By Patricia Canole
If your boat is afloat at the thought of superior sailing, snorkeling and swimming, the United States Virgin Islands will throw you a lifeline.
The islands rest in the Caribbean like little emeralds set apart from the iridescent turquoise sea. Cool trade winds whisper through the palm trees filling the white sails of passing boats. They are the US Virgin Islands decidedly the hottest destination in the Caribbean.
But the similarities stop there. While one brims with an impressive array of resorts, restaurants, and shopping almost everywhere you look, the others are conversely more refined in nature coupled with the West Indian mindset of ”Don’t worry be happy!”
Wherever you happen to land, though, you’ll be confident to share these shores with the adventurous divers, experienced yachts people, not to mention the rich and famous who have frequented these islands for many years. So, whether you just want to settle down on a secluded beach or island hop like most, you’ll find nature at her very best.
In many ways, St. Thomas supplies the ultimate USVI experience: The most extensive duty-free shopping, the most famous beaches, the most elegant restaurants, the highest mountains, and the most spectacular attractions.
Here the roads begin at the beach and end in Charlotte Amalie, the capital, and shopping mecca. Just a few feet from the glittering harbor, you’ll find exclusive shops all selling at 40-to-50 percent less than home. But there’s more to St. Thomas than duty-free shopping. Right from Charlotte Amalie Harbor, you can begin your tour of the island in style—by boat. St. Thomas has many beaches that can’t be reached by roads. Rent a sailboat, or board one of the many larger tour boats in the harbor and set sail for a slice of pristine beauty.
Rather travel by wheels: You’re in for a real treat. Magens Bay often called one of the best beaches in the world, is just the beginning. Some of St. Thomas’s other beaches are just as nice—and less crowded at that. Sapphire Beach certainly lives up to its name and is a favorite of windsurfers. At Coki Beach, you’ll find great snorkeling opportunities. If you want to take the plunge into underwater life, you can learn to scuba dive at Bolongo Bay and prepare for an underwater adventure.
WHERE TO STAY
Nestled within a 30-acre beachfront estate on the eastern tip of the island, the luxurious Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas (ritzcarlton.com) blends classic European elegance with the traditional warmth of the Caribbean. Be sure to book a sunset cruise featuring live music and cocktails on the luxury catamaran Lady Lynsey.
Daily use of all non-motorized sports and unlimited use of the fitness center and tennis facilities are complimentary. After a day of touring the island, soothe the body at the spa complete with scented candles and aromatic oils.
Covering nearly 20 square miles, little St. John has become a favorite of the outdoor adventurous. Some 60 percent of this unspoiled land is managed by U.S. National Park Service. There are no airports, neon signs, nightclubs, or traffic lights. With this in mind, visitors know that making plans in St. John is easy.
Head out to Trunk Bay which was singled out by National Geographic as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Sunbathers who can drag themselves to the shore will find an underwater trail marked by a series of floats. The Park Service maintains this area including a picnic area. From here, take North Shore Road which hugs the shoreline and you’ll do nothing but see the beach—incredibly long, graceful strips of white coral sand just waiting to be discovered.
Or if you’re more adventurous take a hiking excursion. The National Park Service offers hiking tours where visitors can view pre-Columbian Arawak and Carib petroglyphs. Be sure to spend some time in Cruz Bay, the island’s small town, where locals congregate on the benches fronting the dock. Browse through the shops and boutiques, which sell most everything from T-shirts to handmade jewelry.
WHERE TO STAY
Privacy and understated elegance are trademarks of Caneel Bay (caneelbay.com), St. John’s premier resort, where tastefully decorated cottages are set far apart on seven separate beaches. Located in the Virgin Islands National Park on its 171-acre peninsula boarded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, the opportunity to escape from our technologically driven world and commune intimately with nature have always been one if its great appeals.
Also, you’ll enjoy horticultural walks, hiking, tennis, water sports, full use of the Fitness Center and wine and rum tastings. Guests also take in a sunset cocktail cruise, five-course starlit dinners at a renovated 18th-century sugar mill, massage, and meditation or yoga session at the resorts unique facility. Be advised that there are no phones, radio or television in the room. Perfect!
The largest of the three islands, St. Croix is the only one to be surrounded completely by the Caribbean Sea. It’s about a 25-minute flight from St. Thomas. St. Croix offers some very special sightseeing stops. The island is rich in history. Whenever you want a break from the sun and sea, take a day to explore the two largest towns at opposite ends of the island.
Christiansted is a charming small town, built around a once Danish fortress. Most of the downtown area is painted pastel yellow just as it was in the 18th century. From the fort, you can walk across the square to the arches of the Scalehouse; it’s an 1886 weighing station now converted to the Visitor’s Bureau. Although St. Croix doesn’t provide all the shopping in the world, you can find the same duty-free bargains (without the crowds) along Strand, King, and Company Streets.
On the western shore is Frederiksted which is considered the high cruise-ship port. Around Fort Frederik, you’ll find small shops and restaurants, and historic buildings. At the Customs House, just south of the fort, you can pick up a walking tour guide.
Be sure to put aside a day for a trip to Buck Island, the small, uninhabited island just off the north coast of St. Croix. Boats departing from Christiansted Harbor can take you on a pleasant 45-minute sail or glass-bottom boat ride to the underwater National Park. Don your gear and dive into the colorful coral formations, where tropical fish regard you as just another sea creature.
WHERE TO STAY
Chenay Bay Beach Resort (chenaybay.com), five minutes from Christiansted provides the perfect informal setting for a memorable Caribbean stay, A visit here offers private West Indies-style cottages complete with fully equipped kitchenettes and porches overlooking lush tropical gardens or the sea, hammocks at the edge of the beach. Gently swaying coconut palms, complimentary snorkeling, sailing, kayaking and tennis and live entertainment most nights in the form of calypso and steel pan bands just may make you want to extend your stay.
Yes, warm, friendly and relaxed. More than a playground for sun-seeking vacationers, the USVI offer a life in paradise—great beaches, impressive landscapes, and sunny weather for most of the year. Now’s the time to sample just one or experience all three.
For more information, please visit: visitusvi.com