Despite their similarities and shared histories, the US Virgin Islands vs. British Virgin Islands feature surprising differences. Sure, you’ll find some cultural resemblance and stunning landscapes on both, but a closer review uncovers two territories offering two different experiences.
The rest of this article is my insights on how the two territories compare for travelers trying to decide which one to visit.
There is no easy answer. Much of your decision is dependent on your budget, how you like to travel, and what activities you want to do. But, hopefully after reading this, you’ll know how to figure out whether the USVI or BVI are better for you!
Table of Contents
- Which is Better, US Virgin Islands or British Virgin Islands?
- British Virgin Islands vs. US Virgin Islands – Detailed Comparison
- US Virgin Islands vs. British Virgin Islands: Getting There
- British Virgin Islands vs US Virgin Islands: Things to Do
- US Virgin Islands vs. British Virgin Islands: Safety
- The BVI vs. the USVI: Beaches
- The USVI vs the BVI: Beach Bars
- The British Virgin Islands vs the US Virgin Islands: Luxury Resorts
- The US Virgin Islands vs. the British Virgin Islands: Budget-friendly
- BVI vs USVI: Public Transit
- USVI vs BVI: Food & Drink
- BVIs vs USVIs: History
- USVIs vs. BVIs: Hiking
- The US Virgin Islands vs. the British Virgin Islands: Sailing
- BVI vs USVI: Snorkeling
- USVI vs BVI: Scuba Diving
- BVIs vs USVIs: Surfing
- Final Verdict – US Virgin Islands vs. the British Virgin Islands
- FAQs About the US Virgin Islands vs the British Virgin Islands
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Which is Better, US Virgin Islands or British Virgin Islands?
The US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands are separate territories within the same archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. Each territory has picturesque beaches, a stunning natural landscape, and secluded coves, offering unique cultural identities and separate colonial histories.
Compared to the British Virgin Islands, the US Virgin Islands are easier to get to, with two major airports on St. Croix and St. Thomas. The US territory is better for outdoor enthusiasts, hikers, beachgoers, and scuba divers, with easy access for American citizens seeking a Caribbean destination.
Compared to the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands are better for luxury travel, sailing, and surfing. The British Overseas Territory features dazzling five-star resorts throughout the four primary and smaller outlying islands. The BVIs are a world-renowned sailing destination with much of the territory’s infrastructure geared towards bareboat and crewed catamaran charters.
Advantages of the United States Virgin Islands
- Easiest to get to from the mainland United States.
- Virgin Islands National Park features stunning beaches, historical buildings, and epic hiking trails.
- The US National Park Service maintains six areas within the USVI, including three on St. Croix alone.
- Island hop between the three main islands, plus day trips to Water Island, Buck Island, and the BVIs.
- No passport is required for US citizens.
Advantages of the British Virgin Islands
- World-renowned sailing.
- Quiet and secluded beaches.
- Some of the best beach bars in the Caribbean.
- Less commercialized, with no chain restaurants or large box companies.
- Major attractions like The Baths on Virgin Gorda.
The US Virgin Islands are Best For
- Adventure seekers and avid hikers.
- Beachgoers and underwater explorers.
- More budget-conscious travelers
- American citizens without a passport.
The British Virgin Islands are Best For
- Luxurious travelers seeking high-end beachfront resorts.
- Sailors, bareboat charters, and opulent yacht charters.
- Romantic getaways and honeymooners.
British Virgin Islands vs. US Virgin Islands – Detailed Comparison
The US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands have a shared history yet distinct cultural identities. Which one you decide to visit depends on a list of factors, including what you want to do, places you want to see, and how much money you’re willing to spend.
