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America purchased the US Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1917, and while the transaction has not proved quite as lucky as the purchase of Alaska, the Virgin Islands have seen many a tourist dollar sink into Washington's purse. Located due east of Puerto Rico and southwest of the British Virgin Islands, the Virgin Islands occupy their small territory of Caribbean beauty with a passion for shopping and nature. St Thomas is the lively centre of attention, where duty-free shops reign supreme and thousands of tourists come together for a crazy nightlife. It is also a great place to sit by the beach, since it has more than forty of them. St John is the alternative, where the ecologists throw their party. It is dominated by a national park, so the parties are naturally smaller and quieter. And environmentally friendly, of course.
The Virgin Islands were originally settled by the Ciboney, Carib, and Arawaks. The islands were named by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493 for Saint Ursula and her virgin followers. Over the next three hundred years, the islands were held by many European powers, including Spain, The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, and Denmark-Norway. The Danish West India Company settled on Saint Thomas in 1672, on Saint John in 1694, and purchased Saint Croix from France in 1733. The islands became royal Danish colonies in 1754, named the Danish-Westindian islands—De dansk-vestindiske øer in Danish. In 1867 a treaty to sell Saint Thomas and Saint John to the United States was agreed, but the sale was never effected. A number of reforms aimed at reviving the islands' economy were attempted, but none had great success. A second draft treaty to sell the islands to the United States was negotiated in 1902 but was narrowly defeated in the Danish parliament. The onset of World War I brought the reforms to a close and again left the islands isolated and exposed. During the submarine warfare phases of the First World War, the United States, fearing that the islands might be seized by Germany as a submarine base, again approached Denmark with a view to buying them. After a few months of negotiations, a selling price of $25 million was agreed. The U.S. took possession of the islands on March 31, 1917 and the territory was renamed the Virgin Islands of the United States. U.S. citizenship was granted to the inhabitants of the islands in 1927. Water Island, a small island to the south of Saint Thomas, was initially administered by the U.S. Federal government and did not become a part of the U.S. Virgin Islands territory until 1996, when 50 acres (20 ha) of land was transferred to the territorial government. The remaining 200 acres (81 ha) of the island were purchased from the US Department of the Interior in May 2005 for $10, a transaction which marked the official change in jurisdiction.
The U.S. Virgin Islands are in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, about 64 kilometres east of Puerto Rico and immediately west of the British Virgin Islands. The territory consists of four main islands: Saint Thomas, Saint John, Saint Croix, and Water Island, as well as several dozen smaller islands. The U.S. Virgin Islands are known for their white sand beaches, including Magens Bay and Trunk Bay, and strategic harbors, including Charlotte Amalie and Christiansted. Most of the islands, including Saint Thomas, are volcanic in origin and hilly. The highest point is Crown Mountain, Saint Thomas (474 metres).
Saint Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, lies to the south and has a flatter terrain. The National Park Service owns more than half of Saint John, nearly all of Hassel Island, and many acres of coral reef. (See also Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, Buck Island Reef National Monument, Christiansted National Historic Site, and Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve.)
The U.S. Virgin Islands lie on the boundary of the North American plate and the Caribbean Plate. Natural hazards include earthquakes and tropical cyclones (including hurricanes).
The territory consists of 4 main islands and several dozen minor outlying islands.
Buck Island National Monument was proclaimed a protected area on December 28th, 1961 by President Kennedy. The protected area is an 176 acre island with over 19,000 acres of reef surrounding the island. There is amazing life both on the island and in the water. On land, the Saint Croix Ground Lizard is an endangered species which was brought to Buck Island in 2008 with hopes of helping it flourish. In the sea, the Hawksbill Turtles come back to the island every 2-4 years to nest and lay eggs. Up to 200 eggs per nest. Full grown turtles can grow to 1 metre long and over 90 kilograms.
