US Virgin Islands
The USVI – St. Croix, pill St. Thomas and St. John – known as America’s Caribbean, look is one of the Caribbean’s most popular destinations. This trio of islands is an easy flight from the U.S. mainland, prices are in American dollars. Oceanfront resorts, small inns, condos, campgrounds or luxury villas – the choice of accommodations will suit any style. Nearly 2.5 million vacationers flock here annually for the powdery beaches, plentiful watersports and fine dining. Like siblings, each of the three major islands has its own personality.
The largest of these islands at 84 square miles, St. Croix (pronounced CROY) features a varied terrain from dry cactus-studded hills out east to lush tropical forests in the west. Hiking, kayaking and kite boarding are popular pastimes, and the island boasts two 18-hole golf courses. Some scuba buffs claim this is the only place in the Caribbean where you can dive a wall, a reef, a wreck and a pier all in the same day. Chartered powerboats or catamarans will take you to the pristine beach and a marked snorkel trail at uninhabited Buck Island Reef National Monument.
St. Thomas, the best known of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is the most bustling due to passengers arriving almost daily on cruise ships and mega-yachts that steam into Charlotte Amalie harbour. Trade is a St. Thomas speciality dating back to 18th-century pirate days. Imported perfumes, cameras, watches, fine porcelain and crystal abound. U.S. Customs laws allow individuals to bring up to $1,600 worth of merchandise from the U.S. Virgin Islands back to the United States without having to pay duty, and there’s no sales tax. There are plenty of postcard-perfect beaches like popular Magens Bay. Snorkel, scuba dive, fish offshore, or take a boat excursion. St. Thomas’ only golf course, Mahogany Run, is known for its challenging trio of cliffside holes called the Devil’s Triangle.
St. John, the smallest of the trio at 20 square miles, is a favourite of nature-lovers. Two-thirds of St. John falls within the boundaries of the 9,485 acre Virgin Islands National Park. More than 800 plant species grow in hilly tropical forests that drop down to beaches bordered by coral reefs. The National Park Service added even more federally owned submerged acres in 2001 to create the underwater Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument. St. John is also known for lovely beaches along the north coast and quieter ones to the south.