Are you making plans to visit the Virgin Islands? These insider tips from a Virgin Island native will help you travel like a local. This Traveling Mom shares insider tips about her childhood home, why you should try the President’s fish and why it’s important to wear a ponytail holder on your wrist.
Travel Like a Local to the Virgin Islands
Historically American. Uniquely Caribbean. Globally Interactive. Those words once graced magazines and advertorials in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It’s this unique mystique that brings millions of tourists to the Virgin Islands every year.
Each island (St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John) has a unique personality. And let’s not forget Water Island, the youngest of the bunch but still a gem. Whether you travel to St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix or Water Island, one thing is for certain: If you want to travel like a local there are some things you should know.
Drive on the Left
Although the US Virgin Islands (USVI) is a U.S. territory, one of the main things that confuses visitors is why people drive on the left-hand side of the street. It’s been said that this has to do with Danish influence on the island before the United States purchased the Virgin Islands in 1917. I get back to St. Thomas about once year. When I visit, what helps me remember which side of the road to drive on is wearing a rubber band or ponytail holder on my wrist.
In addition, most rental vehicles have a little decal or sticker on the windshield that serves as a great reminder.
Try Some Local Food
Whether you are traveling to St. Croix Virgin Islands or Vermont, if you want to travel like a local, you just have to try the local cuisine. When traveling to the Virgin Islands, that’s means trying foods like saltfish, johnny cake, fungi, sweet potato stuffing and stew fish.
Actually, when former President Bill Clinton visited St. Thomas in the 90s, he ordered a local stewed fish favorite known as “old wife.” To this day, some locals call “old wife” the president’s fish.
I enjoyed some old wife with all the fixings on a recent visit to St. Croix. It was so delicious. The fish was served with fungi, coleslaw, corn, and fried plantain. If you plan to try some local fish on your stay, you should know that many islanders eat the fish with the head on.
Be on the Lookout for Local Wildlife
No trip to the Virgin Islands would be complete without an iguana sighting. These large lizards are quite common. Keep a safe distance, though, because when threatened they can whip with their tails.
The smaller, cuter mongoose, on the other hand, is hard to spot and quite elusive. If you happen to spot one, avoid sudden movements and be as quiet as you can. These furry creatures were introduced to the islands as a means to control pests and rodents back in the 1800s.
Be Beach Ready
There are so many beautiful beaches in the USVI just dying to get a peek of your fabulous swimsuit. Some of my personal favorites are:
- Coki Point in St. Thomas
- Trunk Bay in St. John
- Chenay Bay in St. Croix
The water at Coki Point is always crystal clear, a very important variable in any beach that I visit. My personal rule is if I can’t see my feet…I’m not getting in. One of the long-lasting effects of growing up on an island surrounded by beautiful aquamarine to turquoise blue waters I guess.
Be Aware of Local Customs and Traditions
When it comes to Virgin Island customs, the most important custom by far is giving a warm greeting to other people you encounter. This could be anyone from a luggage porter at the airport to the cashier at a grocery store.
It is customary to greet others with a hearty, “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” or “Good evening,” depending on the time of day. Trust me when I say that just this simple gesture can “move mountains” when talking with a local.
If you happen to visit St. Thomas during mid to late April, your senses will be treated to the sights, sounds and tastes of Carnival. Virgin Islands Carnival is a celebration of island culture through music, song, dance, pageantry and food. St. Croix carnival takes place in December and St. John’s in July.
Enjoy Your Stay
Whether traveling to the Virgin Islands on a cruise for a few hours or visiting for a few weeks, there is something for everyone. St. Thomas which hosts the capital, is the most metropolitan of the islands. Environmentalists and nature lovers will delight in the unspoiled sceneries on St. John. St. Croix, the largest of the Virgin Islands, has a much slower pace and tends to fall somewhere in between.
Water Island, which was acquired in 1996, has less than 200 residents. Take a quick ferry from St. Thomas and experience water activities, hiking, camping and more.
As you plan your trip to the US Virgin Islands, make sure to drive on the left while on your way for that old wife and fungi lunch. Please don’t run over any iguanas on your way. When you pass the local fruit stand owner, wave “Good morning,” and ask him how to get the nearest beach.
But most importantly, while in the Virgin Islands, please do enjoy your stay.