cigarettes are often 60 percent less.

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