Tropical Aquamarine Waters in Caribbean Paradise

Your Trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands: The Complete Guide

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The U.S. Virgin Islands are famed as "America’s Paradise," and you will feel transported to a state of bliss from the moment you land at Cyril E. King International Airport and sip on a Painkiller at the Arrivals gate. While you may not need a passport, there are still other travel elements to consider when planning your visit to the U.S.V.I.—such as how to navigate between each island, when to book your flight, and how best to maximize your vacation budget while there. From logistical information about planning your trip to inter-island transit recommendations—and, of course, where to eat and drink—read on for your ultimate guide to traveling in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands is between the months of mid-April and July—after the prices have dropped after the peak tourist season in the winter, and before the rains begin to fall more regularly in mid-summer with the arrival of the wet season. For more information on the islands’ weather, read our full-length article on hurricanes in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Language: English. French Creole and Spanish are also commonly spoken on the islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix.
  • Currency: U.S. Dollar
  • Getting Around: There are no ride-share apps like Uber or Lyft available on the islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas, or St. John, but taxis abound on the island (especially in the tourist areas). There is also public transportation via buses and ferries between the islands provided by the VITRAN. Rental cars are also available on all three islands (and many companies are located at the Cyril E. King International Airport on St. Thomas).
  • Travel Tip: The public bus service has limited scheduling later at night, however, and is known to be slightly unreliable in the evenings; so, travelers should plan to get around by taxi in the evening. Hotels can also arrange for drop-offs and pick-ups for guests dining out on the town.

Things to Do

The Virgin Islands are famous for sailing, thanks to both the archipelago’s ideal conditions (the ever-reliable trade winds), as well as the island chain’s mountainous tropical beauty (best observed aboard the bow of a boat, cocktail in hand). While we advocate a sunset sail, you could also opt for a day trip to one of the smaller islets in the U.S.V.I. or venture out to Water Island. Considered the fourth major island in the U.S.V.I., Water Island doesn’t offer much in tourism, as of yet—though it is a worthwhile option for a day trip from St. Thomas. Read below for more ideas on how best to spend your days in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

  • Snorkeling, just like island-hopping above, is a must-do when visiting the U.S.V.I. We suggest swimming in the crystal-clear, tranquil waters off the coast of Waterlemon Cay, Buck Island Reef National Monument, or Jack’s and Isaac’s Bay beaches. But, luckily for travelers everywhere, there’s no bad place to go snorkeling off the coast of St. John, St. Thomas, or St. Croix—encountering rough conditions or murky visibility is quite rare. (Decidedly less rare? Seahorses, starfish, and sea turtles.) 
  • Spend a day exploring Virgin Islands National Park, a natural preserve that accounts for over 60 percent of the landmass on the island of St. John. The breathtakingly unspoiled National Park is among the very best in the West Indies—alongside Arikok National Park in Aruba, of course. Visit the gorgeous beaches of Trunk Bay and Cruz Bay. 
  • Explore the mountainous terrain with hikes leading travelers up to spectacular views of the surrounding islands (as well as the B.V.I.s and Puerto Rico, too, on a clear day). Some of our favorites include Ram Head Trail, the two-mile Bordeaux Mountain Trail, and Reef Bay Walking Trail in Virgin Islands National Park.

Discover more attractions with our full-length articles on the top things to do in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the best activities to do in St. Thomas on your honeymoon, as well as our visitor’s guide to Virgin Islands National Park.

What to Eat and Drink

The U.S. Virgin Islands is quickly attaining world-renown as a foodie destination—thanks, in no small part, to the culinary revolution taking place on the island of St. Croix. For a delectable taste of the local flavors, visit the legendary kitchens of favored St. Croix establishments, such as Savant, balter, Zion Modern Kitchen, and Rumrunners. Though each restaurant cultivates its own distinct palette and ambiance, they all reflect modern-day Crucian cuisine's innovation and excellence. 

Head to Pie Whole Pizza in St. Thomas for some excellent pizza (the restaurant received a 2018 TripSavvy Editors’ Choice Award for best pizza restaurant) and even more excellent beer. From Trappist ales to Imperial Stouts, this place is a beer lover's paradise. But, if you’re more of a wine-lover than a beer-drinker, fear not: The eclectic wine menu at The Terrace in St. John is more than enough reason to extend your late-night dinner even later into the evening to enjoy some after-dinner refreshments. (The Terrace’s acclaimed wine menu has been recognized with a Wine Spectator Award). Plus, the restaurant’s romantic atmosphere overlooking Cruz Bay is more than enough reason to stay awhile. (Or at least another round). And, speaking of another round, the diversity of options on the extensive wine menu at Bella Blu in Frenchtown is more than deserving of a second look (or a third). Cheers!

