A Piece of Paradise with Your Name on it – the U.S. Virgin Islands

A Piece of Paradise with Your Name on it – the U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands are among the top tourist destinations in the Caribbean. A splattering of gorgeous tropical islands nestled between Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands, the USVI have long been famed for their silky-white beaches and wild inland hills of rainforest, cacti groves and banyans. This American territory includes about 50 islands and cays, the largest of which are St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John. After a turbulent history, with many occupations, the islands reflect their Danish influence most prominently with some beautiful examples of Neoclassical Danish architecture. Natural beauty is another asset. Lush mountains, tropical forests, curving beaches, and rocky coves are sprinkled throughout all the islands, and the crystal clear waters and steady winds lure sailors and boaters, who like to anchor in the sheltered bays.

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Each island exudes its own character. St. Thomas is the most visited of the islands and the gateway to the archipelago. The island is lively, with a long list of ways to wear everyone out. Its main town, Charlotte Amalie, is the capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands and a major cruise ship port, with plenty of shopping, dining, and entertainment options. From the harbor you see an idyllic-looking village that spreads into the lower hills. If you were expecting a quiet hamlet with its inhabitants hanging out under palm trees, you've missed that era by about 300 years.

Blackbeard's Castle, rumored to be the famed pirate's lookout tower, is a historic stone structure now just watching for tourists. It is a popular attraction based on its history of pirates and smugglers, a history that may be nothing more than scuttlebutt. The castle, which is actually a fairly simple tower, was originally built in 1679 as a military watchtower by Danish colonists. The building was originally known as Skytsborg Tower, meaning "sky tower," and actually existed for years before the tower's current namesake even reached the region. Blackbeard was known to operate in and around the Virgin Islands in the early 1700s and legend says that he used it as a lookout post but regardless of whether there is any truth to that or not, it is still a great day out.

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St. Croix , the largest of the three, is less tourism-driven than its sister islands. Its rustic vibe will give you a real feel for the Caribbean. Perhaps because St Croix drifts by its lonesome 40 miles south of the other Virgins, the vibe here is different: it feels less touristy, less congested, and more 'lived in' by locals. It has two main towns: Christiansted, the largest, sits on the northeast shore. Frederiksted, its much quieter counterpart, resides on the west end, where an occasional cruise ship glides in and kicks up the pace. Top attractions here are the historic district of its largest town, Christiansted, as well as the sugar plantations, gardens, and coastal scenery on the Heritage Trail. St. Croix is also home to beautiful Buck Island Reef, the nation's first underwater monument. The reef here features elkhorn coral grottoes and is one of the best dive sites in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Along the marked trail, snorkelers and divers may spot many tropical fish such as blue tang and barracuda. Wreck dives are found off the north coast.

Eco-travelers will find an oasis on St. John, where two-thirds of the island is designated as the Virgin Islands National Park. Hiking, diving, snorkeling, scuba diving and turtle spotting and a medley of beach lazing will fill your days. The island is booming, and it can get a tad crowded at the ever-popular Trunk Bay Beach during the busy winter season; parking woes plague the island's main town of Cruz Bay, but you won't find traffic jams or pollution. It's easy to escape from the fray: just head off on a hike or go early or late to the beach. If you're a beach snob, prepare to be pleased. St. John is known for its perfect white sand and turquoise waters. The sun won't be as strong, and you may have that perfect crescent of white sand all to yourself. In the evening, indulge yourself with a (perhaps not so) healthy pouring of local rum.

Here you can truly escape the pressures of modern life for a day, a week—perhaps forever.

Renting a vacation home will give you all the space and privacy you need to do things at your own pace.

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