The United States Virgin Islands, with its sixty islands, cays, and islets, is characterized by historic towns, windswept landscapes, duty free shopping, and tantalizing resorts which together perennially entice visitors from around the globe to indulge in its exotic appeal as a Caribbean vacation destination. The U.S. Virgin Islands also happens to be one of the most popular cruise-ship destinations. But while the U.S. Virgin Islands is often said to be America’s own paradise, it has been influenced more so by the Danes who were responsible for building the islands’ major towns and old plantations.
Although the U.S. Virgin Islands were discovered by the Spanish and first settled by the British, these islands were controlled by the Danes until 1917 when the United States bought it for $25 million. The U.S. government was eager to fortify an outpost where they could protect the Panama Canal. Prior to the purchase, relations had always been cordial between the Virgin Islands and the U.S. In fact, when the U.S. declared independence from Britain in 1776, one of the first foreign entities to recognize the new American Republic came from St. Croix.
Denmark had proposed a sale of the islands to the Americans as early as 1869 but the asking price of $7 million was seen as too expensive at the time for a country still recovering from the Civil War. But even the $25 million price the Americans paid in 1917 astonished taxpayers at the time, who no doubt would agree today that it was a bargain.
The U.S. Virgin Islands is an archipelago of islands, islets, and cays. It is primarily comprised of three large islands: St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John. While the latter two are next to each other, St. Croix is some 40 miles south, though it is the largest of the Virgin Islands.
Most tourists spend their time in St. Thomas and St. John, crossing both islands by ferry. Because of the distance it takes to travel by boat to St. Croix and how costly it is to fly, most people unfortunately have to divide their trips either forgoing St. Croix for St. Thomas and St. John or vice versa. If they skip St. Croix, they miss out on the island’s old-world charms, as the islands dates back to the early days of Columbus. St. Croix was once colonized by the Spaniards and later the French. In stark contrast, St. Thomas offers a more urban resort-like atmosphere while St. John and its parks and camps provide a more nature-oriented vacation.
The United States Virgin Islands has a unique cultural blend of European grace, African beat, and American casual. One of the “must” experiences of the islands is a fish fry, which is a customary cuisine enjoyed by the islanders. Fish frys are to the U.S. Virgin Islands what luaus are to Hawaiians. The food consists of fresh seafood accompanied by cornmeal dumplings and washed down with maubi drinks – all enjoyed to the tune of local music.
Both St. Croix and St. Thomas also have programs of music and dance performances, which represent a great way to learn more about the local culture. Quadrilles are particularly popular; they are a form of 18th century French and German dance.
The main attraction of the U.S. Virgin Islands is the sailing that can be done in and around the many bays, coves, sea gardens, and beaches. You can also take a charter boat and hire a crew to go on extended sailing excursions, or rent a yacht and bare-boat yourself if you are an experienced sailor. There are charter boat packages that include meals and supplies.
Another popular activity in the U.S. Virgin Islands is scuba diving. The coral reefs and the colorful marine life make diving and snorkeling an underwater adventure in the islands. Whale watching is also a major activity, best enjoyed by hiring an experienced boater who can take you to the best watch spots. The Humpback whales show their faces from February to April. The U.S. Virgin Islands also attract sport-fishers who enjoy the challenge of deep-sea fishing. Marlins, wahoo, billfish, and tuna are among the prize fishes in the islands.
The U.S. Virgin Islands has long been known among attentive shoppers as one of the shopping capitals of the world. You’ll find duty-free brand-name clothes and merchandises like jewelry and watches at relatively bargain prices. St. Thomas and St. Croix are the best islands for shopping; for the latter, you should check out the towns of Christiansted and Fredriksted. You don’t have to pay sales taxes or duties on purchases. Be warned, though, that prices have been increasing in recent years. Also, stores are typically closed on Sundays.