Explore our full-length articles on the top restaurants in St. Thomas and the most romantic sites to visit in St. John, as well as our comprehensive guide to the best street food in the Caribbean.

Where to Stay

The first decision to make when deciding where to stay in the U.S. Virgin Islands is to choose which island is the right fit for your vacation desires. The U.S.V.I. is composed of three main islands, each of which is known for its unique allure: St. Croix (the culinary scene), St. John (pristine nature), and St. Thomas (exciting nightlife). In St. Croix, we recommend checking in at the Pink Fancy Hotel in Christiansted. The legendary Caribbean inn boasts a unique charm and is in the perfect location for travelers to check out St. Croix’s famous restaurants and cafes. If you’re opting for a vacation in St. Thomas—and looking for luxury and relaxation—then look no further than the Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas (and book yourself a spa day). Finally, for total immersion in nature and the accompanying tropical bliss, rent one of the many spectacular villas available for weekenders in St. John.

Explore our articles on the best all-inclusive resorts in the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as further information on accommodations in St. Croix and eco-lodging in St. John.

Getting There

Though there are two international airports located in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Cyril E. King International Airport (STT) in St. Thomas offers the most options for international flights. It is also one of the busiest hubs in the Eastern Caribbean. Located just east of the island’s capital, Charlotte Amalie, STT offers direct flights for U.S. travelers arriving from eight cities in the U.S.: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dulles, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Newark, and New York. Additionally, there is another international airport in St. Croix, the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport, a smaller operation that offers direct flights to Atlanta, Boston, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, and New York, for U.S. travelers.

  • Cyril E. King International Airport: The largest international airport in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cyril E. King International Airport (STT) is located on the southwest coast of St. Thomas and offers direct flights from the U.S. via American, Delta, JetBlue, Spirit, and United. 
  • Henry E Rohlsen Airport: Located on the island of St. Croix, six miles southwest of Christiansted, the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport (HERA) offers direct flights from the U.S. via domestic carriers such as American Airlines, Delta, and Spirit.

Explore our full-length guide on planning your arrival in the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as further information on island-hopping by boat and by plane within the archipelago once you’ve arrived.

U.S. Virgin Islands Culture and History

The U.S. Virgin Islands celebrates its unique culture and history with a plethora of festivals and events held annually on the islands of St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix. Of all these festivities, however, none compare to the spectacle and exuberance of Carnival. Though Carnival was celebrated as early as 1912, it became an annual event in 1952. Expect dancing, amazing food, and spectacular costumes. Carnival begins in St. Thomas in April, St. John in late June, and St. Croix from December through January. There is a myriad of festivals and activities on St. Croix in conjunction with the holiday season: The Crucian Christmas Festival kicks off on the first Saturday in December and features parties until the first Saturday of the New Year. Events include the annual St. Croix Boat Parade, as well as New Year’s Eve fireworks. The biggest Christmas event in St. Thomas is the Miracle on Main Street, which features carolers, local crafts and artwork, and steel pan Christmas cheer.

Explore our articles on the history of Carnival in the Caribbean, as well as a comprehensive list of Carnival celebration dates by island.

Money-Saving Tips

  • Visit in the off-season. Despite what residents of northern climes might think, the summertime in the U.S. Virgin Islands actually isn’t too swelteringly hot—thanks to trade winds, the islands enjoy temperatures in the 70s to 80s throughout the year. Additionally, fall in the U.S. Virgin Islands offers remarkable deals on airfare and luxuriously crowd-free beaches and restaurants.
  • Whenever you travel to the Caribbean, you should consult our monthly event calendar, as well as our scheduling guide to Carnival on each island to see if your visit overlaps with any of the festivities. These annual street parades and live music are available to all guests and locals, free of charge.
  • Check to see if the service fee is included in your hotel or restaurant bill; otherwise, similar to the U.S., a 15 to 20 percent tip is customary.
  • Consider booking an all-inclusive resort to minimize the cost of food and drink during your Virgin Islands vacation for larger groups—and consult our guide on exploring the U.S. Virgin Islands on a budget.

Learn more about the cheapest ways to have fun by reading our comprehensive article on Caribbean budget travel tips and destinations.

Article Sources
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  1. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. "Come explore America’s Paradise, and dive into 3,000 years of human history." February 2019