You’ve heard of the Virgin Islands…but given a map, could you point them out? A lot of people can’t–that’s why they’re the world’s best kept secret! Let us help! Take a look at world map and focus on the Southeastern USA. See Florida? Look to the right…now find Puerto Rico. See that tiny little cluster of islands about an inch to the right of Puerto Rico? Those are the Virgin Islands—about a 2 1/2 hour flight from Miami, and about 20 minutes by air from Puerto Rico.
The map shows you just a few islands—you probably see four—but there are about 60 islands and keys (pronounced cays) that make up the Virgin Islands. Four of them are U.S. territories, and the remaining 50-something islands are British. Confusing, right? Which is a US territory? Which is a British Island? Where do I need a passport? All good questions, but not the most important question to ask yourself when choosing the island you want to visit. The real question is “what kind of atmosphere, vibe, and experience do you want to have?”
Despite their proximity to each other, the islands are dramatically different. 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 beach getaway. Planning ahead is always good–and half the fun, so take a little time to do your research. A few hours online will help you find the perfect Virgin Island for you.
U.S. Virgin Islands vs. British Virgin Islands
The difference in American and British cultures is apparent with the imprint both have made on the Virgin Islands. If you’re interested in shopping, dining, nightlife, and the hotel scene with a little sun-loving and snorkeling on the side, St. Thomas or St. Croix are the destinations for you. St. John is very different–it shares the tranquil and laid-back vibe that you find in most of the BVIs, but is still a US territory. 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 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 table—from unparalleled luxury to complete isolation. And yes, everyone needs a passport or a visa to enter, no matter their age. Tortola, the most populated island, has limited shopping, nightlife and dining when compared to St. Thomas. It’s more of a destination for boaters and yachties, and has been aptly dubbed the “Cruising Capital of the Caribbean.” On Virgin Gorda, Peter Island and Scrub Island, you’ll find deluxe, luxury resorts and less tourists—these islands are reserved for an exclusive crowd. Laid back beach bars, restaurants and attractive, more local accommodations are found on islands like Jost Van Dyke and Anegada.
The United States and British Virgin Islands comprise about 60 islands combined. By planning ahead, having an idea of your ideal island vacation, and keeping in mind that each island has its own unique personality, you’ll find the idyllic Virgin Island, or islands, for you.