U.S. Virgin Islands
The American Paradise
miles east of Puerto Rico stands 100 plus islands covering 1,000
square miles. Only a few of those100 are actually inhabited. There
are a few that Im sure youve heard of; the US Virgin
Chris Columbus named the islands on his second voyage to this New
World, in 1493. According to National Geographic, the Virgin
Islands were named after the legend of St. Ursula. Following Columbus
discovery, 17th century Dutch cattle farmers called boucaniers
became the first Europeans to settle. They made their living by
supplying passing ships with cured meat. During the Colonial Era,
the Danes secured the western islands of St. Thomas in 1665 and
St. John in 1684. The Danes bought St. Croix from the French in
1733, and then sold it to the US in 1917. Today, the islands of
St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix make up the United States Virgin
Islands. There is, indeed, a reminder of the Danish Colonial area
in St. John and St. Thomas, via the beautiful architecture.
Today, the capital of the US Virgin Islands is Charlotte Amalie
on St. Thomas. The city is cosmopolitan; a major cruise ship destination.
The Danish West India Company traders laid the foundations for the
fortune that is St. Thomas today. Where Charlotte Amalie is today
was once a watering hole for merchant pirates, even Blackbeard (Edward
Teach), who died in 1718. Over the years, the city has harbored
silk, gold and guns, and is one of the most populous islands in
the Caribbean. The Danish Colonial architecture is well preserved
at St. Thomas.
Around St. Thomas you can find many unique sites. The Virgin Islands
Museum at Fort Christian resides within the former jail cells of
the Fort. The Museum displays historic exhibits, bush medicine and
colonial furnishings. Near Government House on Kongens Gade travelers
can find the 99 steps to Bluebeards castle, a stone watchtower
with outstanding views. The St. Thomas Synagogue, built is 1833,
is a surprising treat. This facility was home to the islands
first Jewish congregation where refuges from Dutch Sint Eustatus
exiled for their involvement in the arms trade during the American
For the sporty traveler, sailing for a day, scuba diving, snorkeling,
golf, kayaking, nature tours, snorkeling in the mangrove lagoon
marine sanctuary, and sports fishing are all an option.
One of the most unique activities on St. Thomas is Coral World,
a huge underwater observatory with an 80,000-gallon reef tank display
located along the northeast coast of the island. Visitors will have
a chance to see stingrays, a predator tank with a 360-degree panoramic
theatre with views of the ocean bed. The touch pool and the rescued
baby turtle exhibit are fantastic for the kids, as are daily talks
by marine experts and feeding sessions at the baby shark pool.
Near by, you can take a short ferry ride from St. Thomas to swim with the Dolphins in Tortola. A great day execursion and an unique attraction for everyone.
St. John, population 3,500, is a 2-mile ferry ride across Pillsbury
Sound. The island is an unspoiled land of beauty and life, with
two thirds maintained as a national park and biosphere reserve dedicated
to conservation of the tropic environment, thanks to Laurence Rockefeller.
The wealthy man donated the first chunk of land in 1956 to the U.S.
National Park, undoubtedly to also protect his own piece of heaven,
the Caneel Bay Resort. The island was used to grow sugar cane and
cotton during the Colonial era.
St. John is covered in dense woodlands, rolling hills, sandy bars,
and an alluring irregular coast, and making for some of the best
beaches in the Carribbean, especially on the north coast. Honeymoon
Beach, Caneel Bay, Hawksnest Bay (formerly Trunk Bay), and Cinnamon
Bay are amongst the most attractive beaches. From Annaberg Plantation
adventurers can take a self-guided tour around slave cabins, old
Dutch windmills, boiling rooms, and store houses. There are three
1,000-foot peaks to view and visit, with 22 different trails to
explore. There are guided tours available also. Tropical Adventures
tour operator, A Walk
in the Park, can also help travelers organize treks. Visit Reef
Bay sugar mill ruins, with detours to petroglyph sites decorated
with rock carvings from Arawak Indians.
A 5,650-acre marine preserve, along the north coast of St. John,
provides excellent snorkeling opportunities for the water enthusiast.
Along the less accessible south coast an abundance of marine life
can be seen, and is a great place to take underwater photographs.
At Saltpond and Lemeshur Bays, parrotfish, angelfish, tangs, grunts,
rays, snappers, jacks, and tarpon might be seen along the reef or
the sandy bays. Mangrove nurseries help the marine life thrive in
this area. The nurseries provide safe, nutrient rich waters in the
For bird watchers, the Francis Bay Trail is the place to be. Just
around from Maho Bay, the trail has a boardwalk leading out to the
mangroves where herons, Western Indian whistling ducks, pintails,
teals, sandpipers, and many other water birds visit to feed. Speaking
of marine life, a special snorkeling treat in Trunk Bay offers a
225-yard self-guided trail with underwater signs highlighting individual
coral reef features. Snuba, a combination of snorkeling and diving
with air pumped from the surface is offered here.
St. John is a fantastic family destination. Pam Gaffin of Family
Fun.com says the island is for Robinson Crusoes of all ages.
St. Croix is worth a trip. The islands pretty, quaint towns
are chock full of shopping deals (to compete with St. Thomas) and
more interesting sightseeing opportunities, than St. Thomas. St.
Croix lies 40 miles to the south of St. Thomas and is the largest
of the USVI at 82 square miles. The island is a former sugar island
with mountains in the west and flat, fertile plains in the central
district. While the island certainly benefits from agriculture and
tourism, it also depends on its huge supply of oil and its popular
souvenir spirit, Cruzan Rum.
There certainly is plenty to do for the tourist. Buck Island Reef
National Monument is located 5 miles off Christiansted, the capital
city of St. Croix. Buck Island is uninhabited and well known for
its excellent reef snorkeling and diving. Corals can grow up to
30 feet tall! Walking trails are available on dry land around Buck
The St. Croix Aquarium, although closed on Sundays, is a big hit
all other days of the week. The aquarium offers first hand introduction,
and interaction, to local marine life. Interestingly, the owner
collects the exhibits and releases them back to sea after a few
Explore the 17-acre St. George Village Botanical Gardens, laid
out amongst a 19th century sugar plantation, which was built on
the site of a pre-Columbian Amerindian settlement. Visitors travel
along a marked trail through the gardens, viewing more than 800
species of tropical plants, including a rain forest and cactus garden.
Guided bicycling tours, day sails, golf, horseback riding, sport
fishing, and heritage tours are offered on the pristine island of
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