The Virgin Islands are the most westerly group of islands comprising the
Leeward Islands in the Caribbean. The islands to the north east of this
grouping are British overseas territories and consist of Tortola, Virgin
Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, Anegada and fifty other smaller islands. The
southwestern grouping of islands are territories of the United States and
consist of St Croix, St Thomas, St John and several smaller islands. The
islands of Culebra and Vieques are also part of the Virgin Islands and
belong to Puerto Rico.
Most visitors to the U.S. Virgin Islands don't stray beyond St. Thomas - the
nexus of the islands' vibrant culture. However, there are a variety of
daytime excursions that offer activities for any type of tourist on St.
Thomas' sister islands. From the extensive colonial history of St. Croix to
the wide-open spaces of St. John and Water Island, there is plenty to
experience throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands. Furthermore, moving between
the islands is a breeze as ferries visit each of the U.S. Virgin Islands
Of the three major U.S. Virgin Islands, St. John is the least developed
destination. As two-thirds of the island is designated as the Virgin Islands
National Park, you are guaranteed plenty of undeveloped Caribbean beauty.
The island's interior is lined with hiking trails offering challenges for
experienced hikers and families alike. Though the island measures just 28
square miles, you will be able to feel like you have escaped from the hustle
St. John is also a great spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. The coral
reefs surrounding the island are teeming with colorful fish and sea
creatures. Though St. John is a quiet island, you will easily be able to
find tour guides and dive instructors. Such dive tours and ferry service
from St. Thomas can be arranged directly through your resort.
St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is a great destination
for historical sightseers. Prior to European colonization of the Caribbean,
the island was inhabited by native Arawaks and Caribs. In 1493, Christopher
Columbus landed on the island and claimed it for the Spanish Crown. Named
Santa Cruz (Holy Cross), the island was the site of many battles between the
native populations and the Spaniards for more than a century. In the 17th
Century, Dutch and English settlers came to the St. Croix. The island
continued changing European hands as the Spanish ousted both the Dutch and
English, only to have their settlements overtaken by the French. After
serving as a profitable agricultural settlement for a number of European
companies - including the Dutch West India and Guinea Company, St. Croix was
eventually sold to the United States by Denmark during World War I to
prevent German acquisition. When all was said and done, St. Croix had flown
seven different flags during 500 years of colonial history.
The remains of this colonial history can be found throughout St. Croix,
especially in Christiansted and Frederiksted - the island's largest
settlements. Beyond the unique ruins of European colonies, the 82
square-mile island is full of the natural beauty the Caribbean is known for.
From the rainforests at the interior of the island to the wide beaches at
the shore, St. Croix has everything you expect of an island paradise. St.
Croix can easily be reached by direct ferry or flight from St. Thomas.
So when planning your trip to St. Thomas, consider a day trip to one of the
other islands to enjoy everything that the USVI has to offer.
This article was written by Justin Burch. Justin writes select pieces about
enjoying a Marriott
Caribbean Vacation at the St.
Though St. Thomas is known as one of the best
shopping destinations in the Caribbean, the island is also home to a wealth
of historical intrigue. Within a concentrated area of St. Thomas' capital
city, Charlotte Amalie, visitors will find everything from ornate churches
and government buildings to colonial forts and mythical pirate outposts. If
you want to experience St. Thomas' fascinating history, there is no better
way to see the sights than a walk through Charlotte Amalie amongst the
beautiful Caribbean weather.
The best place to start a walking tour of
Charlotte Amalie's historic sites is Fort Christian, a Danish-built
structure dating to the late 17th century. Visible throughout Charlotte
Amalie, this vivid red-brick fort is in fact the oldest remaining structure
in the Virgin Islands. Having served as a government center and a church
after the colonial period, Fort Christian is now a National Historic
Landmark and history museum. After visiting the museum, be sure to visit the
roof of Fort Christian for an excellent panoramic view of the harbor.
Directly across the street from Fort
Christian, you will see the historic Legislature Building, a beautifully
rebuilt colonial structure. After serving as barracks for Danish police and
later for U.S. Marines, the Legislature Building was completed restored in
1956 and has served as home to local lawmakers since 1970.