The island used to be known as Isle Very (Green Island) in the 1700s. The island was renamed Pocken-Eyland (which also means Green Island), then it was renamed "Bockeneyland" due to a handwriting error when the land changed hands. Someone misread the P for a B! Then, when people inhabited the island and brought over goats, map makers assumed the "Bock" was meant to say "Buck" because there were so many goats on the island. Hence....Buck Island.
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The Virgin Islands National Park is a well maintained park with kilometres of beautiful shorelines, pristine reefs, hiking trails and tropical birdlife on Saint John. Over 30 species of birds have been recorde within the park's boundaries, including some species like the bananaquit, hummingbirds and smooth-billed ani. This is also an example of an area that was logged during the 18th century but has regained the tropical nature it used to have including a mix of introduced species and native plants.
Fort Christian with its typical red bricks is located near the town of Charlotte Amalie on the island of Saint Thomas. It is the oldest colonial building in the Virgin Islands and dates back to 1666. Since then, the fort has functioned as a bastion, jail, governor's residence and even a Lutheran church. Today, like many forts in the Caribbean, it functions as a museum which has some interesting historical exhibits.
The Estate Whim Plantation Museum is located on the island of Saint Croix and is striking example of the island's colonial sugarcane history. Unfortunately, today only several acres of the original 150 that made upt the Whim Plantation survive as the museum. Still, alltogether the grounds display the days when sugarcane ruled the island like it did on many other Caribbean islands.
On the northeastern coast of the island of Saint Thomas you can find Coki Bay. This bay is a very popular area for visitors wanting to enjoy the sparkling waters and white sanded beaches fringed with palmtrees. There are many species of fish here to be admired while snorkelling or diving and they are known to eat out of your hand! In the adjacent Coral World Ocean Park you can witness the marine life in a nice aquarium.
For a small Caribbean capital, Charlotte Amalie is not the worst place to spend some time. You can easily find some influence of the Danish colonists that were here some centuries ago. The red roofs of the houses are a very colourful match with the green environment and the capital itself is named after the wife of the Danish King Christian V. There is also a nice small harbor and the Emancipation Gardens Park where people celebrate Carinval. From here you can take ferries to the other islands of the American and British Virgin Islands. It is also a tax free town with enough shopping if that is your thing.
Although Christiansted hosts four lively Jump Up celebrations per year, none are more famous than the St Croix community’s annual Valentine’s Day extravaganza of arts, crafts, food, and mythical mocko jumbies dressed in colorful silks and stilts. The calls of outdoor vendors and the sounds of local musicians fill the air during this upbeat Valentine’s Day celebration.
The “Crown Jewel of the Caribbean,” as this prestigious race is called, takes place at the St Thomas Yacht Club each March. This yacht race, considered among the most competitive in the world, attracts sailors from throughout the Caribbean, Europe, and North America. Although the main race course is situated near Christmas Cove, there are also several side races. The Pilsbury Sound Race takes yachters around St John’s and St Thomas’ countless coves, while a challenging distance race occurs between Charlotte Amalie’s harbor and St Thomas’ East End.
The US Virgin Islands may have been United States territories for nearly a century, but every March 31, the islands celebrate their Danish past during Transfer Day. Special excursions to former Danish forts, buildings, and ruins are organized and Danish products are sold from shops and vendors on the day the islands were transferred from Danish to American territories.
Foodies will undoubtedly enjoy this annual one-day April festival at St Croix’s only all-inclusive resort, the Divi Carina Bay All Inclusive Beach Resort and Casino. No fewer than 50 of the region’s most renowned restaurants serve their finest dishes during this celebration of St Croix’s finest culinary talent. French and Italian food is served alongside traditional Cajun, Creole, and Caribbean meals. All festival proceeds go towards the St Croix Foundation.
St Croix continues its reputation as the unofficial culinary capital of the US Virgin Islands with this annual late June tribute to the island’s most famous tropical fruit at the St George Village Botanical Garden. Although the festival grew to include other fruits after Hurricane Lenny destroyed the 1999 mango crop, mangoes continue to be this festival’s main focus. Visitors can sample several of the more than 80 different mango varieties grown throughout St Croix in the forms of mango butter, beer, wine, and even sushi. The festival also features mango cooking and eating contests.
