At first glance on a map, the islands that make up the Virgin Islands chain are difficult to distinguish from one another. Which is a US territory? Which is a British Island? Where do I need a passport? What airport should I fly into? All good questions, but really not the most important question to ask yourself when choosing the island-or islands–you want to visit. The real question is what kind of atmosphere, vibe, and experience do you want to have on your Virgin Islands Vacation? Family vacation? Getaway with friends? Water sports adventure? Despite their proximity to each other, the more than 60 islands that make up the Virgin Islands are dramatically different. The kind of Virgin Islands vacation you want to have is key to choosing which islands to visit in the Virgin Islands chain.
Planning ahead is always good–and half the fun, so take a little time to do your research. A few hours on line will help you find the perfect Virgin Islands vacation locale for you. Knowing the differences between these very different islands is critical. For example, a remote British Virgin Island might not be as appealing to an avid golfer looking for an 18-hole course as it would be to a young couple looking for a romantic getaway.
So…What’s The Virgin Islands Difference?
The difference in American and British cultures and lifestyles are obviously imprinted throughout the Virgin Islands. St. Thomas, USVI, offers the familiar hustle-and-bustle of the mainland United States, including malls, restaurants, high end boutiques, world class shopping and fantastic golf. In contrast, the BVIs are more relaxed and far less commercial–but don’t offer the conveniences of St. Thomas. Except for a very few posh hotels and resorts, they’ve somehow managed to maintain the rustic, old world Caribbean appeal.
If you’re interested in shopping, dining, nightlife, and exquisite hotels with a little sun-loving and snorkeling on the side, the USVI, particularly St. Thomas and St. Croix, is your dream destination. St. John is very different though–it shares the tranquil and laid-back vibe that you find in most of the BVIs, but is still a US territory. There are no chain stores, no huge malls and no sprawling developments, but St. John does boast two very charming “villages” in Cruz Bay and Coral Bay. In fact, only about 5,000 lucky soles call this place home. Thanks in large part to millionaire mogul Laurance Rockefeller, who once owned a large part of the island and donated it to the the National Park Service, the island is protected from growth and commercialization, yet is still very close to St. Thomas–about 8 minutes by boat.
The British Virgin Islands run the gammet—from unparalleled private island luxury to complete isolation and camping on the beach. Tortola, being the most populated British island, offers limited shopping, nightlife and dining when compared to main US Virgin islands, but is more of a destination for boaters and yachties, and has been aptly dubbed as the “Cruising Capital of the Caribbean.” On Virgin Gorda, Peter Island and Scrub Island, you’ll find deluxe, private resorts that specialize in total relaxation and luxury. Laid back beach bars, restaurants and attractive, more local accommodations are found on islands like Jost Van Dyke and Anegada. The North Sound, including Saba Rock and the Bitter End Yacht Club are the perfect place for windsurfing, kiteboarding and extreme water sports lovers.
The United States and British Virgin Island comprise about 60 islands combined. By planning ahead, knowing what kind of experience you want, and keeping in mind that each island has its own unique personality, you’ll find the idyllic Virgin Islands for your perfect paradise island vacation.