|Feature/Category||US Virgin Islands (USVI)||British Virgin Islands (BVI)||🏆 Winner|
|Getting There||Commercial flights from major American hubs land daily in St. Thomas (STT) and St. Croix (STX).||Small airport with no direct flights from Europe or US mainland.||USVI|
|Things to Do||The presence of the US National Park Service on St. John and St. Croix is a massive boost.||The beaches, beach bars, sailing, sights, and scenery is outstanding. But the lack of land-based activities gives the USVI the nod.||USVI|
|Safety||The USVI is safe for tourists and visitors. Like anywhere, look out for petty crime.||Similar to the USVI, with no significant safety concerns for tourists. Again, exercise the usual caution to avoid petty crime.||Tie|
|Beaches||Trunk Bay on St. John, Magens Bay on St. Thomas, and Sandy Point on St. Croix are amongst the world’s best beaches.||White Bay on Jost Van Dyke, The Baths and Savannah Bay on Virgin Gorda, and Cane Garden Bay on Tortola give the British Overseas Territory a remarkable list of beautiful beaches.||BVI|
|Beach Bars||Although fun, most beach bars are associated with a hotel or resort, diminishing the authentic, Caribbean vibe.||The BVIs are home to some of the most iconic beach bars in the Caribbean.||BVI|
|Luxury Resorts||The Buccaneer on St. Croix, Ritz Carlton on St. Thomas, and the Westin on St. John offers opulence in a tropical setting.||Luxurious resorts line many shorelines, including private islands overlooking the Caribbean Sea.||BVI|
|Budget-friendly||Although neither of the two island groups is budget-friendly, the USVI can be slightly cheaper for budget-minded travelers.||You’ll be hard-pressed to find budget accommodation anywhere within the BVI.||USVI|
|Public Transportation||Public transit on St. Thomas might be the only semi-reliable form on any main islands.||Finding reliable public transit anywhere in the BVIs is difficult outside Road Town on Tortola.||USVI|
|Food & Drink||Caribbean roots with Latin influences, particularly on St. Croix.||Authentic Caribbean ingredients and flavors are prevalent.||Tie|
|History||Historic ruins dot the former Danish West Indies in Virgin Islands National Park, Christiansted, and Charlotte Amalie.||Many historical structures have not been well-preserved outside some of the territory’s national parks.||USVI|
|Hiking||St. John and St. Croix feature some of the best hiking trails in the Caribbean Islands.||Mount Sage on Tortola, The Baths National Park, and Gorda Peak National Park on Virgin Gorda give the BVIs a few quality treks.||USVI|
|Sailing||Although enjoying the same trade winds, the USVI lacks the epic harbor stops of the BVIs.||Infrastructure of the BVI was designed with sailors in mind.||BVI|
|Snorkeling||Stunning coral reefs line most secluded bays and surrounding islets and cays.||Hotspots like The Indians and The Baths boost BVI snorkel spots.||Tie|
|Scuba Diving||St. Croix has an epic wall dive at Cane Bay, Salt River Canyons, and Frederiksted Pier.||The RMS Rhone is sought after by divers from all over the world.||USVI|
|Surfing||Hull Bay on St. Thomas is great for surfing during the winter months.||Apple Bay and Long Bay keep a steady surf long past winter.||BVI|
US Virgin Islands vs. British Virgin Islands: Getting There
USVIs – Major American airlines fly direct to St. Thomas and St. Croix for easy access to the US Virgin Islands from main hubs like Atlanta, Miami, Charlotte, Houston, Fort Lauderdale, and New York.
BVIs – The territory has one international airport with no large commercial airlines arriving from Europe or the United States. Most people arrive at the BVIs via ferry or private water taxi from St. Thomas.
🏆 Winner: USVI
British Virgin Islands vs US Virgin Islands: Things to Do
USVIs – St. Thomas caters to passengers from cruise ships, while St. John slants towards outdoorsy types with the presence of Virgin Islands National Park. St. Croix is great for adventurers and history buffs with Christiansted National Historic Site, Buck Island, and Salt River Bay National Historical Park & Ecological Preserve.
BVIs – The beauty of the BVIs rests in its reputation as a world-class sailing destination with island hopping opportunities. If you’re not a boat person, you might run out of things to do after visiting highlights like Soggy Dollar and The Baths.
🏆 Winner: USVI
US Virgin Islands vs. British Virgin Islands: Safety
USVIs – A quick Google search yields some unsightly results. However, after living and working on St. Thomas for years, I can honestly say these islands are incredibly safe for tourists.
BVIs – Much like the USVIs, the British island chain is a safe travel destination for anyone seeking a tropical Caribbean vacation. As with anywhere in the world, use caution to avoid petty crime and theft.
