A little over 1,000 miles off the coast of Florida are the U.S. Virgin Islands. Home to pristine beaches, vibrant cultures and year round celebrations, the Virgin Islands are an ideal location for vacations and destination weddings alike. And to further sweeten the pot, no passport is required for visiting U.S. citizens.
Each of the three islands offers something special. On St. Croix, the largest island, visitors can experience the indigenous cultures of the Arawaks and Caribs through the works of the Caribbean Dance Company (CDC) and the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts. The CDC is an ensemble that preserves and teaches the dance heritage of Caribbean and West Indian culture. Performances such as the “Mocko Jumbies” (traditional stilt dancers thought to chase away evil spirits), reggae, calypso, steel pan bands and salsa can be witnessed all year long. The Museum Center for the Arts serves and promotes the artists of the Caribbean. It is a center for learning, introspection and connection to the cultures of the Caribbean.
St. Croix is also home to Buck Island, one of only three underwater national monuments in the United States. Underwater trails allow snorkelers to take in the coral reef ecosystem and observe hawksbill turtles and other underwater creatures. In the highlands of St. Croix is the Virgin Islands Sustainable Farm Institute (VISFI). At VISFI, there are more than one hundred acres of farmland. Visitors can learn about organic farming, take a course in bush skills and enjoy a Creque Slow Down Dinner with organically grown local ingredients.
On St. Thomas, one of the most popular beaches for tourists is Magens Bay. It is a public park in a heart-shaped, protected bay where beach chairs and floats are available and a snack bar is open. Nearby, Coral World Ocean Park offers visitors the chance to swim with sea lions, trek along the ocean floor and encounter turtles, sharks and stingrays. For those who do not wish to go in the water, the Undersea Observatory Tower gives you a chance to look 30 feet underwater without ever getting wet. One of the more surprising attractions of the Virgin Islands, at least to me, is the Magic Ice Gallery. It is the largest permanent ice gallery in the world. The sculptures inside help celebrate Caribbean culture and history. Warm coats, gloves and shoes are provided, so you don’t have to worry about trying to fit those items in your suitcase.
Many of us may associate the Caribbean with the Disney movie franchise “Pirates of the Caribbean.” On St. Thomas, you can relive a little bit of that time period with a visit to Blackbeard’s Castle and Drake’s Seat. Both locations served as lookout points for famed pirate Edward Teach and explorer Sir Francis Drake. Nowadays, the monuments offer stunning panoramic views of the neighboring Virgin Islands.
St. John, the smallest island, is largely protected in a national park. 60% of its land is preserved, meaning visitors can explore and hike freely throughout the island. Within the national park is the Reef Bay Trail, which descends 937 feet through a shady forest. Along the way, you will encounter visible remains of sugar estates as well as ancient petroglyph rock carvings. Cinnamon Bay Beach offers snorkeling, windsurfing and kayaking. Nearby is a half-mile nature loop and the National Park Service’s excavation area. Just like its sister islands, St. John also boasts golf courses with amazing views of the Caribbean. Pastoray Gardens is an 18-hole golf course completed with putting greens, a botanical garden and a restaurant.
To learn more about the U.S. Virgin Islands and to find places to stay, go to visitusvi.com.
Author: Olivia Varnson, Sports and Adventure Travel enthusiast. Olivia lives near Gainesville, GA