U.S. Virgin Islands Area Map
The U.S. Virgin Islands are part of the Virgin Islands archipelago, an eastern island group of the Caribbean's Lesser Antilles region. The other part of the archipelago is the British Virgin Islands. The U.S. Virgin Islands include St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix.
St. Thomas has always been an important Caribbean location. It was once a chief producer of sugarcane, a direct result of European colonists introducing slavery to the region and using enslaved Africans to work the land. You'll find museums, monuments and buildings on the island exploring that history.
Today, St. Thomas is one of the Caribbean's busiest cruise ports as well as a major shopping hub. But it's by no means the largest Virgin Island; St. Thomas is only 32 square miles in size. Most dissect the island 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 in south central St. Thomas 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 Garden – named to commemorate the liberation of the slaves in 1848. From the park, visitors can walk to nearby Kongensgade, 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' secluded East End is home to several high-end resorts, as well as numerous inexpensive hotels. The East End beaches – Sapphire Beach and Lindquist Beach, in particular – are 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 the island'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. If you want a more remote spot, you'll find Hull Bay Beach northwest of Magens Bay. In addition, there are numerous accommodation options to choose from if you want to stay away from the bustle of Charlotte Amalie.
Most St. Thomas resorts have a patch of sand reserved for their guests, but you'll have to drive or take a taxi to the best beaches on 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. 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 quiet and for good reason: It's rocky and can be difficult to get to. If you're willing to make the trip, you'll be rewarded with few crowds.
Coki Point Beach
Like Magens Bay, Coki Point is another picturesque shore that receives plenty of day visitors from the cruise ships. Snorkeling is a must-do activity here, as Coki Point has some of the best underwater visibility in St. Thomas. The popular (but to some, overrated) Coral World Ocean Park is just east of Coki Point.
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.
Sitting nearly 4 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, more than half of the island is dedicated to 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 as well as historic sites like the Catherineberg Ruins and the Annaberg Plantation, an 18th-century sugar plantation.
The best St. John beaches for sunbathing and swimming are located all in a row on the island's north to northwest side. They're all within Virgin Islands National Park. 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 one of the only beaches on St. John with an entry fee. Insiders suggest you arrive early in the day to stake your claim to some prime beach.
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. Though the Caneel Bay Resort and its adjoining beach are in disrepair following the hurricanes in 2017, nearby Honeymoon Beach and Salomon Beach win rave reviews from travelers.
The 84 square miles of St. Croix (about 40 miles south of St. Thomas) 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, enslaved peoples and rum 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 National Historic Site is also the home of numerous other historical sites, including Scale House, where port goods were once weighed and measured; and the Steeple Building, St. Croix's first Danish Lutheran church.
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 off St. Croix's north shore. Another interesting spot in the East End is Point Udall, the easternmost point of the U.S. and home to a unique geometric sundial.
The island's entire 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 a great choice for nature lovers. Along this coast, you'll find Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, which has an extensive mangrove forest, as well as Cane Bay, one of the favorite beaches for scuba diving.
St. Croix's other 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 some small shops and eateries, as well as its museums and preserved historic homes. Extended into the calm Caribbean Sea, the Frederiksted Pier greets several cruise lines. To make the most of your time here, visit when a cruise ship docks. The city comes alive with live music and other events when cruisers are in town; at all other times, you'll find very little to do here.
If you've never snorkeled before, this is 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 2-mile trip off the coast of Christiansted to scuba dive or snorkel at Buck Island.
Divers like "the Wall" at Cane Bay, a coral mass located just 100 feet from the shore. According to recent vacationers, you can rent equipment from the nearby Sweet Bottom Dive Center, where the employees are very accommodating and knowledgeable about the area's marine life.
Sandy Point operates on limited, seasonal hours, but many 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.
St. Thomas is a major commercial hub and a very busy cruise port, and therefore susceptible to tourist-targeted crime. Additionally, there is a presence of violent crime on this island, though you'll see fewer violent crimes on St. Croix and St. John. Take a taxi if possible, and if you have a rental car, keep it locked. Limit your travels at night – particularly in Charlotte Amalie, Christiansted and Frederiksted – and don't travel alone.
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 and reapply frequently if you'll be outside all day. (Know, too, that the U.S. Virgin Islands has banned sunscreen that contains oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene.) Use insect repellent in the evenings when the islands' "no-see-ums" (tiny gnats) like to bite.
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