From the courtyard of the Legislature
Building, turn left and follow the sidewalk to the first traffic light. At
the traffic light, turn right and look for the Vendor's Plaza on your left.
Above this outdoor market, you will find Emancipation Park, the site of many
official ceremonies and the Virgin Islands' replica of the Liberty Bell.
Directly across the street from Emancipation
Park is the Grand Hotel, a 19th century structure that now houses a number
of small shops and restaurants. After perusing the unique businesses inside
the Grand Hotel, walk towards Fort Christian and turn left up the first
At the top of the narrow path, you will come
upon one of St. Thomas' most significant churches, the golden Lutheran
Church. Known for its large staircase and bright yellow color, the church is
one of the most photographed buildings in St. Thomas. Once the official
church of the Danish West Indies, the Lutheran Church is still used for
Turning right after leaving the Lutheran
Church, you will walk past Post Office Square and a trio of statues. As you
continue up Government Hill, you will come upon a street known as Kongens
Gade, site of the 99 Steps. Constructed in the mid-18th century, these steps
represent the Danes' attempt at city planning near the hilly shores of St.
If you choose to follow the street rather
than climbing the staircase, you will find the historic Government House - a
building known for its collection of paintings by Camille Pissaro - on your
immediate left. However, if you climb the 99 Steps, you will find yourself
on the easiest route to Blackbeard's Castle, one of St. Thomas' most popular
sights. Blackbeard's Castle is actually a large watch tower that once
belonged to the Danish Fort Trygborg. As Blackbeard's Castle rests atop
Government Hill, the structure provides an excellent view of the harbor.
Though it is not known when the watch tower came to be known as Blackbeard's
Castle, local legend has it that the famous pirate used the watch tower to
patrol for rival ships.
The land surrounding Blackbeard's Castle is
home to several town house museums, including Villa Notman and The Haagensen
House. In each case, these musuems house everything from antiques to
valuable Danish furniture. After leaving the area of Blackbeard's Castle,
return to the area of Post Office Square and Main Street. After turning
right onto Main Street, look on the right for a small street called Nye Gade.
One block up from Main Street at the corner
of Crystal Gade and Nye Gade, you will find the pictuesque St. Thomas
Reformed Church. Known as the island's finest example of classical revival
architecture, the St. Thomas Reformed Church resembles a Roman temple,
complete with large supporting columns.
Turning left onto Crystal Gade, you will
quickly come upon the St. Thomas Synagogue, the second-oldest synagogue in
the Western Hemisphere. Having served an incredibly significant spiritual
role during the colonial period, the St. Thomas Synagogue is still used
today under Sephardic tradition. As a result, the St. Thomas Synagogue
features the traditional sand-covered floor, a symbol of the Jewish flight
Returning to Main Street along the same
route, you will be in the heart of St. Thomas' shopping district. Turning
right at Main Street and following the road to the end of the shopping
district, you will come upon Market Square, a former slave market that now
serves as an open-air produce and craft market.
One block further up Main Street, you will
find St. Thomas' primary Catholic church, Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral.
Constructed in 1806, the cathedral is known for its ornate murals painted by
Belgian artists, Father Leo Servais and Brother Ildephonsus.
While history probably won't be the first
thing on your mind while in St. Thomas, the island features a wealth of
important sites within a very walkable area. After enjoying the beach and
the relaxing amenities of your resort, this simple walking tour of Charlotte
Amalie offers a great way to spend a sunny afternoon.
Justin Burch writes articles about travel in St. Thomas for the Marriott
you plan your trip to St. Thomas, you will probably find that one of the
favorite activities for St. Thomas vacations is duty-free shopping in
Charlotte Amalie. While shopping and walking the streets of this colonial
capital might be a great start to a St. Thomas vacation, St. Thomas
certainly has more to offer than simple shopping and dining. From the
historic colonial sites scattered throughout the island to the natural
beauty of the Caribbean, St. Thomas has something to offer any type of
tourist. You and your family can embark on exotic underwater adventures, or
ride a cable car to the top of a Caribbean peak. The possibilities are
endless in St. Thomas.
