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Formally the stomping grounds of some of history’s most famous pirates, the Virgin Islands are now invaded by thousands of visitors who arrive daily by air and by sea. There are approximately 100 green, hilly islands, some governed by the United States and some by Great Britain. Most are extremely small and uninhabited, except for a few birds or the odd explorer seeking solitude while they snorkel or swim, though it is possible to rent an entire island for yourself.
Most Virgin Islands natives are descendants of African slaves who worked the sugar-cane plantations, though in recent years, the local population has boomed with a vast number of "Down Islanders" - people migrating from other Caribbean islands, as well as a number of Americans who just couldn’t bear to leave the island way of life. St. Thomas and St. Croix, part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, are extremely busy, but the laid back lifestyle of the islands’ days of old may still be found in St. John and some pockets of the British Virgins, particularly Virgin Gorda.
ST, THOMAS – U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
St. Thomas combines the natural beauty of the islands with a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is one of the most beautiful harbors in the world and the most visited port in the Caribbean. Elegant dining, exciting nightlife, and world-class duty-free shopping are abundant in Charlotte Amalie. The city's reputation as the shopping Mecca of the Caribbean draws visitors from all over the region and around the world.
A mountainous island, St. Thomas offers stunning vistas in almost every direction. While Charlotte Amalie is full of energy, St. Thomas also provides natural wonders such as the indescribably beautiful Magens Bay and stunning views of the Caribbean from 1,500 feet above sea level. Drake's Seat is particularly famous for its vistas.
Sports and activities are abundant on St. Thomas. Golf enthusiasts will enjoy the George and Tom Fazio-designed Mahogany Run course. St. Thomas is also well known for its world-class yachting and sport fishing.
ST CROIX – U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
St. Croix’s rich culture and history, along with its beautiful beaches and world-class recreational activities, create an experience unlike any other in the Caribbean. Since the day Christopher Columbus first arrived at Salt River on St. Croix more than 500 years ago, sugar and rum have shaped the island's life and land. Fifty-four sugar mills, each with imposing windmill towers and factory chimneys, still rest in the shadows of stately eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century homes. Located on the west end of the island, Estate Whim Plantation is just one example of these "greathouses." With acres of rolling green hills, St.Croix's plantation estates also bore crops of okra, cabbage, corn, and other vegetables still prominent in Caribbean cuisine. As the sugar industry declined after the 1960s, tourism became the most important industry on the island.
Christiansted and Frederiksted, the two main towns of St. Croix, flourished as commercial ports during the eighteenth century and nineteenth century. Distinct architecture reflects the seven flags--Spanish, Dutch, British, French, Knights of Malta, Danish, and American -- that have flown over the island. Today, visitors to St. Croix can enjoy a number of indoor and outdoor activities, from fine dining, shopping, and a casino, to golf, scuba diving, and horseback riding.
ST JOHN – U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
St. John, the smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, retains a tranquil, unspoiled beauty uncommon in the Caribbean or anywhere else in the world. Settled in the early 1700s by Danish immigrants attracted to the island's potential as a sugar cane-producing colony, St. John soon blossomed into a thriving society. The ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Plantation and other smaller plantations on the island attest to the island's agricultural history.
The extensive sugar cane farming, however, did little to affect the natural beauty of St. John. Its unspoiled forests and stunning beaches attracted the attention of wealthy families such as the Rockefellers, who sought privacy and tranquility on the island. In 1956, Laurance Rockefeller was so moved by the island that he bought and donated broad expanses of land to the National Park Service to keep St. John "a thing of joy forever."
Today, two-thirds of St. John is part of the Virgin Islands National Park, featuring fascinating trails, secluded coves, and dazzling white beaches. The Reef Bay Trail takes hikers through dense forests, plantation ruins, and rock outcroppings marked by well-preserved petroglyphs. Trunk Bay, Hawksnest Bay, Cinnamon Bay, and Maho Bay are just four of the dozens of beaches. Cruz Bay, the center of activity on St. John, contains colorful shops, lively bars, and fabulous restaurants.
TORTOLA – BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
Powdery white-sand beaches, lush green mountains, and a sheltered yacht-filled harbour characterize the island of Tortola, where the past of the West Indies meets the present of the BVI. The largest island in the chain, Tortola offers a variety of exciting vacation possibilities.
The protected anchorages at Brandywine Bay, Cane Garden Bay, Hodge's Creek Marina Cay, Soper's Hole, and Trellis Bay are ideal for boaters. Secluded palm-shaded beaches at Apple Bay, Brewer's Bay, Elizabeth Beach, Josiah's Bay Beach, Long Bay Beach, and Smuggler's Cove make for excellent swimming and snorkeling. There are also many well-equipped facilities for fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, or horseback riding.
Wander through centuries-old ruins such as the Dungeon, Fort George, Fort Recovery, the Mount Healthy Windmill, and Callwood's Rum Distillery, which is still in operation, and explore Tortola's history at the BVI Folk Museum in Road Town.
