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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.
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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.
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 degrees Celcius during the day yearround and 23 degrees 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, Philedelphia and Washington, D.C., while both have services to several other Caribbean islands, like Antigua, Anguilla and Sint Maarten.
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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.
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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.
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.
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
See also International Telephone Calls
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