The culture of the Virgin Islands reflects West African, European and American traditions, in addition to the influences from the immigrants from the Middle East, India and other Caribbean islands. The islands were strongly influenced by the British, Dutch, French and Danish during the long periods the islands were governed by the colonial authorities of these nations. The US Virgin Islands, which comprise the islands of Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas, along with several minor islands, are an unincorporated territory of the US. From 1754 to 1814, these islands were known as the Danish West Indies of the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway and from 1814 to 1917 of the independent Kingdom of Denmark. The US purchased the islands from Denmark in 1917.
1. Virgin Islands National Park (St. John)
This national park covers two-thirds of the area of the island of St. John, and most of its major attractions are located within its borders. The tropical environment of the park offers activities for all types of travelers: adventure seekers can choose from 22 hiking trails, while families can take advantage of the opportunities for overnight camping on the beach.
2. Trunk Bay (St. John)
Known as the “Meccas of Beaches,” this white-sand beach retains a serene atmosphere despite its popularity with tourists. The best time to visit is early morning when the crowds are at their minimum. The site features the Underwater Trail, which is a snorkeling path displaying coral and fish with plaques describing what’s on view along the way. The very calm waters of the bay make it perfect for young snorkelers.
3. Magens Bay (St. Thomas)
The beach at Magens Bay is popular with visitors to St. Thomas. Located on the island’s north coast, it may be the most swimmable and picturesque beach in the US Virgin Islands. A heart-shaped beach, it features white sands and clear Caribbean waters for excellent swimming.
4. Estate Whim Plantation Museum (St. Croix)
This museum offers exhibits chronicling the 18th century life of those involved with the production of sugar cane. A tour of the great house is recommended, and visitors can also walk through the estate’s windmill and bath house. Excellent tour guides provide detailed information about sugar cane production and the lives of those enslaved Cruzan people who once lived and worked here. In winter, there is a Candlelight Concert Series that offers outdoor concerts on the plantation grounds. Wine tastings are also organized here on occasion.
5. Caneel Bay (St. John)
This bay is near the Caneel Bay Resort, but is open to everyone. As few tourists who do not stay at the hotel visit this beach in the northwest part of the island, it offers a private and romantic experience. The hotel includes an excellent restaurant, and visitors can swim from the coast of Caneel to the more isolated Honeymoon Beach if they wish.
6. Cruzan Rum Distillery (St. Croix)
Sampling Cruzan rum is a popular activity for most visitors, and this distillery offers one of the best places to do so. Tour guides explain the process of distilling the rum, and upon completion of the tour, the guides mix excellent cocktails for the enjoyment of tourists. Favorites among the cocktails are the “Cruzan Sunset,” the “Rum Cream” and the “Rush Hour.” Bottles of rum can be purchased here as well.
7. Main Street (St. Thomas)
Main Street in St. Thomas offers some of the best shopping in the Caribbean. Diamonds, perfumes, designer clothing, electronics, and liquor are available along the cobblestone length of the street. All purchases are duty-free. The street can become crowded with shoppers coming straight from the cruise ship docks, so visitors who want to avoid the crowds should avoid later morning and early afternoon hours.
8. Annaberg Plantation (St. John)
This plantation once produced sugar, molasses, and rum, and now offers tours explaining sugar production during the 18th and 19th centuries. Demonstrations of bread baking and basket weaving are offered on specific days. This site is included in the Annaberg Historic District, and downhill from the plantation is Leinster Bay, which offers a chance for some good beachcombing.
9. Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge (St. Croix)
This beach in the southern part of St. Croix is also a natural refuge and habitat for the leatherback sea turtle. Swimmers will enjoy its shallow waters and sunbathing opportunities during the day at this off-the-beaten-path location. The setting was featured in the film “The Shawshank Redemption,” filling the role of a “Mexican” beach. The refuge is open from September to March on weekends with limited hours for visitation.
10. Fort Frederik (St. Croix)
This fort was built to protect the islands from pirates, but in 1848, about 8,000 enslaved people marched through the streets of Frederiksted to the fort to demand freedom. Visitors can learn about this emancipation rally and the nature of the so-called “Triangle Trade,” which refers to the route of slave ships between Europe, Africa, and St. Croix.
Photo by Josh Duncan on Unsplash