33 US Virgin Islands Facts (You Might Not Know)
You might have come for the beautiful beaches of the US Virgin Islands, but these exciting Virgin Islands facts might pique your curiosity to explore beyond the sandy shorelines.
I’ve been running boat tours on St. Thomas for quite a while – it’s my job to spit out random facts about these islands. So trust me, there’s more to this Caribbean Paradise than the scenery.
In this article, I’ll share 33 interesting facts about the US Virgin Islands.
Table of Contents
- 33 Facts About the United States Virgin Islands
- 1. The US Virgin Islands Consist of Three (or Four) Main Islands
- 2. The USVI Have Six US National Park Properties
- 3. Each Island Has a Unique Cultural Identity
- 4. The Taino Are the Indigenous People
- 5. Christopher Columbus Named the Virgin Islands
- 6. And His First Violent Encounter was at Salt River Bay
- 7. The USVI Were Formerly the Danish West Indies
- 8. The US Virgin Islands is an Unincorporated Territory of the USA
- 9. Virgin Islanders Don’t Vote in US Elections
- 10. No Passport is Required to Visit the USVI
- 11. The US Virgins Islands Drive on the Left
- 12. St. Thomas is the Most Populated Island
- 13. St. Croix is the Largest Island
- 14. Two-Thirds of St. John is a National Park
- 15. St. Croix is Isolated
- 16. English is the Official Language of the USVI
- 17. It’s One of Two US Caribbean Territories
- 18. Each Island Has a Nickname
- 19. Charlotte Amalie is the Capital City
- 20. There are Popular Sea Turtle Nesting Beaches
- 21. The Islands Have Thrilling Pirate History
- 22. US Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, Grew Up on St. Croix
- 23. Multiculturalism Infuses Everyday Life
- 24. St. Croix is Home to the Easternmost Point in the US
- 25. St. Thomas is a Major Cruise Port
- 26. There are Two Bioluminescent Bays
- 27. The US Virgin Islands are Different from the British Virgin Islands
- 28. Sugar Was King
- 29. Slavery Was Prevalent
- 30. Hurricanes in 2017 Devastated the Islands
- 31. You’ll Find the Second Oldest Synagogue in North America
- 32. Virgin Islanders Are Proud of Their Own
- 33. The Islands Have Amazing Marine Life
- FAQs About the US Virgin Islands Facts
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33 Facts About the United States Virgin Islands
1. The US Virgin Islands Consist of Three (or Four) Main Islands
While the three main islands of St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix get all the press, Water Island officially transferred to the government of the USVI in 1996. Since then, the tiny island off St. Thomas has been commonly called “the 4th US Virgin Island”. [Source]
2. The USVI Have Six US National Park Properties
The US National Park Service manages six properties within the US Virgin Islands:
- Virgin Islands National Park on St. John
- The Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument around St. John
- Hassel Island Historic District on St. Thomas (currently under renovations, Feb. 2023)
- Christiansted National Historic Site on St. Croix
- Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve on St. Croix
- Buck Island Reef National Monument off St. Croix
3. Each Island Has a Unique Cultural Identity
Although collectively known as the US Virgin Islands, the distinct cultural identity of each island, St. John, St. Croix, and St. Thomas, is evident while visiting. People are proud of their communities and the island they call home.
📚 Related Reading: Things to Do on St. Thomas
4. The Taino Are the Indigenous People
The first known humans in the Virgin Islands likely migrated here from South America around 2500 years ago. These tribes eventually vanished, giving rise to the Taino approximately 1000 years ago. [Source]
🗿 Petroglyphs on St. John: You can see remnants of the Taino with one of our top things to do on St. John.
5. Christopher Columbus Named the Virgin Islands
In 1493, Christopher Columbus sailed through the Virgin Islands on his second voyage to the New World. He merely passed by St. John and St. Thomas, donning them Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Vírgenes (Saint Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins) after the Christian legend. Eventually, the name became The Virgins. [Source]
6. And His First Violent Encounter was at Salt River Bay
After naming the Virgin Islands, Christopher Columbus made his only landfall in present-day US Territory on St. Croix in 1493. Upon arrival, he experienced his first violent interaction with indigenous tribes. [Source]
7. The USVI Were Formerly the Danish West Indies
The primary colonization of the US Virgin Islands was conducted under Denmark’s rule beginning in 1733 before selling the islands to the United States in 1917. [Source]
8. The US Virgin Islands is an Unincorporated Territory of the USA
The US Virgin Islands is one of five unincorporated territories of the United States, along with Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. [Source]
9. Virgin Islanders Don’t Vote in US Elections
Residents of unincorporated territories, including the US Virgin Islands, are US citizens yet do not vote in the United States federal elections (they do vote for local representatives). [Source]
10. No Passport is Required to Visit the USVI
US citizens do not require a passport to enter the US Virgin Islands. Essentially, flights to the islands count as domestic travel from the mainland United States.
11. The US Virgins Islands Drive on the Left
The US Virgin Islands is the only place within US territory where driving on the left side is the law of the land. The reason dates back to the coexistence of donkeys and cars on the roadways, where the stubborn animals only knew to pass on the left.
🚗 Nervous About Driving? Read our comprehensive guide on driving in the USVI to calm your nerves.
12. St. Thomas is the Most Populated Island
The 2020 US census concluded St. Thomas as the most populated island, just edging out St. Croix with 42,261 residents to 41,004. St. John has a population of 3,881. [Source]
🛏️ Staying on St. Thomas: St. Thomas is also the most famous island to visit, with the biggest selection of hotels and resorts in St. Thomas.
