Caribbean Cruising '23: US Virgin Islands

Suzanna Pinder on 06 March 2023
Originally occupied by the French and Danish, the US Virgin Islands were finally sold to America in 1917 and whilst today they have all the feel and facilities of America such as highways, fast food joints, shops and bars, much of the architecture and town names have a European feel - Frenchtown, Christiansted, Frederiksted and Charlotte Amalie.

The USVI are comprised of three main islands, dotted with a few smaller islands and cays. St Thomas is the most built up island, with a busy international airport and continuous stream of cruise ships. The main town of Charlotte Amalie, named after a Danish Queen, offers a duty free appeal and happening to be there on the same day as two large cruise ships, walking down the high street felt somewhat like walking down the duty free aisle at Heathrow Airport, with shop owners enticing shoppers in to snap up value bargains.

The beautiful island of St John is predominantly National Park, with strict laws about building and access. This has resulted in a wonderful natural island, abundant with unspoilt beaches, lush forests leading from mountain top to waters edge and many amazing hiking trails. The island has a great team of friendly park rangers who patrol both on and off the water and lead guided land and sea trails. St John also has some super campgrounds, from remote wild camping to larger grounds with full facilities and watersport rental. A great destination for a camping holiday with a twist!

The third major island in the USVI is St Croix, pronounced by the locals a Saint Croy (we were regularly corrected for our incorrect French pronunciation!). Located 35 miles south of the other USVI, both the island and locals have quite an independent spirit. The Danish influence can certainly be seen in the main town of Christiansted. A solid fort keeps watch over the harbour, alongside some lovely old buildings and a well preserved wharf, which comes to life as the sun goes down and people frequent the waterside bars and restaurants. St Croix has many features, including the largest barrier reef system in the Caribbean (great for diving, not so great for deep keeled yachts!), is home to the world renowned Captain Morgan Rum distillery (quite an operation) and also Point Udall, the eastern most point in the US by direction of travel. The latter is celebrated by a large Millennium Monument, a sundial marking the first sunrise of the millennium for the USA. Like many Caribbean islands, St Croix has a history of sugar plantations, with a lovely botanic garden set within the grounds of an old plantation house, not only showcasing the local flora and fauna, but also walking visitors through the history of plantation life and the part the island played in the abolition of slavery.

Before leaving St Croix, we had one last delight, Buck Island Reef National Monument. A small island 5 miles off the coast of St Croix, surrounded by an amazing reef. Buck Island is fully protected under National Park status and plays an important part in flora and fauna conservation, particularly turtle nesting and the replenishment of coral and reef wildlife. However, despite strict rules for visiting boats, Buck Island welcomes visitors and being there over a weekend, it was great to see locals and tourists enjoying the stunning sandy beaches, picnic areas, crystal clear waters and underwater snorkelling trail.

So far on our travels we have visited the British Virgin Islands, the US Virgin Islands and so to complete the set, next we are onwards to the Spanish Virgin Islands...

This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2023’.

Next article ‘Spanish Virgin Islands’.