Main Street in Road Town, the capital city, has an array of shops and restaurants, offering everything from local spices, jams, rums, and soaps to hand-crafted jewelry, silk-screened fabrics, and local art. The cuisine of Tortola reflects the island's rich cultural mix, whether it's a four-star dinner at a converted sugar mill or a delicious West Indian roti at a pastel-painted cottage. Local delicacies such as fresh lobster, conch, spicy goat, curries, and Johnny Cakes make each meal memorable.
VIRGIN GORDA – BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
The dramatically shaped island of Virgin Gorda reminded Christopher Columbus of a reclining woman, so he named it Virgin Gorda, the "Fat Virgin." The third largest island of the BVI, Virgin Gorda measures eight and a half square miles.
In addition to the sheer beauty of the island, travellers are drawn to Virgin Gorda for its yacht clubs, quiet coves, safe anchorages, and luxury resorts. On the North Sound, the Bitter End Yacht Club, accessible only by water, offers relaxation in an extraordinary, secluded environment. And with its spectacular setting, Little Dix Bay Resort, designed by Laurance S. Rockefeller, has its own spectacular setting.
Your privacy is ensured at one of Virgin Gorda's deserted pristine beaches, such as Savannah Bay, Pond Bay, Devil's Bay, Mahoe Bay and Spring Bay. Or visit the most popular natural attraction in the BVI, The Baths, where huge granite boulders create mysterious grottoes, saltwater pools, and a connecting trail that entices visitors to spend a day exploring, swimming, and snorkeling. Explore Virgin Gorda on the rugged trails that run throughout the island, and see the huge variety of unique indigenous plants that thrive in the National Parks at Gorda Peak, Devil's Bay, Spring Bay, and the North Sound. At the nature sanctuary at Little Fort National Park, marvel at the exotic birds as they swoop over the hills and ocean.
JOST VAN DYKE – BRITSH VIRGIN ISLANDS
Jost Van Dyke has fewer than 200 inhabitants, and they are widely known as a welcoming people. The island's name conjures up its rich, colorful past. Jost Van Dyke is said to have been named for an early Dutch settler, a former pirate. Although it measures just four miles by three, with the highest point at 1,054 feet, this rugged island has been home to many people, including the Arawak Indians, Caribs, Dutch, Africans, and British.
At Great Harbour, Little Harbour, and White Bay there are safe, protected anchorages and unspoiled beaches shaded with coconut palms and seagrape trees. Discover inviting restaurants, bars, and small shops selling local treasures. For lunch there are barbecues, West Indian rotis, flying fish sandwiches, grilled fresh fish, and lobster. Club Paradise is famous for its conch stew and barbecued ribs. Happy Laury's Snack Bar is known for its pig roasts and honey-dipped chicken. And the Soggy Dollar Bar and Gertrude's in White Bay are renowned for drinks made with the island's famous rum, frosty beers, and tales of pirates and sunken treasure. Parties here are legendary, especially at Foxy's. This bar and its owner are known to travellers from around the world for the New Year's Eve and Halloween parties, when Great Harbour fills up with yachts. The "Painkiller," one of the most famous cocktails in the Caribbean, was invented at The Soggy Dollar Bar. Explore Jost Van Dyke's history in the vegetation-covered ruins of centuries-old sugar mills, or on the old trails that crisscross the island. William Thornton, architect of the U.S. Capitol Building, was born on Jost Van Dyke, and John Lettsome, founder of the London Medical Society, was born on neighboring Little Jost.
In the autumn and winter, observe whales and dolphins from a peaceful hilltop, or visit the East End of the island, where you can relax in the natural Jacuzzi formed by the foaming seas. Little Jost and Sandy Cay are a short boat ride away, and on nearby Great Tobago you'll find extraordinary and advanced dive sites, and a marine sanctuary that shelters a nesting colony of magnificent frigate birds.
ANEGADA – BRITSH VIRGIN ISLANDS
The only coral island in the volcanic BVI chain, Anegada is a world apart. The Spanish named it Anegada, the "Drowned Land." Measuring 11 miles by three, its highest point is just 28 feet above sea level. The island is surrounded by Horseshoe Reef, one of the world's longest at 18 miles.
Cow Wreck Beach, Flash of Beauty, Bones Bight, and Windlass Bight are but a few of the beautiful beaches where you can relax under the shade of a coconut palm or sea grape tree. The secluded powdery white-sand beaches are protected by the sheltering reef and the points that sweep out from the shore: Nutmeg Point, Setting Point, and Pomato Point.
Bubbling up from the coral bed, clear springs support a variety of wildlife. Loblolly, seagrape, frangipani and the turpentine tree flourish here, along with feathery sea lavender and wild orchids. Saltwater ponds, mudflats and mangrove swamps are home to an array of exotic birds, including sandpipers, ospreys, terns, kaloo birds, blue herons, and frigate birds. In the ponds near Nutmeg Point, flocks of flamingos gather. On the nature trail at Bones Bight, catch a glimpse of the rare rock iguana native to Anegada.