A favorite of families, the Coral World Ocean Park features over five acres
of aquariums, pools, hiking trails and observatories. Feeding shows and
snorkeling expeditions allow children to interact with some of the
Caribbean's most interesting sea creatures. For the daring tourist, the site
even offers parasailing and a swim-with-sharks program. Also for lovers of
marine life, the high-tech submarine tour - Atlantis XV - allows tourists to
coast through coral reefs and observe numerous types of fish, turtles and
other Caribbean creatures. Your tour guide will point out interesting and
rare species along the way.
Just east of the capital city of Charlotte Amalie is another tourist
favorite, Bluebeard's Castle. Though local legend states that the structure
was built by the famous pirate to commemorate his love of Mercedita, the
stone tower was actually constructed by Danish colonists in 1689 as a
watchtower for nearby Fort Christian. Connected to this site is the complex
know as Frederiksberg, a residence erected after the colonial government
sold the land in 1818. Today, the buildings serve as one of the most unique
architectural sites in the Caribbean.
The highest point in St. Thomas, the 1,542 foot peak of St. Peter Mountain,
was once used by the U.S. government as a communications station. Today,
this scenic overlook features shops and restaurants that look down upon
Drake's passage - the legendary site believed to have been a lookout for Sir
Francis Drake spying on the Spanish Armada - and the surrounding. Another
great location for that perfect Caribbean view is The St. Thomas Skyride to
Paradise Point. The aerial cable car at the site takes you up 700 feet in
less than 7 minutes with stunning scenery along the way. At the top you will
find a number of fun shops and restaurants, all of which feature amazing
views of Charlotte Amalie harbor.
The Tillet Gardens are the home of St. Thomas' vibrant local art scene.
Formerly a Danish farm, English artist Jim Tillet converted the property
into a center for visual arts and performance after arriving in St. Thomas
in 1959. Besides being one of the few colonial farms open to the public,
Tillet Gardens are brimming with local paintings, silkscreen prints, jewelry
and other crafts all created by the local community. After enjoying a cool
drink and a snack, check the event schedule as you may have the pleasure of
hearing a classical music performance.
charming fishing outpost known as Frenchtown is another great area to visit
and relax while in St. Thomas. Settled in the late 1800s by fishermen from
the nearby French-Caribbean island of St. Barthelemy, Frenchtown still
features an active fish market. Early in the morning, you can observe
fishermen approaching the shore in their small boats and preparing their
catch for sale.
Resting on a hilltop in the middle of town is St. Ann's Catholic Church, a
great place to catch a view of town and the vast Caribbean. Frenchtown also
has the beautiful French Heritage Museum with artifacts documenting the
French colonial experience in the Caribbean region. A little further off the
beaten path is the town of Red Hook, a departure point for many Caribbean
ferries and other vessels. Supporting the local marinas are several
excellent restaurants and bars, each with unique offerings. Experiencing
small towns such as Red Hook, in addition to the capital of Charlotte Amalie
and the surrounding countryside, will certainly offer some understanding of
the rich culture and history of this beautiful Caribbean island.
The British Virgin Islands are a series of volcanic outcrops that stretch
more than 70 miles between the Caribbean and the Atlantic. The major islands
of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke are accompanied by
almost 40 smaller islands that form a protective chain around the Francis
Drake channel. This protective rock formation makes Virgin island diving
possible around the channel in all weather conditions.
Scuba diving in the British Virgin Islands differs slightly from the rest of
the Caribbean in that there is very little wall or drift diving here, and
the majority of the dives are done in only 50-60 feet of water.
Subsequently, large coral gardens, wrecks and caverns tend to characterize
diving here. The majority of the diving tends to take place within the
Francis Drake channel, however, the large number of wrecks that surround
Anegada ensure that it is also a popular spot for Virgin Island diving.
The British Virgin Islands offer a number of excellent dives, however, the
wreck of the RMS Rhone off Salt Island is considered the cream of the crop.
The wreck of the RMS Rhone lies in shallow waters of Black Rock Point.
During a hurricane in October 1867, the RMS Rhone collided with the rocks
around Black Rock Point, which caused an explosion in the boiler room.
Nowadays, there is an abundance of marine life across the wreck including a
giant green moray and an octopus, both of which inhabit the rear portion of
The temperatures throughout the Islands are relatively constant, ranging
from 86 degrees F in summer down to approximately 80 degrees F in the cooler
winter period. Water temperatures range between 78 and 83 degrees F.
