Virgin Islands Tourist Guide & Info
The US Virgin Islands are a wonderful destination for relaxation spending your days on the white-sand beaches. Of course busy bodies will enjoy the many activities by the sea like snorkeling, diving, fishing, yachting and kayaking. Or go hiking off the ecological beaten path and explore the many national parks. There are three main large islands and 60 cays, most within a short ferry ride.
The main islands are: St Thomas the most cosmopolitan island filled with culture, history, shopping, great restaurants and a busy port; St Croix is the largest island with its historical Danish colonial towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted; and finally St John, home of the Virgin Islands National Park, offers spectacular beaches and unspoiled beauty along the hiking trails.
Origin & Culture
Fruits are big in the Virgin Islands as many of these exotic varieties are grown here. On the top of the list you will find sugar apple, mango, papaya, soursop, genip, sea grapes, tamarinds and goose berries. These fruits often show up in the dessert menu as ice creams or dumplings. Another popular dessert is Sweet potato pie.
Because of inter-Caribbean migration, many foods from other Caribbean countries have been adopted into the Virgin Islands culinary culture. For example, the Indo-Trinidadian rotis, goat curry, stewed oxtail and conch as served with plenty of rice, peas, and plantains.
Bush tea is a general term for any herbal tea derived from native plants, including lemongrass. Popular cold beverages include maubi, sorrel, soursop, sea moss and passion fruit.
The residents are called US Virgin Islander and they hold American citizenship. Most are descendents from Africa, enslaved and brought to the Caribbean to labor on plantations.
English is the official language but you will often hear Virgin Islands Creole spoken between islanders. This is an English-based Creole and each island has its own dialect. You can also hear locals speak Spanish, French and their Creole derivatives.
The music of the Virgin Islands reflects the cultural mixture of Indian, African, European and North American influences. Imported from the neighboring Caribbean Islands it is common to hear soca, calypso and reggae, to name a few. The indigenous form of music, called quelbe, is performed by a scratch band which uses homemade instruments like gourds and washboards. There are a couple of traditional songs like the cariso as well as St. Thomas' bamboula. The quadrille is the traditional folk dance of the islands. And there is plenty of bachata, meringue and salsa to dance to in clubs.
Politically the US Virgin Islands are an organized, unincorporated United States territory. The territory consists of the main islands of Saint Thomas, Saint John and Saint Croix, as well as several dozen smaller islands. They are all run separately on an administrative level but all share the Charlotte Amalie on Saint Thomas.
Tourism is the primary economic activity. Other important sectors are petroleum refining, watch assembly, rum distilling, construction, pharmaceuticals, textiles, electronics, agriculture and Senepol cattle breeding.
The Virgin Islands were originally settled by the Ciboney, Carib, and Arawaks. The islands were named by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493. The islands were occupied by several nations over the next century, including England, the Dutch Republic, France, and Denmark. In 1733, the Danish West India Company purchased Saint Croix from the French and brought together Saint Thomas, Saint Croix, and Saint John as the Danish West Indies. Sugarcane, produced by slave labor, drove the islands' economy during the 18th and early 19th centuries, until the abolition of slavery on July 3, 1848.
After two failed treaties, the islands were finally purchased by the United States in 1917 under the Treaty of the Danish West Indies. US citizenship was granted to the inhabitants of the islands in 1927. During the 30s, the repeal of prohibition in the US and the wartime decision to construct a submarine base on Saint Thomas required a bigger work force than the one available, hence the first of several immigrant waves. The tourism industry started developing in the 1950s. Water Island, a small island to the south of Saint Thomas, became a part of the US Virgin Islands territory in 1996.
The animal life in the US Virgin Islands is just as exotic, iguanas, mongooses, donkeys, deer, pelicans, hummingbirds, herons, bats, lizards, frogs and insects. Divers will enjoy exploring the many coral reefs and the fishes that frequent them. Marine life also encompasses dolphins, sea turtles and crustaceans.
