It's been nearly 10 years since the last time Frommer's released a Virgin Islands guidebook, and let's just say a lot of stuff has happened in the interim.
Among the toughest challenges: not one but two category-5 hurricanes (hitting 2 weeks apart) followed by the gut punch of a global pandemic.
I am thrilled to report that my new guidebook, Frommer's Virgin Islands, shows that both the U.S. and the British Virgin Islands are back in business and as fabulous as ever. In fact, in the last 3 years, the Virgins' robust tourism growth has outpaced that of every other destination in the Caribbean.
It's a resurgence that owes a lot to a creative and resilient community. This is a culture with DIY in its DNA. That's a good thing, because nature has given Virgin Islanders an abundance of raw materials to work with.
Here, the island flora has been an important source of food, medicine, fiber, dyes, and building material—even cleaning supplies and insect repellent—for centuries. Every family seems to have at least one expert in natural medicine (aka bush medicine); one taxi driver told me he wakes up to a shot of cayenne, lemongrass, and cinnamon every morning.
Consider, too, the breadfruit, the nutrient-packed "ground provision" that long sustained islanders in lean times and good. Over on St. Croix in the USVI, Sion Farm Distillery is making vodka out of breadfruit. It's good for your party spirit and the planet, too: Breadfruit trees capture more carbon dioxide than just about any other tree on Earth.
(On Tortola in the British Virgin Islands | Credit: Nicole R Young / Shutterstock)
In addition to damaging some 90% of the islands' structures, the dual hurricanes in 2017 destroyed boats, cars, even small planes. So islanders did what islanders do, which is to use what you've got, and now many of these wrecks have been fancifully repurposed as undersea "art reefs" and dive sites by the BVI nonprofit Beyond the Reef.
Three planes redesigned to look like sharks were sunk off Great Dog Island to create a dive site known as "Sharkplaneo." A Navy fuel barge, the Kodiak Queen, has been reborn as a sea monster in the waters near Virgin Gorda.
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Another rousing recovery story is that of St. George Village Botanical Garden on St. Croix. It's come a long way since the days following Hurricane Maria, when debris from the storm stood 5 stories high in the garden courtyard. Today, these gorgeous grounds are thriving, with blooming vines twining around the 18th-century ruins of a sugar plantation that was active here for nearly 200 years.
Over in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas's capital city, you can take a walk up—or, if you prefer, down—one of 47 historic stone "step streets" built by the Danes to navigate the island's sheer verticality.
These atmospheric streets, constructed with ballast from Danish ships and bluish native stone, slice through some of the town's most charming historic neighborhoods and offer pirate's-eye views of the mighty harbor.
(Step street in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands | Credit: Andrei Medvedev / Shutterstock)
Today there is a renewed focus on the Charlotte Amalie waterfront, which brings the world to its door every day. Thanks to a massive harborfront revitalization, the busiest port in the West Indies is meeting the moment with typical Virgin Islands verve.
Come celebrate a remarkable resurgence.
For more ideas on what to do, where to stay, and what to eat in the Virgin Islands, as well as practical planning tips to make the most of your time and money, pick up a copy of Frommer's Virgin Islands by Alexis Lipsitz Flippin. Available in paperback and e-book versions, the guide can be found at bookstores and from online booksellers.