Overall, the diving industry in the Islands is well developed and owing to
their calm, clear waters, the islands are considered an excellent
destination for novice or learner scuba divers. For experienced divers there
are also a large number of more challenging dives, which make British Virgin
Island diving a worthy experience for everyone, from the rookies to the
Frances wrote this article for Dive Time
Virgin Island Diving "Divetime.com is
the premier Scuba diving destination on the internet, with a unique offering
of Scuba related information and services to divers everywhere"
British Virgin Islands comprise around fifty Caribbean islands and
outcroppings. Most of them are located within sights of one another, which
is the reason why the BVIs archipelago is perfect for a powerboating trip.
If you're eyeing to charter a powerboat on your next visit, here are 4 spots
you wouldn't want to miss.
Baths in the southern tip of Virgin Gorda is a famous BVIs landmark. The
unique natural formations of grottoes, tunnels and arches, formed by massive
granite boulders and half-submerged rocks somehow represents the Virgin
Islands as it is: untamed but beautiful. Topping it off are the sea grapes
and coconut palms, as well as the stunningly colored and time-deformed
boulders that line up the shore.
quarter-mile south from the Baths is the Devil's Bay, and getting to this
equally stunning bay, is hiking through a maze-like passage of boulders and
shallower grottoes. Along the trail, you'll find the Cathedral; a pool
formed by an overhead intersection of two gigantic rocks, which creates a
tall, triangular roof that lets a small amount of light through. This is a
popular setting for romantic pictorials.
End Yacht Club
North Sound at the Northern end of Virgin Gorda is a remote anchorage and
home to the world-famous Bitter End Yacht Club. Although, the white sand
beach and calm sapphire blue waters of this sheltered bay are crowd drawers
by themselves, establishments like the BEYC and many other seafood grills
and steakhouses on the shore-side see to it that the yachties, adventure
seekers, and land lubbers from near and afar get their fix of the island
Van Dyke is a four mile-long barefoot paradise best known for its casual
style, and world-class beaches; beach bars and restaurants. The Soggy Dollar
Bar, known for giving the world the spiky frozen delight, the "Painkiller,"
is among the bars that make JVD their home. Another one is Foxy's Beach
Restaurant and Tamarind Bar, known for throwing huge New Year's Eve Parties,
which they call "Old Year's Eve."
away at the Western tip of Tortola, Soper's Hole a.k.a. Tortola's West End,
is often referred to as a tropical urban "gunkhole," a nautical term for a
great anchor spot. The Marina retains its quaint charm with its captivating
complex of pastel West Indian-Style buildings, boutiques, bars and
restaurants. Surrounded by small mountains such as the Frenchman's Cay, and
along with an alluring opening to the Caribbean Sea, Soper's Hole exposes a
soothing sense of spatial intimacy.
Powerboating around the British Virgin Islands is an exciting way to
experience this tropical island paradise's beauty and natural wonders. Make
your trip more memorable by visiting these 4 top BVIs destinations.
Hunt is a wanderer who has the knack for writing. Upon a trip to the Virgin
Islands, fell in love with its hum and vibration. He currently resides in
St. Thomas and works as a skipper for
St Thomas Boat Rental.
Little is known about the awesome waves and surfs that grace the United
States and British Virgin Islands during warm seasons. During this time,
roughly from mid-November to late April, waves can reach up to eight-feet in
height, and on bigger days may reach as high as double overhead. And
although the VIs waters are pretty flat and un-surfable the rest of the
year, passing storms on the Northern part can still create some pretty
are the top 5 surf spots in the Virgin Islands.
Sprat Bay, Water Island, USVI
10-minute ferry ride from St. Thomas, Water Island, is better known for
swimming and snorkeling. However, Sprat Bay, near the Island's East End, has
hollow, fast, and ledgy right point breaks that suit surfers of any skill
level -- including beginners. Settled in a mostly undeveloped island, Sprat
Bay does not draw in a heavy crowd; making it a good place for "limin'"
(chilling and relaxing).
Bay, St. Thomas, USVI
Bay is perhaps the beach that's most associated with surfing in all of St.
Thomas. Located on the island's Atlantic side, the bay produces four to
ten-foot point/reef breaks from the swells that come from the Northeast.