For snorkelers, the reef offers a maze of tunnels, drops and caves boasting a rich marine life. Schools of mojarra and needlefish thrive in the sandy bottoms, while green sea turtles swim in the sheltered waters. Beyond the reef, spectacular sights await scuba divers. Angelfish, stingrays, triggerfish, parrotfish, blue tang, and horse-eye jacks inhabit the drowned holds of the numerous Spanish galleons, American privateers and British warships that have been wrecked here. Anegada has all the facilities needed for most water sports, as well as bone fishing or sport fishing.
OTHER ISLANDS OF THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
Scattered in an aquamarine sea, the British Virgin Islands flank the broad Sir Francis Drake Channel, which has beguiled sailors for centuries with scalloped coves and good anchorages. There are over 60 islands in all, whose names reflect their colorful past. Among these are Buck Island, Fallen Jerusalem, Ginger Island, Great Camanoe, Round Rock and Scrub Island. Visitors soon discover pristine palm-fringed beaches, rugged peaks, and rich vegetation. Some islands are uninhabited and designated as National Parks.
Idyllic Cooper Island, just five miles from Tortola, offers visitors the perfect getaway with four privately owned properties and a small beach club on Manchioneel Bay. Explore the island on foot and observe the extraordinary variety of exotic plants and birds. Water-ski, snorkel, or dive in the clear blue waters and discover the rich marine life. Scuba, kayaking, and fishing facilities are also available, plus a dinghy to explore the nearby islands. Or laze on a white-sand beach fringed with coconut palms, bougainvillea, and frangipani, and watch the yachts glide by on the Sir Francis Drake Channel.
Nature reserve and luxurious resort come together on Guana Island. The 850-acre island reserve has just one resort, the Guana Island Club, perhaps the most private hideaway in the Caribbean. Rent the entire island or just a cottage. With seven beaches and two oceans to choose from, a memorable holiday is guaranteed. Hike on one of the many trails that crisscross this rugged island and see the protected wildlife. Climb to the highest point, Sugarloaf Mountain at 806 feet above sea level, for unparalleled views. Or visit the ruins of a Quaker sugar mill and old cannon emplacements and experience the island's history.
Little Thatch is a breathtakingly beautiful islet of just 54 acres located southwest of Tortola's West End. Your privacy is guaranteed with just one lodging opportunity. Sea Grape Cottage, a secluded waterfront dwelling, is surrounded by a wraparound porch and hidden behind lush tropical vegetation and a stone wall. Guests can swim, snorkel, and boat from the beaches that fringe the island.
Marina Cay is situated in a peacock-blue sea surrounded by coral reefs, where the waters turn to emerald and the sand to white powder. A quick ferry ride across Trellis Bay, this perfect islet inspired a popular book and film. There's just one resort and a small hotel, so your peace is guaranteed. If you arrive by boat along the Sir Francis Drake Channel, you'll find good anchorage, a delicious meal, and a friendly welcome.
Necker Island, owned by Sir Richard Branson, has become a magnet for celebrities. This tiny private island rises dramatically from the aquamarine waters and offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The entire island can be rented for a day or a month. Accommodations include the main Balinese style house that sits majestically on top of the hill, offering extraordinary wraparound views. There are also a number of guest cottages at the water's edge.
On rugged Norman Island, the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's, Treasure Island, adventure can still be found, especially around Treasure Point. Here, bays, reefs, and caves provide a memorable experience for snorkelers. Norman Island is just two and a half miles long with a central ridge that rises to Norman Hill, 427 feet above sea level. No one lives here except a handful of goats that forage on the steep slopes. For yachtsmen it offers several safe bays and offshore reefs, Soldiers Bay, Money Bay, and the Bight, one of the most protected harbors in the region.
Peter Island, a 1,800-acre island with just one resort, is accessible only by water, and offers superb sporting facilities plus five miles of secluded beaches. Accommodations include Crow's Nest, a hilltop villa with four bedrooms and panoramic views, and beachside cottages nestled among coconut palm and sea grape trees. Hike the Loop, the dramatic bluff on the south side of the island, or visit the wreck of the RMS Rhone. This British mail ship sank in a fierce storm in 1867, creating one of the most extraordinary dive sites in the Caribbean. Dine at the Tradewind's Restaurant or lunch at Deadman's Beach Bar and Grill while watching sea turtles swim ashore to bask in the sun.
Saba Rock is one of several beautiful islands that guard the North Sound of Virgin Gorda. With just one extraordinary resort, it offers a sense of total seclusion.
Fringed on three sides by pristine white sands, Sandy Cay is alive with sea grape trees, coconut palms and a small pond that provides a habitat for many rare species. Hike the nature trail that winds through the island, or simply bask on the perfect beach.
Unspoiled Scrub Island in the British Virgin Islands is the future home of the luxurious and refreshing Mainsail Resort Marina & Spa. This private island is just one mile from Beef Island/Tortola where the airport is located. Guests of the island are overwhelmed by the panoramic views, white sand beaches, lush tropical foliage and gorgeous, accessible waterways. To continue in the tradition of the island’s peaceful nature, Scrub Island will not exceed more than 200 residents or guests at any given time, even after full development. The primary form of transportation on the island will be golf carts.
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