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.
The U.S. Virgin Islands sustained severe damage during Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017. The extent of damage and speed of recovery varies somewhat between islands. Investigate current conditions prior to planning a visit.
Historic Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas fared relatively well and was one of the first areas to be fully restored. Other parts of the island are at varying stages of recovery, although all beaches and many tourist attractions are fully open and welcoming visitors.
All of St. John was hit harder than the rest of the USVI, while one of the most challenging topographies hinders rebuilding. However, as more than half the island is undeveloped national park, nature is well on its way to being as beautiful as ever.
Meanwhile, St. Croix is showing great resiliency. Most beaches, attractions, restaurants and resorts are open, many emerging from renovation projects even better than before.
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