Calypso musicians, colorful mocko jumbies, and a lively parade are the main ways St John celebrates both the United States Independence Day and the last day of its month-long Carnival celebrations on the Fourth of July. This day also features the crowning of Ms St John and the carnival king as well as a fireworks display rivaling many in mainland United States cities.
This eco-friendly fishing festival awards trophies not only to the fishers who catch the most blue marlin, but also to those who tag and release the greatest number of fish. Fishers from across the globe are invited to participate alongside some of the world’s greatest anglers. All proceeds from this prestigious event, held in St Thomas during the August weekend nearest to the full moon, go towards the Boy Scouts.
Fort Frederik Beach and the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts are the main venues of this November jazz festival held in Frederiksted each November. Some of St Croix’s finest jazz musicians perform alongside musical legends such as Tito Puente, Jr and Pete Escovedo. Mocko jumbies, food vendors, and arts and crafts accompany these free musical performances.
The United States Virgin Islands have a very pleasant and tropical climate with generally warm and humid weather. The seabreeze makes things relatively mild though and water is never far away. Temperatures generally average around 30 °C during the day yearround and 23 °C at night. December to May is the dry season, where July to October is the rainy season, but this generally means some showers at the end of the day instead of days of rain on end. Hurricanes are possible though from August to October.
Seaborn Airlines flies to Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands and to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Cyril E. King Airport (STT) is based on Saint Thomas while Henry E. Rohlsen Airport (STX) is in Saint Croix. The first has the best connections to a number of cities in the United States like Boston, Miami, New York, Atlanta, Montreal (Canada), Fort Lauderdale, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Chicago, Charlotte, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., while both have services to several other Caribbean islands, like Antigua, Anguilla and Sint Maarten.
Puerto Rico - United States Virgin Islands vv
Every two weeks leaving on a Sunday at 1pm, there is a fast ferry between Fajardo in Puerto Rico and St. John and St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands. In the opposite direction, boats leave every two weeks on a Thursday at 5pm from St. John and 6 pm from St. Thomas. The trip takes about 2 hours and services are wih Transportation Services Virgin Islands.
British Virgin Islands - United States Virgin Islands vv
Contact Inter Island Boat Service (340) 776-6597 for these last three international connections by ferry.
Seaborn Airlines links all three main island of Saint Thomas, Saint John and Saint Croix several times daily, and there are a few (charter) airlines that have additional services.
Renting a car is the best way to cover a lot of places and search for some secluded beaches. Rental cars are available throughout all islands and prices start at around 45 USD. Roads are well maintained and driving is on the left, with steering wheels sometimes on the left as well!
There aren't many public services but on Saint Thomas there is one from Charlotte Amalie to Red Hook and Bordeaux. Saint Croix has minivans travelling between Christiansted and Frederiksted and Saint John has a bus service running from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay.
Passenger ferries operate between St. Thomas (Red Hook & Charlotte Amalie) and St. John (Cruz Bay). Car ferry service is available between Redhook, St. Thomas and Cruz Bay, St. John. There are three independently run car ferries and you only pay for the car, no matter how many passengers there are.
The Water Island Ferry travels between Crown Bay, St. Thomas and Water Island, contact Water Island Ferry (340) 690-4159 for details on services.
There is also a ferry between Christiansted, St. Croix and Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. The ferry departs from the Marine Terminals in Gallows Bay on St. Croix and in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, taking about 75 minutes to travel between the two towns. Check the Virgin Island Fast Ferry website for details about prices and schedules.
Visa requirements are the same as for the United States. As a United States Territory, travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands does not require a passport for U.S. citizens arriving from Puerto Rico or the U.S. mainland. Entry requirements for non-U.S. citizens are the same as for entering the United States from any foreign destination.
