U.S. Virgin Islands Tips

Eastern Caribbean on a Budget

The U.S. Virgin Islands offer some of the most beautiful locales under the stars and stripes. Unfortunately, most Americans never get here. 

This is definitely not the cheapest place to visit. Prices tend to be high for transportation, dining and accommodations. Some see visiting by way of a cruise to be the most economical way to see these islands. The downside is that your time here will be limited.

Whether or not you land here on a cruise itinerary, there are some wonderful experiences to be enjoyed for budget travelers who know what they want to do and have a strategy for maximizing their investment to reach these lovely shores.

For example, during 2017 the local government offers $300 in travel vouchers for those who visit in recognition of the 100th anniversary year for the transfer of these islands from Danish to United States possession. The idea is to promote history and culture, but don't expect only dry lectures as part of the benefit. About 25 vendors accept the vouchers, which can be used for eco-tours, kayaking, and even food tastings. You must stay three nights or more, book travel by Oct. 1, and complete it by year's end.

The vouchers are a nice start, but consider a few more tips for visiting this gem in the Eastern Caribbean without spending a fortune.

  • 01 of 05

    St. John Escape

    Leaving Red Hook, U.S. Virgin Islands
    (c)Mark D. Kahler

    The island of St. Thomas is vibrant and bustling with tourism. Nearby St. John is largely a national park with miles of forest and unspoiled beach. Most visitors arrive on St. Thomas and never make it to the island's less populated neighbor, and that's a shame.

    Getting to St. John takes time, effort, and money, so it's a bit of a budget travel splurge ($44 USD round trip from Charlotte Amalie). But if you love quiet beauty, it is an investment in a perfect day you're unlikely to forget. From the tiny and picturesque port of Cruz Bay, drivers will take you to hiking points or the famous white beaches. Trunk Bay is a popular choice. It offers a marked snorkeling trail that is a bit worn but beautiful nonetheless.

  • 02 of 05

    Beaches

    Trunk Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
    (c)Mark D. Kahler

    Because of their volcanic origins, many parts of the Caribbean feature black or dark gray sand. The U.S. Virgin Islands are famous for beaches with picture-postcard white sand and strikingly blue waters.

    On St. Thomas, Magens Bay is well-known, but you can find other places that are equally beautiful and perhaps less crowded. Coki and Cinnamon Bay beaches also get rave reviews. Pick the one that appeals to your interests, negotiate a cab ride with the nearest driver, and go. You'll be enjoying the best that these islands have to offer.

  • 03 of 05

    Day Sailing

    Off St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
    (c)Mark D. Kahler

    At first glance, day sailing or a yacht charter may appear extravagant for a budget traveler. Indeed, it's probably not a prime choice for those on a tight budget, but consider the activities that can be enjoyed with this initial investment before you dismiss the idea.

    Most trips include a nice lunch, beverages, snorkeling/scuba, jet skiing, trips to secluded beaches most tourists never reach, and sometimes even a little fishing. Given the relatively large investment, it's important to negotiate the best trip that appeals to your interests and needs.

    A good place to start shopping is VINOW, an online guide with links to several operators. If you don't find something you like, hotel concierges and cruise directors usually have updated information on available trips. Another tip: Take a look at Antlos.com.

  • 04 of 05

    Shopping

    Shopping in Cruz Bay, USVI
    (c)Mark D. Kahler

    The U.S. Virgin Islands, especially the St. Thomas port of Charlotte Amalie, have a reputation for attracting bargain hunters. For many years, you could find great deals on electronics, diamonds, and crystal.

    That has changed a bit in recent years, as discount houses on the U.S. mainland are far more common these days. Although everything in the U.S. Virgin Islands is duty-free, that does not mean everything for sale is an automatic bargain. As with all duty-free shopping, be sure you have a general idea what your target items would cost at home.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Scenic Tours

    Cruz Bay, U.S. Virgin Islands
    (c)Mark D. Kahler

    The views across these islands are spectacular, but the driving is an adventure. Although a territory of the United States, driving on the left is the rule. Many roads are narrow and winding.

    In short, renting a car here could be a bit unnerving. Want evidence? Take a taxi from Charlotte Amalie to Red Hook. After that eight-mile route that bends every few feet, those willing to get behind the wheel should visit the rental office.

    If you take a taxi, remember that rates are set by the local government and tend to be high. But you can negotiate with a driver for a two-hour tour that takes you to attractions of your choosing.

    These start at about $35-$50 USD for two people. Taxis are plentiful near larger hotels and at the entrance to the Charlotte Amalie port.

    Find hotel and resort deals in the U.S. Virgin Islands