The Virgin Islands are comprised of two different groups from a geopolitical perspective: the US Virgin islands and the British Virgin Islands. However, most of the islands are clustered near each other, just east of Puerto Rico, and are not in physically distinct groupings.
The largest, most important land masses of the US Virgin islands are St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John. (To see more of the map, just widen your browser). The largest land masses in the British Virgin Islands are Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke.
Most of the islands have volcanic origins, and are comprised of hilly to mountainous landscapes. Mount Sage on the British island of Tortola is the highest point in the the island chain, towering 1,710 feet above sea level.
St. Thomas is the most-visited island, and it's loaded with enticing things to do and see. In Charlotte Amalie, guests can tour the oldest standing structure in the entire area, Fort Christian. The island is also home to the St. Peter Great House and Botanical Gardens, where vacations can enjoy nature trails, lively aviaries, waterfalls, fishponds and more. Sunbathers should head to Magens Bay beach on the north side of St. Thomas. This sandy shore offers ideal swimming conditions and amenities like a bar and guest showers.
St. John boasts the Annaberg Plantation and Historic Trail, where patrons can tour preserved plantation ruins that include slave quarters, a windmill and factory remains. The United States Park Service owns large portions of the island, and offers numerous interesting attractions, including the Reef Bay Trail, where hikers follow a winding path leading to a group of ancient petroglyphs.
St. Croix, near the bottom of the map, features impressive attractions like the Estate Mount Washington on the southwestern tip of the island, which is a preserved sugar plantation located along the St. Croix Heritage Trail. Another historically significant site is Fort Christiansvaern. Located in the town of Christiansted, this 1820s structure offers a peek into the Virgin Island's past.
Nature enthusiasts will be keen on visiting the Sandy Point Wildlife Refuge, located on the southwest portion of St. Croix on the map. This preserve can provide tourists with sightings of creatures like the leatherback sea turtle, which nests on the island. Off the northeast coast is the Buck Island Reef National Momument, an enormous protected area where vacationers can snorkel along an underwater trail or hike through the area's dense vegetation.
The British Virgin Islands also offer a wide range of attractions. The Baths in Virgin Gorda is a popular national park where guests find their way through a maze of granite boulders to reach a beachfront area with good snorkeling opportunities. Along with the exclusive and secluded feel of the island, the Baths were one of the top reasons why Travel + Leisure named this island as one of the world's best. Off the southwest tip of the Virgin Gorda, the small island of Fallen Jerusalem is a 30 acre paradise similar to The Baths. This area is a haven for endangered bird species and nocturnal fish. Sage Mountain National Park in Tortola is another excellent place to experience nature, with great picnic spots and trails. Just off the coast of Tortola, Beef Island guarantees breathtaking scenery -- something also found at the shell hunter's paradise located at Long Bay beach.
St. Thomas offers a large assortment of accommodations, ranging from large resort hotels to condo complexes, to individual villas scattered along the hillside. Most options are found on the eastern half of the island. Accommodations in the vicinity of Charlotte Amalie are plentiful, including several hotels, some bed and breakfasts and some condo complexes. And, of course, this is an area known for duty free shopping, with plenty of restaurants to choose from. Farther to the east are more hotels, along with more condominiums. The eastern end of the island is also home to companies that offer services like yacht charters, diving excursions and water-sport equipment rentals.
Vacationers headed to St. Croix will find lodging centered on the two largest towns on the island: Federiksted on the west side and Christiansted towards the east. The most concentrated cluster of accommodations options will be found in the vicinity of Christiansted. However, additional options will be found all along the coasts to either side of the town. The area offers good access to beaches, as well as the many shopping, restaurants and attractions in and near the town. On the west coast, Federiksted is home to a smaller selection of accommodations, as well as rental car services, dive shops, bars and a market place.
Most accommodations in St. John are found in the Cruz Bay area, a short ferry ride from St. Thomas. The lodging ranges from romantic guesthouses to large resorts, a few condominiums, and a large selection of villas. The area is a hub for the tourism industry, and can sometimes get a bit crowded during the day with visitors off the cruise ships, but it slows down at night. The are is great for walking, and offers a good selection of shopping and sight seeing in a compact area, as well as the National Park Visitor's center. Even if you stay near Coral Bay or one of the other parts of St. John, you'll likely visit this area frequently, with its water-sport shops, car rental services and a nice mix of restaurants and bars.
The island of Tortola offers lodging choices clustered near its two opposite ends, as well as a collection of accommodations directly in the center of the island on the southern coast, near Road Town. On the West End, visitors will find lodging options from intimate rental villas to luxurious hotels. The East End is home to a number of various rental villas and a few smaller hotels. In the middle of the island, the city of Road Town boasts a wide range of hotels, resorts and villas. The area is bustling with shopping opportunities, dining options, a nearby ferry terminal and a festival grounds.
There are many additional choices to consider, including the islands of Anegada, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, and Peter Island. These islands have a narrower set of lodging options, but if you are looking for a quiet place to "get away from it all" one of them might be just the ticket.
If you're flying to the Virgin Islands your overseas flight will land at one of three main airports. The first is the Cryil E. King International Airport (STT) just west of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas. This facility serves flights coming in from multiple cities in the United States, as well as other Caribbean destinations including St. Croix. The closest other major airport is Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport (EIS), also known as the Beef Island Airport, which is located just west of Tortola's East End. This airport has some overseas flights, as well as connecting service from San Juan and Antigua. The third major option is the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport (STX), located southwest of Christiansted on St. Croix. This facility provides service for overseas flights, as well as from St. Thomas and San Juan, and other nearby locations.
The Virgin Islands are a very popular stop for cruise ships, in fact St. Thomas is the single most popular cruise stop in the entire Caribbean region. It has multiple port areas, all of which are within walking distance, or a short taxi ride, from downtown Charlotte Amalie.
In St. Croix, most ships arrive at the dock in Frederiksted. If you are stopping in Tortola you will likely be dropped off at the Government Pier at Road Town, but there are other places in the British Virgin Islands where some ships dock, or anchor offshore, with passengers being conveyed to shore using small boats.
Travel by ferry is the ideal mode of transportation for tourists interested in visiting multiple destinations, or the smaller islands. Frequent service is provided between St. Thomas, St. John and Tortola; service is also available to Water Island (just off the coast of St. Thomas, and between various points in the British Virgin Islands.
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