U.S. Virgin Islands Neighborhoods & Towns
The U.S. Virgin Islands are part of the Virgin Islands archipelago, an eastern island group of the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean's Lesser Antilles region. The U.S. Virgin Islands include St. Thomas, St. John to the east, and St. Croix farther south.
Formerly a hotspot of the sugarcane industry and a haven for pirates, St. Thomas is the busiest Caribbean cruise port, as well as a major shopping hub. But it's by no means the largest Virgin Island; St. Thomas is only 31 square miles in size. Most dissect Rock City into four parts: The main downtown area of Charlotte Amalie where the cruise ships dock, the East End with the swankiest hotels and quiet beaches, and the North Coast, home to the popular Magens Bay.
The capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Charlotte Amalie is famous for its Main Street shopping district. Many upscale and designer shops call the area their home, while fresh produce and flea markets are located on Main Street's western end at Market Square. Charlotte Amalie is also home to numerous historical sites, including Emancipation Park -- named to commemorate the liberation of the slaves in 1848. From the park, visitors can take Kongens Gade, or King's Street, and climb the "99 Steps" to Government Hill, atop of which is the Government House, a white brick structure dating back to the late 1860s that overlooks the harbor.
St. Thomas's secluded East End is home to several high-end resorts, as well as numerous inexpensive hotels. Travel writers describe the East End beaches -- Sapphire Beach and Lindquist Beach, in particular -- as beautiful with golden sand and calm, turquoise waters. The little village of Red Hook, from where the ferry to St. John departs, is home to some of St. Thomas's rowdiest bars and most affordable restaurants. The East End is also home to Coki Beach and Coral World Ocean Park, the popular interactive aquarium and water-sports center.
The North Coast is renowned for Magens Bay, celebrated by travel writers and frequent visitors as one of the finest beaches in the world. To the northwest of Magens is the St. Peter Greathouse Estate & Gardens, home to a local art gallery and a garden boasting more than 70 varieties of tropical plants.
St. Thomas Beaches
Most St. Thomas resorts have a patch of sand reserved for their guests, but you'll have to drive or taxi to the best beaches of the island:
Magens Bay is undoubtedly the most heralded shore of the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and from the first glance at its ultramarine water you'll understand why. The crowds at Magens normally match the hype -- especially in the afternoon when the cruise ships dock -- so if you want the best experience at this northern beach, plan your visit for the early morning. Also, keep in mind that this is the only St. Thomas beach with an entry fee.
Located west of Magens, Hull Bay is the only beach on the island with big enough waves for surfing (though only in the wintertime). Hull Bay is also a popular snorkeling spot when the tide is low.
Coki Point Beach
Like Magens Bay, Coki Point is another picturesque shore that receives plenty of day visitors from the cruise ships. Underwater visibility here is purportedly as much as 100 feet, so it also makes a great snorkeling spot. The popular (but to some, overrated) Coral World Ocean Park is next door.
Sapphire is not far from the tourist-centric Red Hook neighborhood of St. Thomas, located on the island's east side. You can frequently enjoy live music while you snorkel in this beach's water or lounge on its bone-white sand.
Forty miles away, the 84 square miles of St. Croix are described as more relaxed than the hustle and bustle of St. Thomas. Its two largest towns anchor each coast of the expansive island.
Christiansted is a historic Danish-style town located on the island's northern coast. It acted as the trading center for sugar, rum and molasses during the 18th and 19th centuries. Fort Christiansvaern towers over the town's waterfront, which is the best preserved of all the Danish fortresses in the Virgin Islands. Christiansted is also the home of numerous other historical sites, including Scale House, where port goods were once weighed and measured; and Steeple Building, St. Croix's first Danish Lutheran church, which now houses a Cruzan history museum. Christiansted is also the port where inter-island ferries dock.
St. Croix's East End is popular with visitors seeking tranquility. The area is home to many popular beaches, including the snorkeler's favorite, Buck Island -- located right offshore. Another interesting spot in the East End is Point Udall, home to a castle built by a recluse known only as the Contessa.
The North Shore -- which stretches from Cramer's Park Beach on the island's easternmost point across Christiansted to the tiny town of Northside on the western coast -- is the most tourist-heavy region of St. Croix. The North Shore also encompasses the Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, the region's largest remaining mangrove forest, and one of the favorite beaches for watersports, Cane Bay.
St. Croix's second twin city, Frederiksted, is located on the western coast of the island. Unlike Christiansted's classically Danish architecture, Frederiksted is famous for its Victorian buildings and is home to numerous small shops and boutiques, as well as its plantation museums and preserved historic homes. Extended into the calm Caribbean Sea, the Frederiksted Pier greets several cruise lines.
St. Croix Beaches
If you've never snorkeled before, here's the place to learn. St. Croix's surrounding coral-filled waters are excellent for novices to the sport. In addition to the Cruzan beaches listed below, you can also take a two-mile trip off the coast of Christiansted to the scuba dive or snorkel at the Buck Island Reef National Monument.
Divers like "the Wall" at Cane Bay, a coral mass located just 100 feet away from the shore. According to recent vacationers, you can rent equipment from the nearby Cane Bay Dive Shop, where the people are very accommodating and knowledgeable about the area's marine life.
Sandy Point is only open during the day, but writers say that's plenty of time to visit the leatherback turtles that nest their eggs here. This beach is the largest in the Virgin Islands, and it's located on the southernmost tip of St. Croix.
Sitting approximately four miles east of St. Thomas, St. John is the smallest (only 20 square miles) and least populated of the U.S. Virgin Islands -- in fact, a large portion of the island is dedicated to the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park. On the island's western side is the village of Cruz Bay, home to the main ferry dock and several small shops and restaurants. Bars and restaurants are also located on St. John's eastern coast in Coral Bay.
St. John is home to some of the quietest beaches and historic sites like the Catherineberg Ruins, or the Annaberg Plantation, an 18th-century sugar plantation.
St. John Beaches
The best St. John beaches for sunbathing and swimming are located all in a row on the island's north to northwest side. Beaches in the northeast are popular with snorkelers and also convenient for those staying on Maho Bay or Cinnamon Bay campgrounds.
Stunning Trunk Bay on St. John's northwest coast has a snack bar, showers and restrooms, and most notably, an underwater snorkeling trail. It's also the only beach on St. John with an entry fee. Insiders suggest you arrive early in the day or in the early evening to avoid the cover charge.
Farther west of Trunk Bay is quiet Hawksnest, a favorite spot for St. Johnians. You won't find ample restrooms, showers or even beach chairs at Hawksnest, but travelers recommend this spot for those who want to sunbathe with fewer crowds.
Caneel Bay is really a series of beaches (on St. John's western edge) that are protected by the U.S. National Park Service. According to many, any trip to St. John should also include a voyage here, if only for the natural beauty and abundant, undisturbed marine life.
St. Thomas is a major commercial hub (the busiest cruise port in the Caribbean) and therefore susceptible to tourist-targeted crime. In recent weeks especially there has been concern for tourists safety, partially due to gang violence in the downtown Charlotte Amalie area. Keep your guard up when traveling around town, particularly in the evenings. Take a taxicab if possible, and if you have a rental car, keep it locked. Theft is less frequent but still possible in Christiansted or Frederiksted, St. Croix, as well as the Cruz Bay area of St. John.
You should also safeguard your skin. The heat in the Caribbean can certainly be luxurious, but also scorching. Always remember to apply sunscreen before venturing out. Use insect repellent in the evenings when the islands' "no-see-ums" (tiny gnats) like to bite.