The three islands that make up the USVI could not be more different. St. Thomas has one of the top duty free shopping Meccas of the Caribbean, with a bustling economy. St. John, mere minutes away, has set aside 80 percent of its land as a national park, and maintains a strong and vital stance as a eco-paradise. And, then there's St. Croix, which exudes more a Dutch experience than American, as well as feeling like a working island nation on it's own right. St. Croix has everything from a Heritage Trail to beer swilling pigs, as well as the distillery for Cruzan Rum, the USVI's signature tipple. Underwater, each is different, as well. St Thomas has somehow secretly amassed a wonderful, varied and lively collection of shipwrecks. St. Croix features incredible walls, a renowned macro dives under the Fredericksted pier, and it's own collection of wrecks that have become vigorous ecosystems. St. John diving is about shallow coral gardens and fringing reefs that have an amazing variety of hard and soft corals, sea fans and sponges.
When to go:
Year-round, although hurricane season is August through November.
When to Get the Best Deals:
August to October.
What to Pack:
3/2 mm wetsuit, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, sturdy shoes that can get wet for hiking, DAN card.
Seasonal averages: 26°C/78°F in winter and 28°C/83°F in summer.
Seasonal averages: 26°C/79°F in winter and 29°C/83°F in summer.
US Dollar. Credit cards are widely accepted.
Valid passport; check with local immigration office for visa requirements.
Included in your airfare.
What to Eat:
A typical USVI dinner might consist of broiled fish, fungi (boiled cornmeal cooked with okra) and salted cod fish cakes with spicy creole sauce. For snacks, try the conch fritters, pate (fried dough filled with various meats), johnny cakes (fried dough), or enjoy a wide variety of local tropical fruits.
What to Drink:
Cruzan rum from St. Croix is the favored drink of the USVI. Along with rum and rum drinks, you'll also find passionfruit juice, pumpkin punch, sorrel, soursop punch, banana punch, coconut water, peanut punch, bush tea and lemon tea on the drink menus. St. John Brewers make a variety of local beers, including Tropical Mango Pale Ale, and Fort Christian Brew Pub is the micro-brewery on St. Croix.
Shop in the famous Duty Free extravaganza of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas; soak up the sun at Trunk Bay or Cinnamon Bay beaches on bucolic St. John; hike the Heritage Trail on St. Croix and be sure to stop at the Cruzan Rum Factory and the Mt. Pellier Hut Domino Club to see the famed beer (nonalcoholic) swilling pigs. Each island has its eco-tours, nightlife and anything and everything to do with water sports.
Customs and Culture:
A long-standing tradition in the Virgin Islands is greeting someone before any conversation or other transaction starts. Be respectful and wear shirts and beach cover ups when in town.
Lifestyle Festival, St. Thomas, July; Mardi Croix, St. Croix, March; A Taste of St. Croix, April; St. John Festival, June/July;
Electricity and Internet:
120V/60Hz; Internet is available in most major hotels.
Drink the water?
Bottle water is recommended.
Amazing Marine Life
This striking beauty is a blue-gray color with yellow-rimmed scales, giving it an iridescent shimmer, highlighted by neon blue strips around the edges of its dorsal fins and gill covers, and brilliant yellow at the fringe of tail and fins.
Torpedo-shaped and metallic, this small squid can change color in an instant, and may be difficult to spot.
Unlike their reef-building cousins, cup corals encrust existing structures, bejeweling them with brilliant colors, particularly noteworthy under dive lights at night.
These relatives to coral branch in intricate, sometimes lacy patterns, decorating the underwater landscape.
Feather Duster Worms:
Waving spiraled fronts shaped (as their name implies) like feather dusters, these coral-relatives add color and movement to the reef.
Most often found in holes, caves, and wrecks, moray eels sometimes venture out so divers can see their entire snakelike length.
This highly decorative anglerfish can be found in a variety of vivid shades, from oranges to pinks, and boast frilly bait-like appendages with which to lure prey.
These silvery, mirrored predators will often follow you on night dives to hunt the fish you show with your light.
These bright red fish with very large black eyes hide under ledges and in holes during the day.
Mottled in scaly patterns of reds and browns, the scorpionfish can blend easily with polyp-encrusted rocks, but its venomous dorsal spines render this beauty a danger.
Top Dive Spots
Cow and Calf Rocks, St. Thomas:
Named for the appearance of a group of rocks topside, this location is networked with coral tunnels, arches, caves, and canyons. Look for silversides, staghorn coral and gray reef sharks.
Navy Barges, St. Thomas:
This pair of barges, sunk after World War II to create an artificial reef, feature trumpetfish, angelfish, feather dusters, Christmas tree worms, squirrelfish, bigeyes and channel clinging crabs.
Salt River Canyon, St. Croix:
The walls of this canyon, contoured with pinnacles and swim-throughs, are cluttered with purple tube sponges, deepwater sea fans, soft corals, and trees of black coral. Look for yellowtail snapper, turtles, and the occasional spotted eagle ray, nurse shark, black-tip reef shark or hammerhead shark.
Cane Bay, St. Croix:
Known for its coral canyons, this site also features 19th-century anchors and dramatic coral heads.
Frederiksted Pier, St. Croix:
This site comes highly recommended for night dives as well as daytime excursions, and is a favorite among macro photographers. Look for sponges, banded shrimp, plume worms, seahorses, moray eels, octopus, juvenile smooth trunkfish, seahorses, golden-eyed shrimp, parrotfish, spotted scorpionfish, frogfish and the rare roughback batfish.
Davis Bay, St. Croix:
At the edge of the 3,600-metre/12,000-foot-deep Puerto Rico Trench, this spectacular wall dive boasts stunning brain corals and staghorn formations.
Butler Bay, St. Croix:
A handful of sunken ships rest here among abandoned automobiles that add to the artificial reef. Look for rope, stovepipe and barrel sponges, blackbar soldierfish, mahogany snapper, and French, queen and gray angels, Creole wrasses, green moray eels, stingrays, snappers, hinds, sergeant majors, fairy basslets and chromis.
Eagle Shoals, St. John:
Majestic topography at this site (including a cave known as "The Cathedral," which has been the site of underwater weddings) is highlighted by vivid sponges, orange cup coral, schools of black durgons, porkfish, silversides, spotted drums, and queen and French angelfish.
Carvel Rock, St. John:
This cluster of rocks, encrusted with sponges, sea fans and corals, can be navigated as a drift dive. Watch for stingrays, tarpon, silversides, nurse sharks, squid and octopus.
Tektite, St. John:
Tektite is an underwater habitat that was created in 1969 as the first nationally sponsored scientists-in-the-sea program. Divers visiting this site today will find a varied terrain of coral-encrusted tunnels, caves and ledges as well as tarpon, squid, triggerfish, mackerel and a profusion of small reef fish.