Choosing the perfect destination for your next vacation can be a daunting task. Even more so if you are choosing between the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands, or USVI and BVI for short,
Besides having very similar names, the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands are also similar in many ways. Both have plenty of stunning beaches, marvellous nature and lots of activities to choose from. However, there are things that make each of them stand out, and some significant differences between the USVI and BVI which you need to know too.
As we know both destinations well, right here we’ll provide an in-depth comparison of the USVI and BVI to help you figure out which is better suited to you.
So keep reading to learn which island has the better beaches, better nightlife, which is best for families, honeymooners and even more!
But before we really get into the specifics, let’s take a quick look at both the USVI and BVI to show you some of the most obvious similarities and differences.
- A Quick Overview
- Which Has Better Beaches
- Which Has Better Activities
- Transport & Getting Around
- How Does The Food & Cuisine Seem
- Which Has Better Nightlife and Bars
- How Does The Accommodation Compare
- Which Is Safer
- Which Is Better for Families
- Which Is Better for Honeymooners
- Which Is More Affordable
- Which Is The Better Choice
US Virgin Islands vs British Virgin Islands: A Quick Overview
There are three main islands included in the US Virgin Islands – St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. Whilst the British Virgin Islands consists of four main islands – Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda, and Jost Van Dyke – as well as a whole bunch of other smaller islands.
Both destinations are located in the Caribbean Sea, so in both you can expect incredible beaches and crystal clear picture-perfect waters.
But as you might have guessed from their names, the USVI are in United States territory and the BVI are in British overseas territory. This means that if you are travelling from the US, you won’t need a passport to enter the USVI, whereas the BVI requires the possession of a valid passport for the proposed period of your stay.
In terms of currency, both accept USD, but keep in mind that a lot of places only accept cash, so be sure to always have some on you.
As for the vibe, the British Virgin Islands are known for being laid-back, luxurious and authentic, whereas the US Virgin Islands are generally considered more family friendly and developed. However both offer some of the same things, just to different degrees.
The culture and customs of both island groups are quite similar, and the language in use is English. The locals are friendly and welcoming, but keep in mind that everything happens on island time in both the USVI and BVI, and people like to take things slow.
USVI vs BVI: Which Has Better Beaches
Without a doubt, visiting the beach is one of the main reasons to spend your vacation in the Caribbean, and the Virgin Islands are an especially great choice as they host some of the world’s most beautiful beaches.
Overall, both the USVI and BVI offer pristine beaches with clear turquoise water. You will find picturesque beaches and coves around every corner, and while some are more secluded, others are livelier and more upbeat.
In fact, the number of beaches on both island chains is so big that it might get confusing trying to decide where to go, since there are some differences.
With that the case, here are a few of our favorites which may help you make your decision!
US Virgin Islands: Beaches
Out of all the main islands in the USVI, the best one for enjoying a tropical beach day is St. John. Most of the beaches there face the northern side of the island and are perfect for sunbathing and relaxing.
If instead of lounging in the sun all day you prefer to stay active when on vacation, pay a visit to Salt Pond Beach. This bright and sunny crescent-shaped beach is the perfect place for visitors to go snorkeling in order to spot sea turtles, rays and giant hermit crabs. On top of that, Salt Pond offers convenient access to several sightseeing and hiking trails.
A beach that has it all is Hull Bay Beach. There you’ll find clear and calm waters, making it ideal for families with children. This is one of the rare locations across the islands that are suitable for night snorkeling too. On top of that, this grape tree lined beach has a full bar and a restaurant that hosts frequent music and entertainment events, as well as a diving and watersports shop.
One thing to keep in mind is that while there are a variety of public beaches available, some beaches in the USVI do charge a small entry fee (typically USD 4 – USD 10) for beach maintenance purposes.
British Virgin Islands: Beaches
The BVI are a paradise for island-hopping beach-lovers, with sapphire blue waters lapping against powdery white beaches. It’s almost impossible to separate the USVI and BVI on beaches alone, but all BVI beaches are free to visit and we’d say some have a more luxurious and exclusive feel too.
