The US Virgin Islands of St. Thomas and St. John
The islands of St. Thomas, adjacent St. John and St. Croix make up what is known as the Territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands. They lie about 1,200 miles southeast of Miami and 40 miles east of Puerto Rico at the top of the Caribbean chain of islands. For more than three centuries, the people of our islands have been welcoming visitors to our shores. Long ago it was European traders, treasure seekers and, of course, pirates! Today, many vacationers are attracted each year by our beauty, climate, tourism amenities and American flag advantages that can be found nowhere else in the Caribbean.
The U.S. and neighboring British Virgin Islands are mainly volcanic outcroppings believed to have been populated by indigenous peoples from at least 2000 B.C. In 1493, on his second visit to the “New World,” Christopher Columbus anchored at what is today St. Croix, our sister island 45 miles to the south. He named it “Santa Cruz,” which translated from Spanish into French became “St. Croix” and in English pronunciation is today “Saint Croy.” Columbus then sailed north, past our islands and others of the archipelago, and named the chain for the 11,000 virgins that legend says were martyred with St. Ursula by the Huns around 400 A.D.
After 250 years of Danish rule, the islands were acquired by the United States in 1917. The U.S. Navy administered the territory until 1931, when the Interior Department took over. Under the Organic Act adopted by Congress in 1936 and amended in 1954, the territory today is governed by an elected legislature and governor.
How we size up
St. Thomas is about 13 miles long and 3 miles at its widest; St. John is about three-quarters that size — and is largely protected national parkland. The two islands are of mountainous terrain extending to about 1,500 feet above sea level, surrounded by beaches and coves.
The temperature averages 82 degrees F., about 8 degrees higher in summer than winter, varying maybe 12 degrees from daytime highs to nighttime lows. Thanks to the balmy breezes of our trusty tradewinds, summer days tend to be more comfortable here than on the mainland. Rainfall averages 45 inches a year. There is no “rainy” or “dry” season, but dry spells are common; for this reason, many resorts have desalination systems to produce all the potable water they need from the sea.
St. Thomas has about 50,000 residents and St. John, about 4,000. The Virgin Islands is part of the U.S. postal, currency, banking and telecommunications systems. Shopping enticements here are unequaled, and the ongoing demand ensures an ample supply. We have no sales tax, luxury goods are imported exempt from customs duties, and visitors returning to the U.S. mainland may take $1,600 worth of goods with them duty free.
As an island community, St. Thomas is both “rural” and “urban” in character. Lining the narrow streets of the downtown Charlotte Amalie historic district are many buildings dating from the early 1800s and a few from earlier times. The rest of the island [sometimes called “the country”] blends residential and some small commercial areas.
Most of St. John, in contrast, is V.I. National Park property, including well-kept beaches, hiking trails and protected historic ruins. You can traverse the main town of Cruz Bay in minutes, and Coral Bay at the opposite end of the island is even tinier.
Tourism is the economic base of St. Thomas and St. John. The majority of people working in the private sector are employed in hospitality-related services. Our major resorts offer full-service meeting facilities and support staff. Our restaurants are second to none, and visitors often find that their toughest task while here is to choose among so much creative cuisine.
Leisure-time attractions abound. White sand beaches ring both islands, and watersports options are all but endless. There’s golf, tennis, guided tours and visitor attractions including some that take you beneath the surface of the sea or up where the pelicans fly! Accommodations range from world-class beach resorts to posh private villas, with more intimate hotels and condominium complexes in between. For just a day, or a week or more, visitors can savor the flavor of our Virgin Islands — our people, our places, our Caribbean soul.
No wonder so many of our guests return . . . again, and again