See also Money Matters
The US Dollar, or "greenback", is the national currency of the United States Virgin Islands. One dollar consists of 100 cents. Frequently used coins are the penny (1¢), nickel (5¢), dime (10¢) and quarter (25¢). 50¢ and $1 coins also exist, but are rarely used. Frequently used banknotes are the $1, $5, $10 and $20 notes. $2, $50 and $100 notes can also be found, but are rarely used.
As a US territory, Americans can come here and work with no special visa. Foreigners must go through the rigorous process of obtaining a US work permit.
The economy is quite seasonal, based mostly around cruise ship calls, which taper off from May through September and peak in December and January.
University of the Virgin Islands UVI is a small but respectable school founded in 1962. It is comprised of two main campuses, in St. Thomas and St. Croix. Its mascot is the UVI Buccaneer. It is a corresponding member of the NCAA and competes against NCAA II and III along with the Intercollegiate Sports Organization League in Puerto Rico.
English is the official language but there is a local dialect. You may also find Spanish and French Creole being spoken.
St. Croix is home to a celebrated week-long culinary festival held each April called the St. Croix Food & Wine Experience which includes wine seminars, dinners with celebrity chefs (Kevin Rathbun, Rocco DiSpirito, Robbin Haas, Gerry Klaskala, Richard Reddington are just a few who joined the fun) and the main event, A Taste of St. Croix, showcases foods from more than 50 of the islands restaurants.
For a listing of restaurants on the island, see GoToStCroix. Great local food can be found at Harvey's (stew goat), Singh's (roti) and Norma at the Domino Club in the rain forest always has something cooking.
For fine dining, try Tutto Bene, Bacchus, Savant and The Galleon.
There is a wide range of accommodation options on the islands, from simple guesthouses to luxurious resorts. St. Thomas has the widest range and most numerous amount of rooms, but they lack charm compared to more quiet islands of St. Croix and St. John. Note that peak season is from December to April, and in July/August. September-November and May/June often have far better deals.
On Saint John dollar drinks are available across the street from the National park office, next to the ice cream shop.
On St. Thomas, There are several drinking establishments in Red Hook, on the East End, including: Caribbean Saloon, Duffy's Love Shack, Fat Boy's, Molly Malone's, Island Time Pizza, and XO Bistro.
On St. Croix, Cruzan Rum is made at a distillery that you can tour. Be sure to do the tour and participate in the tasting after! Cruzan Rum is available just about everywhere, but there are certain flavors (i.e. Clipper) that are not sold in the USA, so take a bottle back with you. In the seaside town of Christiansted is the Brew Pub which makes several good beers. And, when at local places or events, always ask if there is a local drink. Be wary of the home recipes (i.e. Mama Wanna) - they are STRONG!
Unlike the US Mainland, the drinking age in the Virgin Islands is 18.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the United States Virgin Islands. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to the United States Virgin Islands. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Some parts of St.Thomas, especially Charlotte Amalie, can be risky at night. Drug and other related crime is a problem. The USVI has the 7th highest homicide rate in the world and is the most violent place in the U.S. Tourists should exercise caution when getting around as some neighborhoods can be dangerous, even if a well-known restaurant is in this neighborhood. It is advised to take a taxi if you are going anywhere especially at night. This is the only US territory where driving on the left side of the road is still practiced.
Despite the left-side traffic, cars on the island are generally imported from the mainland U.S. and are left-hand drive. For drivers used to right-side traffic, the switch is pretty easy to make, though you will need to put more conscious thought into turns than normal. In general, other traffic provides an immediate reminder which side to choose; it's easier to forget if you're the only car on the road, but there are fewer cars to crash into in that case. The terror of flying past on the wrong side of traffic will pass after the first few cars, and the readjustment back home to right-hand driving will be a pleasant reminder of your trip. In short, don't be afraid of renting a car no matter which side of the road you normally drive on.
St. John is a relatively safe island but usual caution is advised when leaving your car unattended, especially at secluded beaches such as Salt Pond Bay. Your car is not a safe and yes, thieves WILL look under the front seat for your wallet.
See also International Telephone Calls
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