Beaches in the BVI tend to be less developed than ones in the USVI as well.
But if you’re visiting with your family, it’s a good idea to spend a day in Cane Garden Bay, where you’ll find restaurants and rental shops with kayaks and snorkeling equipment to entertain the kids.
And if you’re searching for something luxurious and private, pay a visit to Loblolly Bay on the island of Anegada. For those of you who want to take the feeling of seclusion to the extreme, head to the uninhabited, tiny island off the southeastern coast of Jost Van Dyke – Sandy Cay. This is a nature preserve that’s only accessible by boat, making it a perfect escape and an ideal place for a romantic swim.
Last but not least, you might want to check out Deadman’s Beach as it might even be the most picturesque beach in all of the BVI. The crescent-shaped stretch of sand is lined with palm trees along its entire length, and is the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic or a stroll along the sand during sunset.
Which Has Better Activities
Neither the USVI nor BVI is short of tourist attractions and fun activities, which is why they’re both such a popular stop for cruise ships.
Take your pick from a variety of national parks, underwater snorkeling, windsurfing, jet skiing spots and much more.
Located in St. John is the Virgin Islands National Park. As one of the most well-known tourist attractions, it attracts around one million visitors a year.
This 5000 acre large park includes coral reefs, hiking trails, bays, historic ruins, underwater sea gardens and petroglyphs, ensuring a good time for every visitor. It’s perfect for hikers.
Of course there’s many water sport activities too, but for a taste of history pay a visit to St. Croix which has plenty of places with historical significance.
Due to the high commercialization and development of the USVI, it has far more shopping possibilities than the BVI. There are plenty of jewelry shops and boutiques situated around the island chain, as well as many malls. That’s one difference in terms of activities between these two destinations.
One of the most stunning and unique spots in the BVI is the Baths National Park. There you’ll find trails that zig-zag their way through huge granite formations kissed by white sandy beaches popular for snorkeling and swimming. It’s not as big as the Virgin Islands National Park in the USVI, but there are still plenty of activities – in water and on land – available.
If instead of aquatic activities you prefer to observe wildlife from the ground, not far from Baths National Park is Gorda Peak National Park which has two hiking trails leading to the highest point of the island and offers stunning views of the archipelago.
In order to enjoy water sports, head to North Sound where pretty much every single water sport you could think of is available – visitors can windsurf, sail, kayak, dive, go jet skiing and parasailing.
Activities wise these destinations both have similar choices, but we’d say the less developed BVI can feel more nature orientated than the more commercialized USVI.
Transport & Getting Around
The main airport for both island groups is located on St. Thomas in the USVI. This is the most convenient way to get to both the USVI and BVI, and does mean getting to the USVI is slightly easier.
However if your end destination is in the BVI, then after landing in St. Thomas in the USVI a boat taxi will take you there. That will take no more than an hour, as all the islands are situated pretty close to one another.
Getting Around The US Virgin Islands
The most convenient way to travel around the island is by renting a car, as it allows maximum flexibility for visiting beaches and towns, plus taking cabs can get costly.
On average a rental car in U.S. Virgin Islands costs around USD 70 per day, while renting a Jeep will cost you around USD 130 per day.
The main thing to keep in mind is that even though the rental car steering wheel is on the same side as in the US, the rule of the road is to drive on the left. So, drive carefully, as the locals here tend to drive quite fast!
If you decide to not rent a car, remember that there are no Ubers on the island. Instead taxis are used. If you’re not sure which company taxi to choose, ask the hotel reception for help.
Getting Around The British Virgin Islands
As this is a British territory, cars drive on the left side of the road. Similar to the USVI, the best way to get around is by car. However renting a car in the BVI tends to be cheaper than in the USVI, and on average can cost you around USD 50 per day.
The BVI aren’t short of beautiful islands, and you probably will want to visit more than just one of them. For this purpose, it is best to either make use of the ferries that connect the main islands, such as Tortola and Virgin Gorda, or splurge and charter your own boat for island hopping.
