Located over 1,000 miles southeast of Miami, Florida, the US Virgin Islands (USVI) has a distinct flair unlike anything else you might encounter in the Caribbean’s cerulean seas.

It’s rich with opportunities for both adventure and sheer relaxation—from lounging away in a hammock to snorkeling among flourishing sea life to trekking through jungle ruins. Should you gaze upon the pastel architecture on the bustling island of St. Thomas, traverse the sparkling beaches of the verdant St. John, or taste the local cuisine on the largest island of the archipelago, St. Croix? Experience all three, and much more, as part of a travel itinerary you won’t soon forget.

Tourists welcome

Traveling to the US Virgin Islands is particularly breezy thanks to its American territory status, a title it has held since 1917. No passport is needed, nor is there the hassle of exchanging currency—these islands proudly accept US dollars. The weather is warm and sunny year-round, with temperatures only dipping as low as the 70s on average in the winter, making it a popular escape for snowbirds in search of warm refuge.

The simplest way to access the USVI is by air via St. Croix’s Henry E. Rohlsen Airport, from which you can take a charter boat or ferry to the other islands, or you can opt to venture here by seacraft from nearby destinations like Antigua or Puerto Rico. Cruise ships that depart from Florida also make ports of call on the island of St. Thomas. However you choose to arrive, the breathtaking contrast of clear blue waters and stark-white sand will make for a gorgeous welcome mat.

A place to rest your head

As a popular destination for worldwide travelers, the islands are blooming with accommodations to suit year-round tourism. Book a stay at an all-inclusive resort in the territory’s capital, Charlotte Amalie—the jewel of St. Thomas—or select a more private, romantic hotel in St. John just a short drive from the aptly named Honeymoon Beach. Alternatively, consider historical accommodations in the towns of Frederiksted and Christiansted on St. Croix, which offer authentic cultural experiences that allow you to live as the locals do.

Local flavor

Gastronomy in the USVI is as diverse as the islands themselves, including American staples in pubs and hotels as well as local fare that’s characteristically spicy yet comforting. Savor dishes born from the range of cultures that have historically inhabited these islands, such as johnnycakes made from fried flour served with curry or pot fish. And you certainly won’t want to miss the national dish, fish and fungi, which consists of cornmeal dumplings served with seafood fillets. It’s an adventurous offering that may sound odd, but it’s a source of pride for locals who’ve developed their own family recipes for this celebrated meal. Bold eaters may also enjoy conch fritters, or fried sea snails; these are served at just about any restaurant featuring local cuisine.

One of the USVI’s most popular exports is rum, which you should sample right from the source at the Cruzan Rum Distillery in St. Croix. The islands have enjoyed this popular spirit for over 250 years, and it has become a vital export for the local economy. Explore local fare such as these to learn how the modern USVI developed from a history of Caribbean natives and Danish occupation to West Indian influence and American inclusion.

A spirit of freedom

A leisurely stroll through the cobblestone streets of St. Croix exposes many facets of the USVI’s fascinating cultural history. For instance, old-world Danish architecture adapted for Caribbean life lines the picturesque streets in the town of Christiansted, offering sights like arched palaces in tropical green and yellow. There’s also Frederiksted’s landmark Fort Frederik, a grand, auburn-colored base originally established to defend against the pirates who once terrorized the surrounding seas. It eventually became a symbol of freedom when a local uprising forced the Danes to free the island’s slaves—making the declaration at this very site that all islanders could live in freedom. The spirit of liberty for all citizens lives on today, as lively reggae beats and warm smiles light up the streets of the islands.

Discover more fascinating history at St. Croix’s Estate Whim Museum. This colonial-era sugar plantation preserves artifacts and structures that harken back to the islanders’ role in farming valuable crops like sugar, tobacco, cotton, and indigo. In previous centuries, only the European settlers of the USVI profited from their rich soil. However, today tells a different story: the islanders trade local wares at independent markets and events like the annual St. Croix Agriculture and Food Fair.

Excursions and adventures

Just as the islands themselves are about more than their photogenic scenery, the lively tropical waters between them conceal a whole other world under the surface. Whether you’re a water-sport enthusiast or a landlubber, these Caribbean excursions fit perfectly on any vacation itinerary.

Sea outings

Book a day cruise on a catamaran into the calming seas, then strap on your snorkel and swim among schools of fish as they meander across the colorful sea floor. Excursion packages offer stylish amenities like cocktails as you traverse the waters and play with sports equipment like paddleboards. For a sophisticated experience, take a sunset dinnertime cruise featuring appetizers and beverages as you sail to a fine restaurant—pulling right into its port for dinner and then enjoying desserts and cordials on your return journey to your hotel. To get the full scope of the available excursions, ranging from guided sea tours to solo adventures, talk to a representative at your hotel or schedule tours online through a travel site like Tripadvisor.

Coral dives

There are endless sea life adventures to relish, but every USVI visitor should consider the Buck Island Reef National Monument an essential stop. This preserved paradise located north of St. Croix is rich with ecosystems like barrier reefs, shapely rock formations, and underwater forests. Take a guided tour to learn about the fascinating ecology of this natural wonder as you trek across the island’s grounds, then embark on a snorkeling or diving expedition for an amazing firsthand swim among the coral.

Forest hikes

The adventures are far from over when you return to the mainland. Enjoy thrills like a hike through St. John’s dense tropical forests, where you can spot wildlife such as colorful bananaquit birds flitting through the branches and wild donkeys grazing freely throughout the forest. Then explore the ruins of the Cinnamon Bay Plantation, featuring stone structures reclaimed by Mother Nature and covered in forest flora. And be sure to inspect the beaches for sea turtles that have come to bask in the Caribbean sun.

Sky views

To get a bird’s-eye view of the USVI, book a ride on the St. Thomas Skyride, a cable car that carries visitors 700 feet above the sea. Take in breathtaking views of St. Thomas’s bustling seaport, the glimmering waters of the Caribbean Sea, and the untouched islands in the distance. From this vantage point, you can observe the true beauty of this destination, which is impossible to comprehend unless you see it firsthand.

Far-flung from America’s mainland, the US Virgin Islands tells of a wholly unique cultural history. The locale welcomes visitors to savor its enchanting splendor however they would like: travel hand in hand with a partner for a romantic getaway, book beachside thrills with family, or partake in the energetic Caribbean nightlife with friends. But one thing is certain for all who touch ground here—you will grow attached to this paradise territory, and leaving it behind may feel like leaving a piece of your heart on its shore.

For more info, go to visitUSVI.com