Explore the US Virgin Islands on a Budget

Saint Martin Sint Maarten Beaches Panoramic

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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 offered travel vouchers for those who visited in recognition of the 100th anniversary year for the transfer of these islands from Danish to United States possession. The idea was to promote history and culture.

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

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St. John Escape

St. John Escape at Sunset
 St. John Escape at Grande Bay

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. 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.

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Beaches

chairs under palm trees at a beach in Virgin Islands
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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.

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Day Sailing

Sailing at the US Virgin Islands
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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.

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Shopping

Queen Street in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, West Indies
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The U.S. Virgin Islands, especially the St. Thomas port of Charlotte Amalie, which has 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 of what your target items would cost at home.

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Scenic Tours

Seaplane flying over Crown Bay, late afternoon
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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.

If you prefer an aerial or aquatic view, there are also many air and scuba tours to choose from.

Taxis are plentiful near larger hotels and at the entrance to the Charlotte Amalie port.

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