How Does The Food & Cuisine Seem?
There is no shortage of excellent restaurants serving local and international dishes in both island chains.
But because the USVI is a much more commercialized chain of islands, there are more restaurant chains there than in the BVI.
With that the case, the BVI tends to offer a more local, island life experience when it comes to food and eating out.
Food In The US Virgin Islands
If you are travelling with kids who may not yet be ready to explore Caribbean cuisine, St. John might be the right option because there are multiple McDonald’s and Pizza Hut restaurants on the island!
But, if you want to fully experience the Caribbean culture through delicious local food, as well as have more familiar cuisine options, such as sushi, burgers and Chinese food, close to you, then the island of St. Thomas is considered to be the best option for a good mix of restaurant options.
Dining in USVI is very affordable too, as prices for dinner start from as low as USD 15.
A national dish you should try while visiting is Fish&Fungi. This staple dish is an epitome of Virgin Islands fare. If you’re not familiar with what a Fungi is, it’s a tender, polenta-like dumpling prepared from salted cornmeal mixed with shortening and water that’s typically served with generous portions of fish fillets or meat, hence the name Fish&Fungi.
And for a traditional Caribbean desert try Johnny Cake – a flour based deep-fried treat.
Food In The British Virgin Islands
There isn’t a wealth of dining options available in the BVI as many people visiting the islands charter boats with their own chefs! However there are still some bars and restaurants worth a visit. Some of the best eateries can be found on Tortola, Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke.
There’s not many chain restaurants and you’ll find access to local dishes easier here than in the USVI. Many dishes are heavily spiced, so if you’re not a fan of spicy food it is advisable to consult the staff before ordering, as chefs often use spices such as sea salt and pepper, as well as strong curry, nutmeg, garlic powder and jerk seasoning.
Food specialties not to miss out on include seafood, such as lobster, conch and fresh fish like mahi mahi. As well as paté which is a baked or grilled dish that consists of spiced meet, seafood and vegetables stuffed into pita bread.
There are also plenty of delicious locally grown fruit available too, such as papaya, mango, guava, pineapple and passion fruit.
Which Has The Better Nightlife & Bars?
Between the two island groups, the USVI definitely has superior nightlife, as the BVI is a more relaxed and a much more quiet chain of islands.
Nevertheless, there are still some vibrant beach bars and rum shacks to check out in the BVI as well.
Nightlife In The US Virgin Islands
The liveliest nightlife across the Virgin Islands can be found in St. Thomas. And the key areas of the island that you should go to at night are Charlotte Amalie, which is the island’s largest city and capital, Frenchtown that is renowned for its dining scene, Red Hook for its block-style parties, and Havensight where there is plenty of live music.
Nightlife on the other two main islands, St. John and St. Croix, is more low-key, but you can still find plenty of vibrant bars, clubs and restaurants there.
But one of the best parts about USVI life is that you don’t have to wait until the night to experience nightlife. For instance, Woody’s Seafood Saloon in Cruz Bay includes a world-famous happy hour every day from 3-6pm. Another iconic selection on St. John is Joe’s Rum Hut which is considered to be one of the best beach bars in the entire Caribbean.
Nightlife In The British Virgin Islands
Although the nightlife in the BVI is more low key than the USVI, it’s still a place with lots going on at night!
If you happen to be on the island of Jost Van Dyke, you must try the famous Caribbean cocktail ‘Painkiller’ which consists of rum, pineapple juice, orange juice and coconut cream. The original cocktail was created in the 1970s at the Soggy Dollar Bar at White Bay on the island, although the best version of the drink is now believed to be found at Foxy’s Bar.
Tortola is also a great place to enjoy live music or visit one of the number of bars and clubs situated on the island.
The oldest and most famous hangout on the island is Bomba Surfside Shack, and it might just be the coolest one around too. It is known for its full moon parties and unique makeshift design. As it sits right next to the water, it has some great views.
How Does The Accommodation Compare?