13. St. Croix is the Largest Island
St. Croix is the territory’s largest island at 84 square miles, while St. Thomas, although more populated, is only 32 square miles. St. John is 20 square miles. [Source]
14. Two-Thirds of St. John is a National Park
While sailing the Caribbean, Laurence D. Rockefeller pulled into a pristine bay on St. John. Realizing the island’s beauty, Rockefeller purchased over half of St. John and donated it to the US government to preserve as a National Park.
🥾 Hiking St. John: Virgin Islands National Park has many excellent hikes, including my favorites of Reef Bay Trail and Ram Head Trail.
15. St. Croix is Isolated
While St. John and St. Thomas sit a mere six miles apart and a short ferry ride from each other, St. Croix is a whopping 45 miles south of St. Thomas.
You can go between St. Thomas and St. Croix via airplane, seaplane, or aboard a long, uncomfortable ferry ride.
16. English is the Official Language of the USVI
English is widely spoken across the US Virgin Islands, with a sizeable population of Spanish speakers from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. French Creole is spoken amongst migrants from neighboring nations in the Lesser Antilles and Haiti. [Source]
17. It’s One of Two US Caribbean Territories
The US Virgin Islands is one of two US Territories in the Caribbean region, the other being Puerto Rico. These two territories border both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
18. Each Island Has a Nickname
Each island has a commonly used nickname you might hear from time to time (particularly in marketing):
- St. Thomas is Rock City
- St. John is Love City
- St. Croix is Twin City
19. Charlotte Amalie is the Capital City
Charlotte Amalie was founded in 1672. With so many taverns dotting the streets, the city was initially called Taphus (Danish for ‘Beer House’).
Under the Danish crown, the name was changed to Charlotte Amalie in 1692 in honor of a Danish Queen. Today, Charlotte Amalie is the territory’s capital and largest city. [Source]
20. There are Popular Sea Turtle Nesting Beaches
The US Virgin Islands, particularly the beaches of St. Croix, are some of the world’s busiest sea turtle nesting sites. Specifically, Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge sees numerous leatherback, green, and hawksbill sea turtle nests. [Source]
21. The Islands Have Thrilling Pirate History
The US Virgin Islands has a rich history of piracy and privateering, making the three islands susceptible to romanticized folklore similar to Pirates of the Caribbean. However, many of these tales are not far off as roaming pirates such as Captain Kidd, Black Sam Bellamy, and Blackbeard were reported to pass through.
Just off of St. John’s East End is Norman Island of the British Virgin Islands. This island is the setting for the 1883 novel Treasure Island and author Louis Stevenson’s Dead Chest Island. [Source]
22. US Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, Grew Up on St. Croix
Alexander Hamilton was born in the Caribbean and primarily raised by his mother in Christiansted on St. Croix. [Source]
23. Multiculturalism Infuses Everyday Life
Virgin Island residents belong to various ethnic groups as people of all backgrounds and cultures blend together in one cohesive environment. The island’s food, art, music, festivals, and architecture display the benefits of multiculturalism.
24. St. Croix is Home to the Easternmost Point in the US
Point Udall on St. Croix is the easternmost point in the United States and one of the best places to witness a sunrise.
👉 Related Reading: Best Things to Do on St. Croix
25. St. Thomas is a Major Cruise Port
The US Virgin Islands, primarily on St. Thomas, hosted 1.43 million cruise passengers in 2019 (pre-pandemic) – making it one of the busiest cruise ports in the Caribbean. [Source]
26. There are Two Bioluminescent Bays
Like the famous bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico, St. Croix features two bays with glowing marine plankton: Salt River Bay and Altona Lagoon.
27. The US Virgin Islands are Different from the British Virgin Islands
Although one geographic archipelago, the US Virgin Islands distinctly differ from the British Virgin Islands of Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, Anegada, and Virgin Gorda.
28. Sugar Was King
Like other Caribbean Islands, the USVIs were primarily cultivated for sugar under the Danish flag. St. Croix was particularly fertile, becoming known as the Garden of the Antilles with 100s of sugar plantations dotting its hills. [Source]
29. Slavery Was Prevalent
Sugar was so profitable in the Virgin Islands because of the exploitation of slave labor by the European settlers. Many of today’s residents are direct descendants of slaves. Their ancestors’ freedom is honored in the Emancipation Garden outside of the Historic Preservation Office on St. Thomas. [Source]
30. Hurricanes in 2017 Devastated the Islands
Hurricanes Irma and Maria had a devastating impact on all of the USVI. Some parts of the islands are still recovering to this day (Feb. 2023).
31. You’ll Find the Second Oldest Synagogue in North America
Charlotte Amalie is home to the second oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere and one of five in the world with sand floors. [Source]
32. Virgin Islanders Are Proud of Their Own
Virgin Islanders are fiercely proud of their own when they make it big. Examples include Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs and All-American women’s basketball player Aaliyah Boston. [Source]
33. The Islands Have Amazing Marine Life
The USVI features incredible sea life accessible by scuba diving or snorkeling. A few highlights include The Wall Dive in Cane Bay on St. Croix, Trunk Bay and its underwater trail on St. John, and Buck Island’s underwater national park.
FAQs About the US Virgin Islands Facts
Why is it Called the Virgin Islands?
Christopher Columbus called the Virgin Islands “Saint Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins” after the Christian legend during his second voyage in 1493. The name was eventually shortened to the Virgin Islands.
How Many US Virgin Islands are There?
The US Virgin Islands consists of three main islands, St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John. Water Island is often considered the 4th US Virgin Island.
What fact about the US Virgin Islands surprised you the most? Let us know in a comment below and be sure to check out our list of best places to visit in the USVI!
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