With fast and powerful ledgy left and right point breaks, as well as having
a reef and coral bottom, Hull Bay is recommended only for experienced
Garden Bay, Tortola, BVI
point break at Cane Garden Bay generates strong waves wrapping around as
they race down the harbour's inside bowl section. Although waves can reach
heights of up to fifteen-feet, they need to be over five-feet before the
break is surfable. The bay's inside reefs are exposed as the water sucks
out, which can be quite risky for beginners.
Bay, Tortola, BVI
Bay is perfect if you are looking for family friendly surf. The bay is
popular with kids and newbies because of its "learner's wave". The beach has
long sections of shallow water and has a sandy bottom with soft rocks. Wall
after wall of whitewater reforms after the waves break further out, which
can be exciting for the kids.
Sandy Spit, Jost Van Dyke, BVI
Surfable four to fifteen-foot waves form as left-hand waves break in front
of Sandy Spit. Waves at the Southern tip of this desert island paradise are
small but long and curling round the point. The Spit has a coral bottom and
have several reefs line up its shore; recommended for experienced surfers.
There are many more surfing spots in the Virgin Islands; some are
conveniently located near big towns while some can only be reached by boats.
If you ever feel the urge to ride some waves while in the VIs, these are the
places to visit.
Hunt is a wanderer who has the knack for writing. Upon a trip to the Virgin
Islands, fell in love with its hum and vibration. He currently resides in
St. Thomas and works as a skipper for
St Thomas Boat Rental.
by many to be the finest marine gardens in the Caribbean Sea, Buck Island
Reef National Monument is a popular day-trip destination for people visiting
St. Croix. This region is one of the prominent sections of the US Virgin
Islands. Established in 1961, through a Presidential proclamation, Buck
Island and its surrounding waters is a fully protected marine area within a
National Park System.
gorgeous island covers 176 acres of land area and is enveloped with the elk
horn coral barrier reef. The coral system is highly admired for its
extraordinary formation, and is home to an abundant number of underwater
animals, which include reef fish, crustaceans and hawks bill turtles.
Since the island is a highly protected destination; don't expect to find the
usual water sports like jet skiing, fishing, surfing and kite surfing
conducted here, as they are all prohibited. But what you can truly enjoy
while here is hanging out on the beach, having picnics, swimming, snorkeling
and just soaking in the tranquil and secluded ambiance. Although scuba
diving is not permitted at the underwater trail, there are two scuba
moorings in the north lagoon. There are no tourist accommodation facilities
on Buck Island, and it is closed to visitors during sunrise and sunset.
reach wonderful Buck Island, which is less than two miles north of St. Croix
Island, you need to take one of the boats from concessionaires authorized by
the National Park Service. Once aboard, you can sail to the island and
admire it from different perspectives. If you are coming from overseas, you
can first fly to Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix and then plan a trip
to Buck Island.
have the option choose whether to sign up for a half day or full day trip
with the concessionaires. But if you do have the time, it is highly
recommendable to linger on the island for as long as you can. It is the
perfect spot to feel that you are away from it all. It is even more special
for those who adore snorkeling, beaches and lush forests.
can find the concession boats docked at Green Cay Marina and Christiansted
Wharf. If you wish to come to the Island by private vessel, note that it is
only allowed if you have obtained the necessary permit. Permit applications
are processed by the National Park Service visitor contact station at Fort
Christianvaern, located in downtown Christiansted.
you step foot on Buck Island, you can easily access the outer reef and
underwater trail by boat. There is only one foot trail on the island and it
connects Turtle Beach and the reef area. The trail takes about 60 minutes to
complete, and makes a nice hiking experience. Turtle Beach is a very famous
destination on Buck Island. Hailed by National Geographic as one of the most
beautiful beaches in the world, this is a dream-come-true destination for
any beach lovers or romantics.
time on Turtle Beach will become even more memorable if you grab the
opportunity to go underwater. If you are not too confident in your
snorkeling skills, you can always sign up for a snorkeling tour, and let a
professional guide you all the way. However take note that since the
snorkeling trail around Buck Island is protected by the national park
system; the number of snorkelers is limited for each day. So to secure that
precious spot, make sure to make your reservations early.