Accommodation that is comfortable and fits your needs is a necessity to enjoy your vacation to the fullest. Thankfully whether you are visiting the Virgin Islands for a relaxing family getaway, budget friendly and fun vacation with friends, or a luxurious and romantic honeymoon, we’re sure there is a place suitable for you.
Still, here’s what to expect in the US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands as there are some important differences.
British Virgin Islands Accommodation
When it comes to accommodation, the BVI is far more expensive than the USVI.
In fact, these islands are among the most expensive in the Caribbean and are often referred to as a billionaire’s playground.
Nevertheless, the high price point is there for a reason, as you will find some of the most luxurious resorts and a number of private villas with secluded beaches here, making it an ideal place for a couple’s getaway.
For instance, Rosewood Little Dix Bay is a resort located on Virgin Gorda that’s surrounded by rugged hills and secluded bays and offers complete privacy to its visitors.
US Virgin Islands Accommodation
Due to high commercialization, there is a wide range of accommodation available on the islands, starting from budget friendly hotels to luxurious residences. So the USVI is a much more budget friendly destination than the BVI.
Prices between the islands differ as well. St. Thomas is among the cheapest, while St. Croix and St. John are a little more expensive, especially in high season when accommodation availability is limited. Prices usually range from USD 200 to USD 300 for a night’s stay in an Airbnb, meanwhile hotel prices start from around USD 150 per night.
Which Is Safer?
These island chains are quite safe and both violent crimes and petty crimes such as pickpocketing are extremely rare.
Nevertheless, it’s always good to be cautious when travelling to new places, so be sure to still follow basic safety precautions. For instance, when walking somewhere at night, avoid doing so alone and walk around in a group of people instead.
Be careful when hiking and don’t go too close to the edge if you’re hiking on a trail that’s further up, as a few accidents have happened in previous years.
Which Is Better For Families?
Undoubtedly the USVI is a better choice for families and children, as it is highly developed and commercialized, so there are lots of activities to enjoy not only for adults, but also for kids.
As St. Thomas has the widest variety of well-equipped facilities and calm beaches of all the USVI, it is the most family-friendly choice.
Not to mention that St. Thomas has more affordable accommodation options than the other islands, which is important as costs can quickly add up when travelling with the whole family.
Which Is Better For Honeymooners?
Even though both have wonderful beaches and spectacular views, the BVI is definitely more romantic, as it offers plenty of quiet, private and intimate villas and hotels with secluded beaches. The BVI retains a certain charm and remoteness that is difficult to come by in tropical locations these days which tend to be overrun with tourists.
One of the most romantic things you can do while visiting the BVI is going on a sunset dinner. Bananakeet Café in Tortola is a marvelous restaurant choice as they not only serve delicious food but also have stunning scenery and a relaxed vibe.
A one-of-a-kind place to go for a couple’s massage can be found on Jost Van Dyke. The Ocean Spa in White Bay is actually a houseboat that features several romantic offerings for couples, such as a moonlight couples massage paired with champagne.
For couples that have already been together for a while or want to experience what an island wedding is like there’s even a chance to renew your vows on a boat. How romantic and unforgettable is that?
When it comes to romance, the BVI are hard to beat.
Which Is More Affordable?
In terms of prices for food, transport and daily activities, both destinations come pretty close. However the cost that sets these island chains apart the most is the price for accommodation.
As the BVI is more expensive than the USVI in this aspect, a vacation in the British Virgin Islands is, overall, more expensive. But that comes with lots of perks, as accommodation there offers vacationers a luxurious and private atmosphere.
USVI vs BVI: Which Is The Better Choice?
As in most cases, it all comes down to what you’re looking to gain from your visit and which things are the most important to you.
The US Virgin Islands will be best suited to those looking for a vibrant nightlife, a variety of activities, restaurants and shopping options, as well as people that need to stay within a smaller budget. The USVI tends to be more family friendly too.
The British Virgin Islands on the other hand offer exclusivity, luxury, solitude and intimacy. The nature in these islands is well preserved and they are filled with natural, untouched beaches and picturesque, tropical views. It’s also less commercialised and a little more authentic than the USVI.