🏆 Winner: Tie
The BVI vs. the USVI: Beaches
USVIs – The secluded beaches sprinkled throughout the United States territory are amongst the best in the Caribbean, with St. John’s beautiful north shore leading the charge, followed by Magens Bay on St. Thomas and the exclusive shorelines on Buck Island and Sandy Point on St. Croix.
BVIs – I love the stretches of sandy shoreline on Anegada, along with the white sandy beaches of Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, and of course the beaches on Tortola. I give the BVI beaches a slight nod over the USVI. In all honesty, this might have been my closest non-tie!
🏆 Winner: BVIs
The USVI vs the BVI: Beach Bars
USVIs – St. Croix’s beach bar scene almost elevates the entire territory’s ranking past the BVIs, with Rhythms, Off the Wall, and The Landing. Unfortunately, the lack of rustic and authentic Caribbean establishments lining the beaches of St. John and St. Thomas downgrade the USVI beach bar scene.
BVIs – No other Caribbean island destination can rival the legendary beach bars of the BVIs with the likes of Soggy Dollar, Foxy’s, and Willy T in its rank. Don’t forget smaller establishments like Patricia’s and Nigel’s at Smuggler’s Cove on Tortola.
🏆 Winner: BVIs
The British Virgin Islands vs the US Virgin Islands: Luxury Resorts
USVIs – Many beautiful hotels, luxurious resorts, private villas, and chic apartments line the hills of St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. Each island has a seemingly endless supply of options on where to stay, catering to every type of traveler.
BVIs – Similar to the USVIs, you can discover any type of accommodation suitable for your desired travel throughout the BVIs. Where the British territory gains its edge is its abundance of opulent resorts dotting private islands and distant shorelines.
🏆 Winner: BVIs
The US Virgin Islands vs. the British Virgin Islands: Budget-friendly
USVIs – Neither of the Caribbean territories is budget-friendly by any stretch of the imagination. However, you might save a buck or two in the USVIs with the ease of arrival alone.
BVIs – Your most tremendous expense in visiting the BVIs is simply getting there. A flight to St. Thomas followed by multiple taxis and ferry rides isn’t cheap. After that, food, accommodation, and activities are on par with USVI rates.
🏆 Winner: USVIs
BVI vs USVI: Public Transit
USVIs – You’ll find some public transit on St. Croix and St. Thomas – neither is regarded as reliable. Getting around on St. Thomas is easier with frequent Safari taxis utilizing a hop-on, hop-off dollar ride rate. Yet, the best way to get around is by renting a car.
BVIs – Public transit on any British Virgin Islands is nonexistent. Cabs are affordable, operating on a per-person rate depending on the destination. However, if you plan to stay on one island and are not at a resort, I highly recommend renting a car, particularly for Tortola or Virgin Gorda.
🏆 Winner: USVIs
USVI vs BVI: Food & Drink
USVIs – I have my few favorite local establishments serving delectable Caribbean eats, like Ideal Restaurant on St. Thomas, Ziggy’s Island Market on St. Croix, and the Roti King on St. John. The fresh seafood is hard to beat at Fish Bar on St. Thomas, while the island also offers any other style of food and American fare you might crave.
BVIs – Fresh conch and Anegada lobster seem to be regular members on the menus of most restaurants in the BVIs. The territory also lacks chain restaurants, giving each eatery an original and authentic vibe.
🏆 Winner: Tie
BVIs vs USVIs: History
USVIs – The US National Park Service has done a phenomenal job displaying the storied history of the Virgin Islands and former Danish West Indies. The USVI Parks Department and historical society preserve landmarks like Fort Frederik, Downtown Charlotte Amalie, Christiansted, and Fort Christian.
BVIs – Although rich in history, very little of it is displayed throughout the island’s landscape. You’ll find some museums in Road Town and interpretive signs at the territory’s national parks, but nothing compared to the efforts of NPS in the USVI.
🏆 Winner: USVIs
USVIs vs. BVIs: Hiking
USVIs – Virgin Islands National Park on St. John combined with Jack and Isaac’s Bay Preserve on St. Croix give the USVI some of the best and most well-maintained trail systems in the Caribbean.
