This section contains information about the people, history and environment of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is provided in hope that it will help you better identify and appreciate some of the islands’ historical, natural and cultural resources.
History & More
The USVI is located in the Caribbean, approximately 1,100 miles from Miami, Florida. It consists of 4 larger islands; St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island.
For 150 years the islands were maintained as colonies of Denmark and other European entities. During that time sugar plantations and a free port of trade drove the islands’ economy. The islands were purchased by the United States in 1917. In the mid-1900s the USVI began to develop a tourism trade and today it is the islands’ primary industry.
The first residents of the present United States Virgin Islands (USVI) were the Ciboney, Caribs, and Arawaks. In 1493, Christopher Columbus visited these islands. He had been searching for a route to India and consequently he called the people he encountered Indians. Columbus named the beautiful islands ‘The Virgins’ in reference to the legendary beauty of St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins.
People and Culture
Some features of USVI culture are maintained on a wide basis such as steel pan bands which are available through schools and community groups. Other aspects such as traditional dress, dance and music are maintained by smaller groups that work to keep these important traditions alive.
Events and holidays are an excellent reflection of the Caribbean-American culture. There are local holidays and all American holidays are recognized. Events include Carnival, Chili Cook Offs, Fishing Tournaments, Caribbean Food Fairs and Concerts featuring Calypso, Reggae, Blues, Jazz and Classical.
Culture in the USVI is uniquely Caribbean-American. Christmas is celebrated with Santa Claus and Guavaberry Rum. A BBQ might include burgers and potato chips as well as chicken and Johnny cakes. Radio stations play top American tunes and oldies in addition to Caribbean hits.
Fauna, Birds, Insects
Most people picture pristine white sand beaches and coral reefs teaming with marine life when reflecting about vacationing in the USVI. These are important parts of the natural environment in the Virgin Islands and related to them are additional habitats such as Forests, Mangroves, Seagrass and Salt Ponds. Each is home to a variety of plant and animal life. Parks, preserves, local laws and environmental groups aim to protect these and other natural resources in the USVI. They are of vital importance to the islands, offer recreational activities and provide a way of life.
During your vacation to the USVI plan to visit a historic site, attend a local event, sample some local dishes and fruits and participate in activities such as bird watching and snorkeling.