A trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands is the closest thing to a Caribbean sampler that we've come across, as it provides several different island experiences in one territory.
For bustling beaches, nightlife and great shopping, look to St. Thomas. Its heavy development, North American atmosphere and throngs of cruise-ship visitors make it the least distinctive of the islands but also the most visited. This is high-volume tourism—among the highest in the Caribbean.
If you want unspoiled scenery and quiet surroundings, hop the ferry to St. John. About half of the island is a national park, so it feels like St. Thomas' alter ego. The coral reefs, hiking trails and small resorts on St. John have been a model for other ecotourism efforts in the Caribbean.
Somewhere between the extremes of St. Thomas and St. John is St. Croix, which is perhaps the most typical of other Caribbean islands. It balances a fair amount of shopping and attractions with a relaxed atmosphere and historic architecture.
Water Island is the youngest and smallest of the Virgin Islands, and it gets little publicity. It's quiet and sparsely populated.
Although it's possible to spend all your time on one island, we suggest you take advantage of the variety. Good ferry and plane connections make it relatively easy to hop between the islands and discover which experiences most appeal to you.
Note: The U.S. Virgin Islands sustained severe damage during Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017. Recovery will take months or even years. Travelers should investigate current conditions prior to planning a visit.
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