Americanization in the US Virgin Islands has led to the popularity of American sports such as baseball, American football and basketball; and popular sports in the Caribbean, such as cricket and soccer, are also played. They have their own independent national sports teams and compete in regional and international events. In cricket, they are represented by the West Indies Cricket Team.
Many sports and activities can be practiced on the islands. Popular land sports include hiking and walking on the many nature and park trails, golf, tennis and horseback riding. For those who enjoy water sports there is fishing, sailing, yachting, sea kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving.
Other Useful Info
The legal tender is the US dollar. Canadian dollars can be exchanged in the many banks and larger hotels. ATMs are common in the more populated areas of the islands, like Charlotte Amalie and Christiansted, all of which dispense U.S. dollars.
All major credit cards and traveller's checks are accepted, but smaller shops, villas, and inns don't always accept them, so it is a good idea to always have a certain amount of cash on hand.
The US Virgin Islands enjoy a tropical yet dry climate, tempered by easterly trade winds. Temperatures vary little throughout the year with the temperature remaining around the low to mid 30s Celsius at midday. The rainy season runs from May to November, which coincides with hurricane season. There have been several hurricanes in recent years as well as frequent and severe droughts and floods.
Limited internet and e-mail access is available in most hotels or Internet cafes.
Daily US newspapers are flown into St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Although the water is generally safe to drink, it is advisable to drink bottled water if you have a delicate stomach. Local meat, poultry, seafood, fruit and vegetables are generally considered safe to eat. The most common illness is the traveler's diarrhea (turista) and sunstroke. Mosquitoes and sand flies can be bothersome at certain times of the year.
There are no required vaccines to enter the country, unless you are arriving from a yellow fever affected destination. The following vaccines are recommended for any tropical destination: hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhoid, tetanus and yellow fever.
January – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the third Monday
March – 31 Transfer Day; Easter
May – Memorial Day, the last Monday
July – 03 Emancipation Day; 04 Independence Day
September – Labor Day, the first Monday
October – Columbus Day, the second Monday
November – 01 Liberty Day; 11 Veterans' Day/Armistice Day
November – Thanksgiving Day, the fourth Thursday
December – 25 Christmas
The US Virgin Islands are relatively crime free, however as a tourist you are more likely to be a target of petty crime. Use good judgment, take advantage of the safety deposit boxes provided by the hotels, do not leave valuables unattended in public and carry your wallet and camera discreetly. Also make sure to lock your hotel room and rental car.
St. Thomas is also the best place in the US Virgin Islands for shopping and St-Croix is second in line. There is not much elsewhere. At these shops you will find great deals on perfumes, watches, clocks, china, crystal and jewelry. Electronic deals are not as good as they may appear.
Local handicraft includes local pottery, silk-screened fabrics, clothing, paintings, watercolors, and wood sculpture. And of course let’s not forget a nice bottle of Cruzan Rum.
Restaurant and nightclub staff usually gets tipped 15% to 20% of the check. Taxi drivers may be tipped 15% of the fare, porters should receive $1 per bag and maids $2 a day.
The departure tax of around $10 US, per person, is payable in cash at the airport when leaving the island, or around $5 US, per person, when leaving by ferry. Should you visit the British Virgin Islands by ferry there is a departure tax of around $5 US, per person, when leaving by ferry.
The Henry E. Rohlsen International Airport serves St. Croix and the Cyril E. King International Airport serves St. Thomas. St. John does not have an airport, but is easily accessible via St. Thomas.
Ferries run between all three US Virgin Islands, as well as to and from the British Virgin Islands. Sailboat and boat rentals are possible. If you plan to sail to the British Virgin Islands, a passport is required.
Car, scooter and bike rentals are available just remember that driving is on the left-hand side of the road. North American drivers can drive for up to 90 days with a current driver's license. There is a rudimentary highway numbering system.
All of the islands have bus service. Taxis are an option as well; fairs are regulated and published by the Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission.