Former stomping grounds of some of history's most famous sea marauders, the Virgin Islands are now invaded by visitors who arrive by the thousands daily either by plane or cruise ship. There about 100 of these green hilly islands, some governed by the United States and others by Great Britain, which rise from a clear blue sea -- many of these islands are small and virtually uninhabited.
The major islands -- and the most famous ones -- are owned by the United States: St. Thomas (which attracts most visitors, many from cruise ships), St. Croix, and St. John, the smallest of the three. St. Thomas is the most accessible of all the islands, and likely to be your gateway. With the busiest cruise-ship harbor in the Caribbean, St. Thomas is constantly bustling with crowds, yet it also offers great shopping and first-class dining. St. Croix is far more laid-back than St. Thomas, and little St. John is positively sleepy.
Of the dozens of British Virgin Islands, Tortola is the best known, while Virgin Gorda is perhaps the most exclusive, attracting well-heeled visitors. The B.V.I. are not overly developed, evoking the relaxed feel of the 1950s' Caribbean. Former sailing grounds of some of history's most famous sea marauders, such as Sir Francis Drake, the B.V.I. offer the best sailing grounds in the Caribbean.
The Virgin Islands contain some of the best sandy beaches in the West Indies, including Magens Bay on St. Thomas, Trunk Bay on St. John, and Cane Garden Bay on Tortola. You'll find hidden beaches where you may be the only sunbather, as well as overdeveloped coves where too many bags of cement arrived before you did -- this is especially true on the most populated island of St. Thomas. Throughout the archipelago there are also miles of idyllic hiking trails, especially in one of America's most beautiful national parks on St. John.
Because many of the Virgin Islands are so remote -- some are mere rocky outcroppings -- you'll feel like Robinson Crusoe while exploring these isolated, uninhabited islands. Yachties love it here, as the area rivals the Mediterranean (without the crowds) or the South Pacific with its steady winds and gin-clear waters. Swimming and snorkeling await you at every cove.
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