Other than the typical tropical environment health concerns, like sun exposure and sea sickness, there are no major health concerns in the Virgin Islands.
St. Thomas has the best hospital in the U.S. Virgin Islands (Roy Lester Schneider Hospital). St. Croix also has good hospital facilities (Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital & Medical Center). There is only a health clinic on St. John; more serious cases are transferred to the hospital on St. Thomas.
Medical facilities in the B.V.I. are very limited. In very serious cases, patients are transported to Puerto Rico. There is only one small general hospital, Peebles Hospital on Tortola. There are one public and one private clinic on Virgin Gorda. Both islands are served by ambulances with paramedics. There is a very small clinic with a government nurse on both Jost Van Dyke and Anegada, but no clinics on the other islands. There is also no hyperbaric chamber in the B.V.I. Patients requiring treatment for decompression illness are transferred to St. Thomas.
It is not difficult to get a prescription filled or find a doctor on St. Thomas, St. Croix, and Tortola. You should get your prescriptions filled before heading to the other islands, where it's sometimes tricky and complicated to get prescriptions from the mainland refilled. Often it requires a phone call from the U.S.V.I. to a stateside pharmacy or to the doctor who prescribed the medicine in the first place. CVS and Wal-Mart are the best for contacting a stateside branch of those chains, if your prescription is on a computer file. To avoid possible hassles and delays, both in the B.V.I. and the U.S.V.I., it is best to arrive with enough medication for your entire vacation.
- Bugs & Bites -- Mosquitoes do exist in the Virgin Islands, but they aren't the malaria-carrying mosquitoes that you might find elsewhere in the Caribbean. They're still a nuisance, though. Sand flies, which appear mainly in the evening, are a bigger annoyance. Screens can't keep these critters out, so carry your bug repellent.
- Dietary Red Flags -- If you experience diarrhea, moderate your eating habits, and drink only bottled water until you recover. If symptoms persist, consult a doctor. Much of the fresh water on the Virgin Islands is stored in cisterns and filtered before it's served. Delicate stomachs might opt for bottled water.
- Seasickness -- The best way to prevent seasickness is with the scopolamine patch by Transderm Scop, a prescription medication. Bonine and Dramamine are good over-the-counter medications, although each causes drowsiness. Smooth Sailing is a ginger drink that works quite well to settle your stomach. You might also opt for an acupressure wristband available at drugstores (www.sea-band.com). We find that a ginger pill taken with a meal and followed by Dramamine an hour before boating also does the job.
- Sun Exposure -- The Virgin Islands' sun can be brutal. To protect yourself, consider wearing sunglasses and a hat, and use sunscreen (SPF 15 and higher) liberally. Limit your time on the beach for the first few days. If you overexpose yourself, stay out of the sun until you recover. If your sunburn is followed by fever, chills, a headache, nausea, or dizziness, see a doctor.
Healthy Travels to You
The following government websites offer up-to-date health-related travel advice:
- Australia: www.smarttraveller.gov.au
- Canada: www.hc-sc.gc.ca/index_e.html
- U.K.: www.dh.gov.uk/en/policyandguidance/healthadvicefortravellers
- U.S.: wwwn.cdc.gov/travel
The Virgin Islands are a relatively safe destination. The small permanent populations are generally friendly and welcoming. That being said, St. Thomas is no longer as safe as it once was. Crime against tourists has been on the rise, and muggings are frequent. Wandering the island at night, especially on the back streets of Charlotte Amalie (particularly on Back St.), is not recommended. For a town of this small size, there is an unusually high crime rate. Guard your valuables or store them in hotel safes if possible.
The same holds true for St. Croix and the back streets of Christiansted and Frederiksted. Although these areas are safer than St. Thomas, random acts of violence against tourists in the past, even murder, have been known to happen. Know that most crime on the island is petty theft aimed at unguarded possessions on the beach, unlocked parked cars, or muggings (rarely violent) of visitors at night. Exercise the same amount of caution you would if you were traveling to an unfamiliar town on the mainland. Whether on St. Thomas or St. Croix, always take a taxi home after a night out.
St. John is a bit different, because there is no major town and most of the island is uninhabited. Muggings and petty theft do happen, but such occurrences are rarely violent. You are most likely to find your camera stolen if you leave it unattended on the beach.
The British Virgin Islands are very safe. Crime is practically nonexistent on these islands. Minor robberies do occur on Tortola, with less trouble reported on Virgin Gorda.
In general, the Virgin Islands' steep, curvy roads are often poorly lit at night. St. Croix's road network is particularly poor and is composed of rocky, steep dirt roads through the interior. As a result, car-rental insurance is higher on this island than the others. For those travelers who are unaccustomed to driving on the left, we suggest leaving the night driving up to a taxi driver. Do not attempt the most rural roads at night, as cellphone service is spotty at best and breakdowns or robberies are an all-too-perfect way to ruin your Virgin Islands vacation.