Travel Fundamentals for the USVI

Know your basics - the U.S. and British Virgin Islands are different, but both draw visitors

Photo credit: © Linda Morland |

There are plenty of similarities among the Virgin Islands, but many differences, too. These differences can mean very little or be very important to travelers, depending on their vacation interests.

First of all, keep in mind that the Virgin Islands consist of the British and the U.S. Virgin Islands, two different sets of culturally and geographically distinct islands. Both sets consist of individual islands, each with its own distinct personality

U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI)

The USVI are certainly more developed than their British counterparts, but this doesn't mean that you can't find some out-of-the-way nooks to spend your vacation in. Still, travelers looking to step away from the ordinary hustle and bustle of the U.S. might feel that they've not stepped far enough away. Here you'll find plenty of resort chains and fast food. The islands are also known for their shopping, drawing hundreds of cruise tourists daily. Nature lovers will find plenty to explore on St. John. But the overall flavor of this island trio is very American.

Island Island Basics
St. Thomas St. Thomas has been described as feeling more like one city than an entire island. The actual capital city of Charlotte Amalie is a cruise ship destination like no other. Here travelers leave their ships and flock to the beaches for the sun and to the bazaars for bargains on international goods. Sailing is extremely popular here as well.
St. Croix The island of St. Croix is also an extremely popular cruise ship destination. Passengers disembark in the two largest cities, Frederiksted and Christiansted. Here travelers can do some shopping and enjoy the lovely beaches. If you want to see something a little different, explore the reefs and Buck Island National Park just off the coast of St. Croix.
St. John Home to the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park, this island is almost entirely a nature preserve, with campgrounds and just a few hotels and restaurants. Much of the park itself is underwater, making snorkeling and scuba diving a must for many vacationers.

British Virgin Islands (BVI)

The BVI are a glimpse into the past, where people live much like they did many years ago. Here travelers can live like a local, mixing with islanders who have spent their whole lives on the island. Virgin Gorda, the largest of the BVIs, is developing some tourism features, including a few resort hotels, but the overall pace of these islands is a little slower than on the USVI. These islands are best known for the great sailing in the surrounding waters. Sixty islands comprise the BVI, and each one has something to offer vacationers.

Island Island Basics
Tortola Tortola is the Virgin Islands' boating capital, and for good reason. However, travelers looking for a city with great dining or hot nightlife should look elsewhere. Vacationers usually spend time away from the capital city of Road Town, exploring the natural beauty of this island.
Virgin Gorda Virgin Gorda isn't known for its nightlife, but it is certainly the most developed of the British Virgin Islands. Here you'll find world class resorts and world famous sights, including The Baths, a collection of large boulders on the coastline shaped by both volcanic pressures and the ocean's power. Of course, a shoreline packed with 20 beaches doesn't hurt the island's popularity either.
Jost Van Dyke The tiny island of Jost Van Dyke offers a little bit of everything. But with only 200 residents, it is hardly a bustling metropolis.
Anegada Anegada holds the distinction of being the only coral, non-volcanic island in the BVI chain. Wildlife is plentiful on this island, making snorkeling and fishing popular activities.

Though both sets of islands lie in much the same geographical region, each island has its own history that has shaped its development. The British Virgin Islands provide a sleepier stay, while the U.S. Virgin Islands have a little bit of the urban-appeal of some U.S. cities.

However, there's more to preparing to visit the Virgin Islands than just knowing about island activities. Prepare yourself with everything you'll need to know about the islands before you go. With this basic information in mind, you're sure to have the trip of your dreams in the Virgin Islands.


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