America`s Caribbean Paradise

1st Apr 2003

If was a department store, the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) would be one of the window displays. Perhaps not surprisingly, given their association with the United States and their popularity with American visitors, the islands offer varied and sophisticated holidays.
The showcase analogy is particularly appropriate in the case of St Thomas, which attracts big name acts for its nightclubs and offers some of the best shopping in the Caribbean. The 50,000 inhabitants are all keen to make their own contribution to the cheerful, upbeat tempo.
Life in St Thomas centres around the harbour in the capital, Charlotte Amalie, where cruise ships, yachts and motor boats dock in armadas. As visitors arrive, they are confronted by warehouses full of goodies - and the regular American duty-free allowance is thoughtfully doubled for USVI purchases.
Charlotte Amalie, with its palm trees, red roofs, steep alleys and Danish warehouses, is extremely pretty. It was here that the infamous pirate Blackbeard found refuge.
There are two other populated islands in USVI, St Croix and St John, as well as 50 smaller islands and reefs. After a chequered history, USVI was bought by the United States from Denmark as a naval base in 1917. The islands are now a self-governing territory of the United States.
Congress created the Virgin Islands National Park in 1956, attracting more interest in the islands as a tourist centre. The islands are rugged and hilly, with the exception of St Croix. They are notable for superb bathing beaches and fishing and high quality hotels and restaurants.
St Croix, the largest, has massive stone forts, Danish and Victorian buildings, historic plantations and Buck Island Reef National Monument. This is an 880-acre (3.6 sq km) nature reserve with an underwater snorkellers’ trail and an incredible diversity of marine life.
St John is mostly forested and tranquil and is protected from over-development. It is a particular favourite with campers, who enjoy its small-island charm and secluded beaches.
All the islands have windsurfing, snorkelling, scuba diving and deep sea fishing on offer. Two of the golf courses are among the top 18 in the Caribbean. There are countless tennis courts and mountains biking and hiking are growing in popularity.


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