Top Reasons Why You Should Visit the US Virgin Islands

The US Virgin Islands and the surrounding crystalline waters are perfect for outdoor enthusiasts
The US Virgin Islands and the surrounding crystalline waters are perfect for outdoor enthusiasts | © cdwheatley / Getty Images
Photo of Claire Dodd
1 August 2021

More than 50 islets make up the US Virgin Islands, just three hours from Miami. From passport-free travel for US citizens to snorkelling with sea turtles, it’s time to add this Caribbean archipelago to your bucket list.

Choose your own pace as you explore the US Virgin Islands (USVI), a territory of the USA since 1917. Each of the three main islands, St Croix, St John and St Thomas, offers something different, though all are united by an easy-going culture, reggae beats and lush tropical landscapes. Discover why you should explore them all below.

American citizens don’t need to bring a passport

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B2YK2F Cinnamon Bay Beach in the Virgin Islands National Park on the Caribbean island of St John in the US Virgin Islands
© James Schwabel / Alamy Stock Photo

Yes, really. The bonus of being a US territory is that you don’t need a passport to travel to the USVI if you’re an American. However, you will need to bring identification to prove that you are a US citizen, such as a driving licence. Just hop on a plane from Miami International Airport, and you’ll be sipping a rum punch on the beach in no time.

Enjoy the warm weather

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J4ENKR Sailing boats in Cruz Bay, St. John, Virgin Islands National Park, US Virgin Islands, West Indies, Caribbean, Central America
© robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

Steady year-round temperatures averaging between 24C (75F) and 28C (82F) make the USVI a top winter sun destination for the northern hemisphere. Sailors flock here for the cooling trade winds, perfect for yachting. However, the best time to visit is from April to June, when the weather is mild, with little rainfall, and the rush of peak season (December to March) is over. July to October is hurricane season.

Spot nesting sea turtles

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C42GET Suriname, Matapica National Park. Leatherback turtle closing nest after laying eggs. (Dermochelys coriacea)
© frans lemmens / Alamy Stock Photo

If you time it right, you may spot a turtle as you snorkel the clear waters surrounding the USVI. With both marine and land-based wildlife reserves, there are plenty of spots to immerse yourself in nature. For example, the soft sands at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge on St Croix provide a nesting habitat for three species of endangered sea turtles: the leatherback, hawksbill and green turtle. Peak nesting season is from August to November. Remember to keep a distance, stay silent and don’t disturb any animals you encounter.

Sunbathe on the white-sand beaches

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B0HBY7 Palm tree, Trunk Bay, St. John's Island National Park, U.S. Virgin Islands, Caribbean
© imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

The secluded, pearly white beaches of the USVI contrast starkly with the turquoise waters. It’s one of the biggest draws to these Caribbean islands. Cinnamon Bay, within the Virgin Islands National Park, is home to one of the longest beaches on St John. Meanwhile, the crescent sands of Trunk Bay – with its glowing shallows – is perhaps the most well-known beach on St John. Head underwater to glimpse the surrounding coral reef.

Snorkel in the clear Caribbean Sea

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APTR1N ST JOHN, US Virgin Islands - Underwater shot of tropical reef in the Caribbean
© Have Camera Will Travel | North America / Alamy Stock Photo

You’ve followed a hiking trail through a national park, but have you snorkelled an underwater trail? The Virgin Islands National Park covers approximately 5,224ha (12,909 acres) of the Virgin Islands, from tropical forest to the ocean. More than 40 percent of the park is underwater, with mangrove shorelines, seagrass beds, fringing and patch reefs offering diverse snorkelling spots. The clear protected waters are home to more than 500 species of fish and 40 types of coral. Head under the waves at Trunk Bay for a guided underwater trail.

Learn to surf

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CFMYPG People enjoy Sun & surf at Cinnamon Bay, St. John's, US Virgin Islands
© Timothy Mulholland / Alamy Stock Photo

While the Caribbean isn’t renowned for its surf spots, the USVI does have a few hidden gems for wave riders. Mother Nature can be fickle, but the right swell and wind direction during the winter months (from November to February) are the best for finding decent surf across the islands. Beginners should look for a big swell from the north and head to the beach break at Cinnamon Bay. St John’s most popular spot is Reef Bay; this reef break is tricky to access and better suited to advanced surfers.

Delve into the islands’ unique history

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GH4C8E Low Angle View the Red Walls and Green Shutters of Fort Christian, Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands
© George Oze / Alamy Stock Photo

Seven different nations have flown their flags over these shores, each leaving their legacy behind – from the native Ciboney, Caribs and Arawak people to Africans, Europeans and Americans. Trace the islands’ heritage by visiting historical sites such as Fort Christian, a looming red castle on St Thomas built in the 1670s by Dano-Norwegians, and Christiansted in St Croix, the former capital of the former Danish West Indies. Alternatively, head to Blackbeard’s Castle, a watchtower on St Thomas built to protect the harbour from pirates and attacks from the sea. Guided tours through the grounds are now available.

Visit an authentic rum distillery

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EDCP1B Shelves full of Cruzan Rum at the Cruzan Distillery - founded 1760, Christiansted, St Croix, US Virgin Islands, West Indies
© Brian Jannsen / Alamy Stock Photo

You can’t come to the Caribbean without taking a sip of rum. Born of the sugar trade that once dominated the region, this spirit tells the story of the islands and the people brought here to cultivate this “white gold”. The Cruzan Rum distillery on St Croix began in 1760 as a sugar mill, crushing the cane grown in the surrounding estate. The Nelthropp family has been distilling rum here for 200 years. Visit for a tasting session.

Party at the USVI carnivals

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2D7DK34 Frederiksted, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands-January 4,2020: Annual parade with dancers and spectators celebrating Caribbean culture on St. Croix
© Elizabeth Given / Alamy Stock Photo

When you hear the pulsing music, smell the sizzling grilled meat and see the sparkling costumes, you know it’s time to take to the streets. The US Virgin Islands carnival events take place in St Thomas in April or May, St Croix in December, and St John in June or July, meaning there are plenty of opportunities to join in with the festivities. An expression of freedom, joy, dancing, music and good food and drink charge the air with communal conviviality. Be sure to seek out live quelbe music, unique to the Virgin Islands.

Start planning your US Virgin Islands stay by browsing the best hotels here for every kind of traveller. Alternatively, scour the best boutique hotels in both the US and British Virgin Islands, bookable on Culture Trip. Fill your itinerary by checking out the best things to see and do in the US Virgin Islands. Fancy exploring the rest of the Caribbean while you’re here? Here are Caribbean dishes you need to try and an expert guide to island-hopping in the region.

These recommendations were updated on August 1, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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