The Virgin Islands sit between Puerto Rico and Saint Martin/Sint Maarten in the Northern Caribbean. To the east is BVI, the British Virgin Islands and to the west USVI, US Virgin Islands. Both are popular holiday destinations with people from North America and to a lesser degree Europe. Both island groups receive huge numbers of cruise ship visitors each year and resort vacations are also a big drawcard.
All this makes them fairly expensive with limited budget options for the independent traveller. However, you can find less expensive resorts with double rooms for around $US100 per night as well as some mid range guesthouses. Visit during low season if you want to improve your chances of finding the cheaper accommodation options.
In terms of activities there are excellent beaches throughout both island groups which is a chief reason for high visitation numbers. This naturally means lots of options for snorkelling, diving and other water sports. There is also some good trekking, particularly on St John in USVI.
Here are four classic days out that we had in the Virgin Islands that didn't break the bank.
North Coast, Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Tortola is the largest and main island of BVI, which includes the capital, Road Town. There are good beaches all around the island with some of the best being in the north, that is, the Atlantic Ocean side. Cane Garden Bay has a big reputation but we decided to spend a couple of days at beautiful Lambert Beach on the north eastern end of Tortola.
Cally describes a classic day we had on Lambert Beach after arriving late the previous night.
We arrived at our accommodation in the night so couldn't tell what it was like, but we could hear the lapping of the gentle waves on the beach close to our room. The next morning showed us that our cabin was a few steps from the beach. It was a glorious sunny day, clear blue water and not another soul on the beach.
It was crowded however, with hundreds of seabirds, pelicans, white terns, and others. There was a mass of small fish close to shore and the dive bombing was fast and furious.
After watching for a while and seeing no sharks, we went in with snorkelling gear. We saw thousands and thousands of flashing bait fish, then four big silver hunters, sleek tarpons.
We snorkelled close enough to some pelicans to see their feet paddling under the water. It was a very different swim and fun and interesting.
Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
Virgin Gorda is known for it's ''lifestyles of the rich and famous” of some of it's residents, which include Morgan Freeman and Richard Branson (who owns not one but two islands just off Virgin Gorda). It is renowned for it's beaches, snorkelling and diving with The Baths being a spot that attracts most visitors to VG. Here is Cally's report on our day trip to Virgin Gorda.
Didn't we have a lovely day the day we went to Bangor.......I mean Gorda. And yes we did.
On the day we chose there were no visiting cruise ships to BVI which meant there were no big crowds. It was easy to organise the ferry ride over from Road Town on Tortola to Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda ($US30 return p.p half and hour each way). This was followed by a short taxi ride to The Baths.
The Baths is a national park so there is a small entrance fee. It is a lovely little bay with the unusual addition of huge granite boulders on the shore and in the sea. This makes for fun snorkelling around, over and through the boulders and in the gaps between them. It also gives you an exciting way to get to the next bay along, Devil's Bay.
We squeezed between rocks, crouched along dark passages and waded through small caves.
Devil's Bay has white sand, beautiful clear water and more good snorkelling. There are no stalls so we were glad that we had taken our own food and drinks. Shade is from small trees lining the beach.
We had a great time there then made our way back through the passages, rocks and water to the Baths where there is a bar where you can get food and drinks, lockers, toilets and hire snorkelling gear if you don't have your own
We had more swimming, supported a local business by buying a beer, then retraced our way back to the ferry and eventually our accommodation on Tortola.
A lovely day indeed.
St John, US Virgin Islands
The main island of USVI is St Thomas, which is also home to the capital Charlotte Amarlie. Another island, St Croix is actually physically much larger than St Thomas but with only half the population. Then there's St John. St John is arguably the star of the USVI show as it is home to the Virgin Islands National Park, the pleasant town of Cruz Bay, and lots of excellent beaches.
Our research indicated that overnight accommodation was expensive on St John, so we decided to stay in a guesthouse in Charlotte Amarlie and do a day trip to St John.
We started by catching one of the local buses, which are actually open aired trucks, to the eastern end of St Thomas, to Red Hook. Cost was $US2 p.p and took around half an hour.
From Red Hook ferries run hourly to St John, cost $US14 p.p return and takes half an hour.
We disembarked in Cruz Bay and headed up the road to the National Parks Office. They were very helpful and provided us with a free map that showed how we could do a circuit through part of the National park, with a bit of climb, then down to some nice beaches and finally back to Cruz Bay.
We started just past the National Parks Office by heading up the Caneel Hill Trail to a viewpoint.
It was then down to Caneel beach (access is through the Caneel Bay Resort). The walk through the resort was interesting with lots of restored and preserved buildings from when it was a sugar cane plantation.
We then headed for Honeymoon Bay Beach where we spent a couple of hours washing off the sweat from the trek through the national park.
It was then a short walk back along the Lind Point Trail to the national park rangers station and then on to Cruz Bay for the ferry home.
A top day and it didn't cost a fortune.
Coki Beach, US Virgin Islands
The north coast of St Thomas has many excellent beaches. Magen's Bay Beach attracts a lot of attention in the tourist literature, but it also has a $US4 cost just to walk onto it. It's also not as easily accessible via public transport as some other beaches. We decided to head to Coki Breach.
This involved a $US2 bus ride from Charlotte Amarlie to the turn off to the beach. From there it was a 5-10 minute walk to Coki Beach.
Clean, clear water, nice white sand, and all the usual Caribbean island beach services (eg beach chairs, water toys and cocktails delivered to you in situ) available if you want them.
Water visibility was good so snorkelling was on the agenda.
We spent a very pleasant day on Coki before retracing our steps home.