BVIs – The territory features a handful of hiking trails like Mount Sage on Tortola, Gorda Peak on Virgin Gorda, and the Bubbly Pool on Jost Van Dyke.
🏆 Winner: USVIs
The US Virgin Islands vs. the British Virgin Islands: Sailing
USVIs – Many sailing charters choose to circumnavigate St. John, spending evenings in the mooring fields of Maho Bay, Leinster Bay, and Lameshur Bay. St. Thomas has communities of salty sailors in Red Hook and near Water Island, while St. Croix also has its fair share of sailing charters.
BVIs – The British Virgin Islands regard itself as the world’s sailing capital for good reason. Conditions are almost always ideal for sailing, with outlying islands protecting waterways while the breeze remains stiff. Most harbors feature beachfront bars and restaurants for sailors to visit during the evenings.
🏆 Winner: BVIs
BVI vs USVI: Snorkeling
USVIs – Most beaches, coves, and outlying islands feature dazzling coral reefs filled with marine life. It’s hard not to find something cool anytime you wade into the water.
BVIs – Likewise for the BVIs – no matter where you explore underwater, you’re guaranteed to see something remarkable.
🏆 Winner: Tie
USVI vs BVI: Scuba Diving
USVIs – To be honest, I’m not impartial when it comes to this topic. After all, I work as a Captain for a Dive Shop in St. Thomas. The reefs and wrecks of the USVI are fantastic for scuba divers. But what puts the USVI ahead of the BVI is the epic dives you’ll discover on St. Croix.
BVIs – The wreck of the RMS Rhone off of Tortola is world-famous for a reason. But besides that, much of what the BVI underwater landscape offers is also found off of St. John and St. Thomas.
🏆 Winner: USVIs
BVIs vs USVIs: Surfing
USVIs – The USVI sees decent surf conditions only for a few winter months on the north shore of St. Thomas – particularly at Hull Bay. Besides that, you won’t find consistent surfing in the territory.
BVIs – I spent a week in Long Bay on Tortola towards the end of May and was shocked while seeing swell breaking in Apple Bay below our villa (see above). Turns out, this beach sees swell regularly. Brewers Bay, Cane Garden Bay, and others on Tortola also experience swell during winter. Anegada is a great place for experienced surfers to catch a few waves.
🏆 Winner: BVIs
Final Verdict – US Virgin Islands vs. the British Virgin Islands
While no clear winner can be declared, we can determine what each territory does well for specific travelers. The US Virgin Islands is better for easy arrival, American citizens without a passport, and those seeking outdoor adventures like hiking and historical ruins. Budget-conscious travelers might find some reprieve in the USVI, although neither territory is a cheap destination.
Meanwhile, the British Virgin Islands are a fantastic destination for sailors, luxurious resort-goers, and romantic getaways on private islands. Families or large groups wanting to rent a catamaran for a week should visit the BVIs.
Honestly, the best thing you can do is visit both while in the archipelago! They’re so close together, offering unique cultural opportunities, attractions, and places to see! I recommend beginning your journey on St. Thomas and St. John before taking the ferry to Tortola for a few days!
FAQs About the US Virgin Islands vs the British Virgin Islands
Are the US or British Virgin Islands Cheaper?
The US Virgin Islands are cheaper than the British Virgin Islands because they’re easier to get to. No additional taxis, ferries, seaplanes, or water taxis are necessary for arrival. Regarding accommodation, food, and activities, the two island nations are similar in cost.
Are the Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands Different?
The Virgin Islands are an archipelago in the Greater Antilles of the Caribbean Sea, consisting of three political jurisdictions.
– The US Virgin Islands – consisting of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John, is a US territory.
– The Spanish Virgin Islands – Vieques and Culebra, belong to Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States.
– The Virgin Islands – informally referred to as the British Virgin Islands, is a British Overseas Territory.
Comparing the US Virgin Islands to the British Virgin Islands isn’t as simple as stating one is better than the other. It’s more complicated than that, entirely dependent on the traveler – I hope this article helped you decide which is best for your trip.
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