Located in the Eastern Caribbean, the U.S. Virgin Islands are American territories, which means U.S. citizens don't need different currency or a passport to visit. While the archipelago has many small rocks and uninhabited islands, the main places that travelers visit are St. Thomas (and nearby Water Island), St. John and St. Croix.
Although it's the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix lies 40 miles away from its siblings across rough seas. Conversely, St. Thomas and St. John are a quick boat ride away from each other, with frequent passenger and car ferry service. A vacation encompassing all three will require some planning with a timetable, as well as a quick hop on a puddle jumper.
Charlotte Amalie, on St. Thomas, has the region's largest airport. Nonstop flights are available from New York, Newark, Atlanta, Miami, Philadelphia, Charlotte and Fort Lauderdale. St. Croix's airport has nonstop flights from Miami, Charlotte and Atlanta. (Some of these services are seasonal and operate only over the winter.)
San Juan, Puerto Rico, is another hub for air travel to this region.
Once you're in the Virgin Islands, seaplanes can be used to hop between St. Thomas and St. Croix. Providers include Cape Air and Seaborne.
Neither St. John nor Water Island has an airport, although the rich and famous have been known to charter helicopters to the former.
Although the terrain is hilly, driving in the Virgin Islands is easily done, and a rental car is handy if you're renting a villa or staying outside the main towns. Make sure you're comfortable driving on the left, as all three islands require it.
Major car rental companies such as Hertz, Avis and Thrifty are located at the airport in St. Thomas. Speed limits are 35 miles per hour outside of town and 20 mph in town, although bear in mind that not everyone follows this rule. Use caution and beep your horn when going around blind corners.
St. Croix also has major car rental companies, including Avis, Budget and Hertz. SunBug offers a solar/electric car hybrid. As befits a larger island, speed limits can go up to 55 mph on flatter stretches.
On St. John, a Jeep is a nice way to explore the rugged national park. Varlack Ventures guarantees you a parking spot in crowded Cruz Bay.
Although scooters are available to rent on all three islands, we don't recommend it; accidents are common and often deadly.
Ferry is the only way to reach St. John from St. Thomas. Passenger ferries depart Red Hook every hour, on the hour. It's a 20-minute ride. If you have a car, several barge companies provide service. Discounts may be available for kids and seniors.
There's also a ferry to St. John from Charlotte Amalie, although service is less frequent. The trip takes 45 minutes and has slighter rougher seas as it travels the St. Thomas coast.
At one time, ferries went between St. Croix and St. Thomas. Service was discontinued in 2013, however, due to rough waters. There are currently no plans to revive it.
Only 10 minutes away from Charlotte Amalie, Water Island makes a pleasant day trip from St. Thomas. Water taxis depart Crown Bay numerous times a day (less frequently on Sundays and holidays).
Ferries also operate between St. Thomas and St. John and British Virgin Island ports, including Tortola, Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke. Check timetables for specific days of the week that service runs. You will need your passport to enter the BVI.
Open air "safari cabs" are common on both St. Thomas and St. John. On St. Thomas, these cabs make a loop between the University of the Virgin Islands, past the airport on the west end, to Red Hook, the marina on the island's east side, passing through Charlotte Amalie coming and going. Rides are inexpensive, and you can pick up the vehicles by waving the driver down.
Taxis are also available (usually in SUV minivans) and identifiable by a sign on the window or a domed light on top of the car. Fares are set by the Virgin Island Taxicab Division, but as always when you're on vacation, it's best to ask the driver what the fare is before you set off in the vehicle.
Because of its size, you're better off renting a car in St. Croix. Taxis are available at the airport and also in downtown Christiansted and Frederiksted. You can also ask your hotel for recommendations for a private driver.
The public bus service on the islands is known as VITRAN; the orange and black vehicles are similar to the city buses and shuttles that you'd see in the mainland U.S. (although the islands are looking at getting rid of the larger vehicles in the fleet). While fares are cheap, scheduled times are seen as suggestions more than reality, and you could end up waiting a long time.
On St. John, the buses run between Cruz Bay and Salt Pond Bay on the southeast side of the island. Service stops in the early evening, however, and this route bypasses the most popular beaches on St. John's north shore.
On St. Thomas, you can catch the bus at VITRAN stops in Charlotte Amalie. Again, times vary and schedules are not set in stone. The same goes for service on St. Croix, where the buses run between shopping malls in Frederiksted and Christiansted. Note that there's no service -- and very few stores and restaurants are open -- on Sundays.
St. Croix VITRAN: (340) 773-1664
St. John VITRAN: (340) 774-0165
St. Thomas VITRAN: (340) 774-5678
The Virgin Islands are quite hilly, with narrow roads, blind passes and drivers in a hurry. You're better off relegating your biking to a planned excursion (mountain biking trips are offered on all three islands) or pedaling around the Charlotte Amalie waterfront.
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--written by Chris Gray Faust