As we enter into what’s arguably the worst part of the winter months, it’s hard not to get discouraged about everyday life. Between the snow you have to shovel, the way-too-early sunset, and the fact that it almost hurts to leave the house, it’s widely established that cold weather puts a damper on fun. That’s why now is the best time of the year to book a tropical vacation. But when it actually comes to choosing the destination for your beach vacation, it can be hard to know where to start. What beaches will live up to the pictures? What's a locale that isn't too hard to get to? And which country will offer fun adventures and mindless relaxation in equal parts? After doing some sleuthing, we humbly suggest planning a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Less than 80 miles east of Puerto Rico and about 1,100 miles southeast of Miami sit three major bodies of land — St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas — and they are also surrounded by roughly 50 other islands and cays.
And even though these islands have been part of the U.S. territory since the days of our Founding Fathers (Alexander Hamilton spent the majority of his childhood there), they remain relatively unknown among people who live in the continental U.S. As a territory, the Virgin Islands offer more than just a close and convenient vacation option. They also offer activities and experiences that will perfectly suit your vacation style.
So let’s grab your sandals, finally buy that new swimsuit, and head to the airport. The islands are waiting! To help you become better acquainted with your next favorite vacation spot, we’ve partnered with U.S. Virgin Islands to give you 11 reasons why you should book a trip ASAP.
1. The Natural Scenery Is Drop-Dead Gorgeous (& Lovingly Preserved)
The Virgin Islands have dozens of national parks, preserves, and refuges. There are six national parks throughout the three islands, some featuring biodiverse reefs, like the Buck Island Reef National Monument located in St. Croix. If you're the hiking type, St. John alone has over 11,500 acres of protected land. If you're into a bit of history, St. Thomas has preserved 19th-century forts on Hassel Island. St. Thomas also has a very popular butterfly garden (it'll provide you with Instagram photos for days, we promise).
If you're really into sustainability, there are a ton of eco-friendly dining options, accommodations, and activities, from farm-to-table restaurants to volunteering opportunities.
2. There's Always An Excuse To Party, No Matter When You Visit
St. Thomas has the first Carnival of the year, usually between mid-April through May. The V.I. Carnival, as it's called, is the second-most popular celebration in the Caribbean. The next Carnival is in St. John, and it celebrates the 1848 emancipation of slaves in the Virgin Islands. The party extends from Cruz Bay to the festive ferries shuttling revelers between St. Thomas and St. John. And last but not least, St. Croix celebrates with its Crucian Christmas Festival from December through New Year's, complete with parades, culinary treats, and colorful costumes. Whether you're there for the spirited music and dance or delicious local cuisine (or both!), going to the Virgin Islands for Carnival can't be beat.
3. The Culture Is Incredibly Diverse
Sure, you could lie on a beach for a couple of days without seeing a darn thing, but isn't that a waste of a plane ticket? The Virgin Islands have a wealth of historical tours, interesting foods, fairs, parades, and activities; again, each island adds its own special flavor. If you're an architecture nerd, you can tour 17th- and 18th-century landscapes and restored houses on St. Thomas and St. Croix. One of the most famous attractions is the 99 steps on St. Thomas, but make sure you're feeling energetic first. In St. John's National Park, Annaberg Plantation offers an immersive look at colonial culture.
4. You Don't Need a Passport to Get There
It's a universally accepted fact that getting your passport can be a huge pain. From the unflattering photo taken at your local pharmacy to the anxiety of waiting for it to arrive in the mail, the process can be kind of a nightmare. Thankfully, because the U.S. Virgin Islands is an American territory, U.S. citizens don’t need a passport. Traveling without the hassle is the onlyway to travel.
5. You Can Walk Through Pirate History
Up for a physical challenge? Head to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, and you'll find 99 Steps, a popular spot on the island where you can flex your Instagram skills and leg muscles at the same time. These steps (if you decide to climb them and remember to count them, you'll find there are 103!) lead to Blackbeard's Castle, which is one of the five national historic landmarks on the Islands. Originally built in 1679, Blackbeard used the tower as a lookout point. After exploring the castle, you can take a dip in one of Blackbeard’s three pools to cool off.
6. The Local Food is Amazing
The U.S. Virgin Islands has a vibrant culinary scene, with local favorites that include kallaloo, potato stuffing, red grout, and fritters. If you're going mostly for the food (and we're into most things for the food, honestly) try visiting in late October. DINE VI occurs Oct. 27 through Nov. 12 and celebrates the local restaurant scene of all three islands. Many restaurants offer special prices over these three weeks, whether you're wine-tasting, sipping island cocktails, attending a food-truck festival, or dining on locally sourced meals.
7. The Shopping Is Incredible (And Duty-Free)
First things first: each of the U.S. Virgin Islands has a $1,600 duty-free shopping limit, which is the highest in the Caribbean. From Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas (be sure to check out Main Street!) to Historic Frederiksted in St. Croix to Wharfside Village in St. John, you can buy everything from artisan goods to luxury products. (And don't forget the rum! You can take back up to six bottles of Cruzan Rum or Captain Morgan, duty-free.)
8. It's Perfect For Destination Weddings
With direct flights, breathtaking beaches and luxurious resorts, the U.S. Virgin Islands serve as a prime choice for many couples' destination weddings. Whether you're exchanging vows or celebrating a honeymoon, the picturesque views and variety of islands are sure to keep you (or your guests!) happy. St. Croix boasts white-sand beaches, European architecture, and coastline B&Bs. St John skews a bit more luxe, with gorgeous villas and an abundance of national parks. Lastly, St. Thomas has enough bustling nightlife, restaurants, and adventure activities to ensure that you'll never get bored. Bottom line? It's incredibly easy to hop from island to island, and even easier to find the trip that suits your personality.
9. If You're The Sporty Or Adventurous Type, You Can't Possibly Be Bored
If you've been thinking of skydiving, now's your chance to do it over sparkling blue water and white-sand beaches. (Try this in St. Thomas and St. Croix.) After a 15-minute orientation and 20-minute plane ride, you're well on your way toward checking off a bucket list item.
If you prefer to be on solid ground, there are two major events that happen in the Virgin Islands: The International Regatta in St. Thomas (fourth weekend in March), and the Coral Reef Swim in St. Croix (every October). The regatta features sailors from the U.S., Caribbean, and Europe, while the open-water swim attracts premier athletes, which include former Olympians.
10. You Just Might Just Run Into Something Unexpected
Ice sculptures in the Virgin Islands? Not the first thing that comes to mind when we think about island vacations, but you should definitely check out Magic Ice. They provide the gloves, snow boots, winter hats, and award-winning ice sculptures — all you need to do is show up!
Images: |vv@ldzen| / Flickr (1); U.S. Virgin Islands (10)